When UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson unveiled England’s “roadmap” out of the coronavirus pandemic in February, the fitness community will have paid special attention to one date in particular.
On Monday 12th April, gyms are scheduled to reopen, after a third nationwide lockdown that has threatened the very existence of established chains and boutiques.
Yet, as people have been forced to discover new ways to keep fit at home after months under lockdown, when the doors are finally flung back open, how many will be in a rush to return?
Here we outline how the at-home fitness industry is set to prosper with consumers and businesses increasingly investing in spaces and equipment for the long-term.
The at-home fitness revolution has been coming
At the start of 2021, global wellness platforms Mindbody and ClassPass both predicted that the pandemic would usher in a new era of “hybrid fitness”, with people happier to work out at home than they ever were previously.
For Stephen Owusu, the CEO and Inventor of connected fitness company JAXJOX, the at-home fitness revolution was coming long before COVID-19 — the virus simply turbocharged it.
“Even before the pandemic, defining fitness trends were focused on home workouts, with the likes of activity trackers becoming a ‘must-have’ accessory, at-home training equipment rising to the forefront, and social communities driving the force,” he tells Welltodo.
The pandemic, he says, simply propelled the “new normal”, with online tools like Zoom, YouTube and Instagram uniting a wave of virtual fitness communities online, and lockdowns forcing people to adapt their living spaces to support home fitness routines.
For most, it has been a welcome change. A recent study by The New Consumer found that 76% of people in the UK have tried working out at home during the pandemic, with 66% preferring it. The statistics were even higher for Millennials — 82% switched to home fitness, and 81% prefer it.
With flexible home working likely to be adopted by most companies post lockdown, coupled with the time and financial savings made on not commuting every day, Owusu believes “the home gym looks set to stay”.
Now connected brands that can not only bring the gym to people’s living rooms but also deliver intelligent, tailored workouts for individuals are set to thrive.
All-in-one living, working and leisure space
While Peloton has brought the buzz and adrenaline of the spin studio to the home, JAXJOX, which recently raised £7.7 million in Series A funding, is working on transporting the rest of the weights room to the consumer’s door.
Half the size of a bike and a third of a treadmill, JAXJOX’s new InteractiveStudio houses the equivalent of six kettlebells, 15 dumbbells and up to 64.5kg of adjustable weights in one compact unit.
Owusu says the InteractiveStudio, set to be released in Q4 this year and retailing at £2,199, is a sign of how technology will enable individual fitness to be achieved in increasingly smaller spaces.
“Consumers are already trying to figure out how to transform their home into an all-in-one living, working and leisure space,” he says, pointing to the surge in popularity of interactive fitness devices like Mirror and Tonal that neatly hang on your wall.
“Having products that blend seamlessly and elegantly into a room is going to increase adoption and the JAXJOX connected fitness range is designed to do just that.”
Bricks and mortar gyms are having to adapt to survive
The rise of smart fitness tech in the home, coupled with the financial strain of the past 12 months, is a further challenge to gyms and studios reeling from the pandemic.
However, it’s also driven innovation, especially for London boutique operator Gymbox.
Rather than waiting and hoping for members to return, Gymbox has pivoted to launch a gym design and build service, fitting out people’s homes with the chain’s trademark equipment, lighting and audio setup.
On its first day, the service, called Home Sweat Home, received nearly 100 enquiries, and CEO Marc Diaper is now looking to roll out a similar model for workplaces.
“We feel there are opportunities in the corporate and residential development markets as well,” Diaper told HCM.
“The plan is to work in partnership with companies to create more inspiring spaces for employees to work out, with the aim of introducing the traditional non-gym users to the Gymbox experience at work.”
Gymbox has also recently signed a deal to deliver in-room exercise sessions to guests staying at citizenM hotels around the world, and these two moves are great examples of how established gyms can leverage their brand to capitalise on the trend toward at-home fitness.
Virtual – and versatile – home gyms are the future
While traditional gyms are having to reinvent themselves to stave off the challenge from connected fitness brands, a third player is entering the at-home workout space: virtual fitness platforms.
UK-based Immersive Gym, which is targeting the premium residential market, is capable of transforming an entire room into a floor-to-ceiling display that dynamically responds to an individual’s workout. When you pedal faster up a hill, the content speeds up with you.
It can transport users into real-world locations, such as the Tokyo Olympics rowing course, or connect them to fitness coaches and their surroundings, wherever they are in the world.
The company’s Founder Charles Pearce believes the platform’s versatility will be its strongest selling point. “The idea for Immersive Gym was to provide a full field of view, total engagement in your environment so you feel really connected to it, but also versatility,” he tells Welltodo.
Pearce describes a scenario where the space is used by a whole household for a mindful yoga session in the morning. Later it’s set up with an ergometer so you can row to Tokyo, before bringing in the gaming module to play Fortnite or Gran Turismo with your friends, or swap in bean bags so you can settle down for a movie.
“Sounds like a great weekend, right? And you get fit at the same time,” he says.
Rather than replace the Peloton bikes, Technogym treadmills and Concept2 rowing machines in the home, Immersive Gym is compatible with each one and designed to help the user optimise their workout experience every time.
Pearce explains: “Now you can jump on your bike to do a Peloton class, jump on your own road bike and join a Zwift race, or jump on an ergometer and your experience isn’t fragmented anymore. It’s all brought together as one.”
Opportunities beyond the home
Given the starting price for an Immersive Gym – fit-out begins at £50,000 – you might be waiting a while to row Tokyo’s Sumida River in your living room. But Pearce fully expects the technology will become more affordable, just like it has with plasma-screen TVs.
Over time, he predicts, the future of the at-home fitness market will be split into two groups: the Gymbox group who want a dedicated gym in their home that is quite traditional and similar to what they’re used to, and one built around versatility and multimedia.
At the same time, he says, the immersive experience will extend beyond the home and into hotels, healthcare and, especially, workplaces.
“Suddenly the office is a multi-use space,” Pearce continues, describing a room transforming hour by hour from a yoga studio for a group workout to a dynamic meeting room for a sales presentation, and back again.
“The technology will provide wellness-related activities for employers to feel connected with their workplace and colleagues, but also enable them to experience something that they can’t experience at home,” he says.
Crucially, it’s this last point that should give owners of gyms and studios around the world hope as the dust settles post-pandemic.
While there have never been so many ways to enjoy an effective, immersive workout at home, people will always yearn for shared human connections with their friends, colleagues and community that can only be enjoyed in person.
As Pearce says, “Gyms are the new pubs and bars”. They will still have their place, they will just need to offer more to convince their members to return.