Feature Article - January 2022
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Fitness Gets Personal

Pandemic Adaptations Mean More Fitness Offerings

By Deborah Vence

After a challenging couple of years, fitness facilities are back in action, offering in-person workouts once again and giving gym-goers the opportunity to take their favorite exercise class and work out with their favorite trainer. What's more, live streaming sessions and digital apps have become more popular, giving consumers the option to stay fit at home or switch up their workouts.

Fitness Offerings

No matter where consumers want to work out, they have many choices today, with more digital content being offered, as well as tailored workouts to meet individual needs.

"Fitness facilities are always looking into how to accommodate members and consumers. Right now, according to The Next Fitness Consumer Report, it's about delivering a personalized and curated experience wherever fitness is consumed—in the gym, outdoors, at home, etc. It's no longer a one-size-fits-all situation. Fitness facilities understand that each consumer's wants and needs are different, and it's important to cater to those individually," said Sami Smith, communications and public relations assistant at IHRSA, the Global Health & Fitness Association.

(The Next Fitness Consumer Report, commissioned by the IHRSA Foundation and ABC Fitness Solutions, provides an in-depth analysis of the active fitness consumer post-COVID. Topics that are covered in the report include: exercise motivations; fitness goals; activity regimen mix, including in-club, outdoor and digital usage; expenditures on fitness participation; demographics of active consumers; as well as a snapshot of traditional gym consumers.)

In addition, Smith pointed out that there is a strong focus on providing medical fitness and improving mental health. "The fitness industry has preached the immense overall benefits that physically active lifestyles provide—boost in immune health, the social, physical and mental improvements, etc.—and now people are truly listening," she said. "Among active Americans, mental well-being is ranked as the second extrinsic fitness motivator for consumers, only behind being active."

Anthony J. Wall, director of international business development for ACE (American Council on Exercise), noted that many club operators have been successful in bringing back members. "Member engagement and member experience are two aspects where facilities can improve their offering," Wall said. "Member engagement, while tied closely to the experience, is subtly different. When clubs talk about engagement, they are looking at how they can create a connection with the member on a more personal level. The member experience is often the broader context."

Some factors of engagement, he said, include: "the social element: being recognized by a staff person, people remembering your name and staff asking you about your day, etc. The experience starts with instilling trust in the member. In our current times, this starts with demonstrating a commitment to the health and safety of members and staff by following appropriate cleaning protocols and social distancing regulations. Other clubs have introduced new services."

He added that, "Despite the pandemic, some facilities have undergone an upgrade or have refurbished certain areas of the club. Through programs and touch points, clubs are trying to make members feel welcome, heard and appreciated."

Marco Zambianchi, president, North America, at a global company that specializes in equipment and digital technologies for fitness, sport and health, said that "The fitness world has changed since COVID, so it's imperative for facilities to do two things."

One is to "Offer more digital content," he said. "More and more fitness club members, especially millennials, expect their clubs to continue offering digital content even post-COVID. They've become accustomed to working out at home with digital apps, so this hybrid model will likely continue."

Second is for facilities to "Focus on an updated and personalized offering, and on the integration of physical and digital experiences," he said. A digital platform the company offers provides both offerings for fitness clubs. It enables wellness professionals to deliver user experiences anytime and anywhere.

"By helping them easily book their favorite workout from home or even on their way to the facility, members avoid queues and increase their confidence and security by making the experience seamless," Zambianchi said, noting that the latest evolution of the company's digital platform "adds the ability for businesses to deliver a hybrid model, making products and services accessible both in the facility and away from it (from bookings and payments to physical training experiences and classes)."

Similarly, Eric Vahey, strategic account manager for YMCA/JCC and connected solutions specialist at a Cottage Grove, Wis.-based company that specializes in commercial fitness products, said that "New technologies are transforming fitness mediums, and people have come to expect access to virtual training options with fitness memberships. Facilities are gravitating toward cardio equipment with immersive on-console content such as on-demand workouts and live studio classes to meet and exceed that expectation."

What's more, "Connected technology on the cardio floor also helps facilities engage members who want to feel like a part of a community even if they aren't ready to rejoin group activities or have minimal interest in participating within a studio environment," he said. "Flexible offerings give members the choice to work out with their favorite trainers or in their preferred virtual landscapes whenever it suits their schedules best."

In October, it was announced that a strategic partnership was established between the Cottage Grove, Wis.-based company and an on-demand digital platform for the YMCA community, which offers group exercise classes, youth sports instruction, nutrition and wellbeing classes for Y members wherever they are.

"The partnership was formed so participating YMCAs can give their members access to the depth and breadth of the [digital platform] with 1,000-plus on-demand exercise classes and programs" on the company's touch consoles and new virtual training cycle, explained Brian Rewkowski, the company's senior manager for strategic accounts and group education.

"As a result of the partnership, [the YMCA digital platform] plans to grow their content library and release more product-specific exercise classes featuring [our] cardiovascular machines, including treadmills, suspension ellipticals, ascent trainers, climbmills and stationary cycles," he added.