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The Future of Fitness Is All About Flexibility

As consumers emerge from the pandemic, hybrid models, convenience, innovation and overall well-being are top of mind.

While certain once highly sought after New York City spin classes are no longer full and there may be rows of open treadmills at the gym, the fitness category is actually booming. It just looks a little different these days. 

Emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic, consumers began prioritizing their health in all facets including mental well-being, nutrition, recovery and fitness, all via an online and in-person hybrid model and that has had a big impact on the fitness space. 

“The big social changes that we saw during the pandemic were one, a new commitment on the part of people to live healthy lives. One of the other big social changes we saw during the pandemic was the need to stay socially distant, and I think that still is out there,” said Matt Powell, vice president and senior sports industry adviser for The NPD Group. 

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According to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association’s Tracking the Fitness Movement Report 2022, the number of active Americans continues to rise up 1.3 percent year-over-year with 76.3 percent of people reporting they were active in 2021. 

But when viewing fitness, consumers aren’t just thinking about breaking a sweat. Now they are asking an array of questions about how a fitness routine impacts their everyday life, as they consider recovery, mental health and their own schedules. With this, the popularity of hybrid models and shorter form content has continued to grow. According to Mintel’s Healthy Lifestyles Executive Summary, 78 percent of Americans are prepared to make short-term sacrifices for the sake of their long-term health. Several content creators and fitness platforms have made this easier than ever by releasing shorter content on digital apps. 

Furthermore, “both men and women were more likely to be an at-home fitness participant than a club fitness participant” in 2021, according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association Tracking the Fitness Movement Report 2022, making online content more successful, even coming out of the pandemic. 

Indeed, while gym memberships are slowly reaching pre-pandemic numbers, attendance is down with members going in an average of 72 days in 2021 versus 109 days in 2019, as they continue to embrace the hybrid model. 

Obé, which first launched in 2018, has established a digital-first platform, providing subscribers with an array of 30-minute fitness classes from the comfort of their home for $25 a month. The platform, which average members use 13 times a month, paved the way for an array of digital fitness platforms that launched during and after the pandemic.

Obé Fitness

Melissa Wood-Tepperberg, who has amassed more than 1 million followers across her social channels, took this digital-first approach over seven years ago when developing her app Melissa Wood Health, which costs $9.99 per month. The platform can attribute its success to three key factors that are dominating the fitness category today: convenience, short-form content and a strong sense of community. 

Melissa Wood-Tepperberg

“We all need to do these things consistently that help us feel stronger, not only in our bodies, but most importantly in our minds. To be able to share this work digitally, virtually across the globe is just the most incredible way to touch people, whenever wherever. That’s always been the focal point,” Wood-Tepperberg said.

Wood-Tepperberg had been developing her platform well before the pandemic hit. Since she was already set up digitally, she was able to continue building her community without having to start from scratch. Recently, she relaunched the Melissa Wood Health platform to include seven new creators with an array of focuses including pre- and post-natal and meditation, while offering more than 500 workouts. Throughout the process, Wood-Tepperberg’s ability to listen to her community has furthered the platform’s continued growth. 

“My members are my business strategy,” Wood-Tepperberg said. “I built everything off trust, transparency and authenticity.” Through building a strong community both on the platform and the brand’s active Facebook group, Wood-Tepperberg was able to build the experience consumers found in in-person classes online. 

In 2021, Sami Clarke and Sami Bernstein launched Form, a $22 per month fitness platform that provides consumers with a convenient 30-minute, wellness-oriented workout routine. The platform, which includes nutritional content and weekly schedules, has amassed more than $1 million in organic revenue over the last year following its launch. 

Form platform.

“Figuring out how to make it as efficient and effective as possible is something that we really take into account, but I think an even more important trend…is not necessarily focusing on the physical aspects of fitness, but really focusing on mind, body and soul connection,” Bernstein said. For Clarke, who developed the signature 30-minute Form workout, the platform was all about “allowing women to see that you can get incredible movement in and still see results mentally and physically in a shorter amount of time” without having to go to the gym.

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With an expected 20 percent growth in 2022 and 2023, The Sculpt Society, by Megan Roup, has also proven the success of convenient at-home workout platforms. The $19.99 a month digital platform offers more than 400 short-form sculpt and dance cardio videos on-demand. 

Megan Roup Lianna Tarantin

“I have a mantra that I always talk to my community about which is committing to less so that you can show up more,” Roup said. 

While these at-home workouts became extremely popular during the COVID-19 pandemic, they appear to be sticking around as consumers have realized they no longer need a heavy piece of equipment or a gym membership to achieve a great workout. Furthermore, these online platforms offer a more affordable alternative in comparison to gyms.

Consumers are looking for “flexibility, ease of access, things that can be versatile. I don’t think they want to buy one piece of equipment for a very narrow specific activity. Versatility, flexibility of scheduling, multiple activities, those are the kinds of things that I think are going to resonate,” Powell said.

To meet the consumer’s demand for an omnichannel model, an array of traditionally brick-and-mortar fitness locations have developed online platforms, such as Y7 Studio, New York Pilates and Equinox. Similarly, in an effort to promote the Lululemon Mirror after struggling to scale since acquiring the technology in 2020, the brand has introduced Lululemon Studio which includes content from an array of fitness locations including Y7 Studio, Pure Barre, Dogpound, Rumble, Yoga Six, AKT, Forward Space and Aarmy. Workout content is also available via the app to provide further convenience. 

An omnichannel fitness approach was not the only outcome of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, consumers are much more focused on recovery and mental well-being, as a part of a more holistic fitness approach, which many of the above content creators have also implemented into their platforms.

Throughout 2021, more mindful fitness practices led the category. Yoga rose 4.7 percent to include 34.3 million participants in 2021, according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association Tracking the Fitness Movement Report 2022. The same report noted that walking was the most popular fitness activity of the year, which is known to promote mental well-being. 

Amanda Freeman, cofounder and chief executive officer of Stretch*d, founded the brick-and-mortar recovery and stretching location after discovering that around half of people often skipped out on the cool down portion of a workout class. She observed this as she was managing SLT, of which she is also the founder and CEO. 

“It always frustrated me because stretching is so important. If we want to avoid injury, why are we acting like this is the optional part of the class?” Freeman said. Now “people are just wiser to the fact that they need to take care of their body, and stretching is one of the most important ways to do it.”

Stretch*d

Now Stretch*d has three locations and provides an array of recovery-based services, including full-body assisted one-on-one stretch sessions, stretching massages and facial massages. They also offer at-home sessions, responding to the growing consumer demand for convenience and on-demand services. A crop of assisted stretching locations can now be found such as Stretch Zone and Lymbr, with studios throughout the Northeast. 

Aside from brick-and-mortar therapies, recovery-focused technology has made its way to the forefront of the fitness category, most notably Oura and Therabody. 

Oura, founded in 2013, provides users with convenient wellness tracking through a sleek ring. The company, which is valued at $2.55 billion, has sold more than 1 million of the rings and has changed the wearable wellness category, designing a more convenient option in comparison to fitness trackers and smartwatches. 

By tracking sleep, activity and overall readiness, the Oura ring allows users to establish their personal fitness routine based on current scores. 

“We’re personalizing to meet the person where they are,” said Tom Hale, CEO of Oura. “We want to put the user in control.…We want to enable people to find the right level of exercise and the right level of strain and right level of recovery.” Hale expects the focus on recovery interventions to continue being a major market within the category with brands like Therabody leading the way. 

Therabody, which has raised $165 million in funding, has bet on the intersection of recovery and tech with its wellness product offerings, most notably the Theragun Pro, $599. 

With “both recovery and just whole body wellness, there is much more of a trend to integrating technology into that,” said Therabody CEO Benjamin Nazarian. “This concept of recovery is going to start converging and growing into just whole body wellness.” 

To establish the use of technology for whole body wellness, the two brands recently partnered so that the impact of Therabody products could be tracked by an Oura user on the brand’s app. 

While Oura and Therabody both have put design at the forefront of their products, an array of other brands that are making waves within the fitness industry have attributed much of their success to an aesthetics-driven approach.

Specifically, Bala, which has amassed $55 million in sales since its founding, began developing aesthetically pleasing fitness equipment, removing the utilitarian design typically seen in the category. The brand was not only able to meet the need for at-home equipment, but they also supplied products that consumers enjoyed looking at, ultimately encouraging them to move more. 

“Where we really see Bala’s contribution is elevating the experience of working out, inspiring folks to work out and being more about that inspiration than the quantification of your every move,” said Bala cofounder Maximilian Kislevitz. 

Gyms are also beginning to respond to these consumer interests. Equinox, specifically, has paved the way when it comes to successful big box gyms with its hyper-designed spaces, unique fitness classes and luxury offerings and is also tapping into wellness trends, offering meditation classes online, while the Brooklyn Heights location in New York City recently offerred face yoga classes with Shelly Marshall, founder of Beauty Shamans.

“When we sit down to eat a meal, we nourish with nutrients. When we read a book, we nourish with information. When we workout the body, we nourish with movement. These are all things we do routinely because we know the benefits and we make time for these practices because they are important in making us feel good. I think things like face yoga, massage and reflexology are going to become a very mainstream method of nourishing the face and our skin, and it all fits together because we are all these things: a mind, a body, and a spirit…with a face,” Marshall said.

While in-person attendance is not back to what it once was, consumers are still interested in going to brick-and-mortar locations, whether it be a special occasion or a place that offers a unique experience in comparison to what they can achieve at home. 

New York Pilates has offered fitness junkies a worthwhile experience that has combated the levels of people committing to at-home workouts. The fitness company, which now has seven locations and an online platform, sees 16,000 guests per month.

New York Pilates Flatiron studio.

In 2022, New York Pilates opened two new locations and is is expected to close out the year with $10 million in revenue. The brand is projected to amass $12 million in revenue in 2023. Founder Heather Andersen explained while five years ago Pilates wasn’t the most popular, now it is a part of the fitness zeitgeist, as consumers prefer low-impact exercises combined with a mind-body connection.

“One of the things that’s fantastic about reformer Pilates, and also I would say the way that we are doing it specifically at New York Pilates, is that the exercise requires your full attention. Part of the reason it requires your full attention is because you’re not just jumping up and down, but you’re doing an exercise while also focusing on how your body is aligned, and how you’re coordinating your muscles and how you’re using your breath,” Andersen said. “When you combine all those things, it requires your full attention. You have the breath as part of the exercise. That intrinsically makes it a mindful practice.” 

And this is the way consumers will gravitate, still implementing in-person classes along with their go-to at-home routine, according to Powell of the NPD Group. “People are going to be doing multiple things. If we look at Gen Y and Gen Z and how they describe themselves as individuals, they don’t describe themselves as one thing.…Part of how you avoid that is you do many different activities, so maybe today you run, then tomorrow you’re doing a Pilates class,” he said. 

“We’re gonna continue to see people focused on healthy living, taking care of themselves.”