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August 15, 2023

The State of Fitness

I like to geek out on trends and statistics of all sorts, but for obvious reasons, I keep tabs on the fitness industry.

Here, I will share some recent data that I found interesting, as well as my thoughts. I tend to bounce around a bit, so bear with me!

The COVID Bounce-Back

In many parts of the world, COVID did a number on gyms. In a fitness business group I participated in, many of my colleagues across the globe were still pretty slow through last year. Being located in Florida, we didn’t take as big of a hit and the good news is that, overall, gyms are bouncing back.

In the US, gym revenue fell from $35B in 2019 to $15B in 2020; gyms achieved $37.5B in revenue last year and are on pace for $45.4B by 2027, per IHRSA (a fitness industry organization).

During the pandemic, gym owners trusted and believed that exercisers would return. Now, they’re seeing the validation.

  • Just 15% of exercisers see digital platforms as a replacement for the gym, per Mintel.
  • My note: digital platforms can be good in a pinch, but you receive no coaching on technique, no insight on modifications, and no watchful eye to ensure you don’t hurt yourself. Plus, there’s nothing like a live community!
  • A Les Mills study found that exercisers work harder and feel happier during in-person vs. at-home workouts.
  • My note: I think this has a lot to do with being around people/a sense of community.
  • Consumers say intangibles like motivation (81%) and accountability (61%) are primary drivers for returning to gyms, according to Mindbody.
  • My note: there’s that community again!

Gen Z Habits

Now, Gen Z (those born between 1997 and 2012), the largest generation in American history, have different behaviors.

A survey of 4,000 Gen Zers revealed:

  • 30% regularly visit fitness facilities. This is more than the overall population of 25%.
  • 36% are “regular exercisers,” working out at least once per week.
  • 72% of regular exercisers are doing both in-gym and out-of-gym workouts.
  • An overwhelming 91% choose a multipurpose facility with free weights, cardio equipment, and group classes. Strength training was the top modality (yay!).
  • 59% use a free fitness app or online option to support their training.
  • 35% started going to an in-person class they first discovered online.
  • 44% use paid fitness apps outside the gym, but 51% use paid fitness apps in the gym.

It’s AWESOME that Gen Z is working out more than other generations. To this last stat, it seems that fitness influencers and social media drive a lot of the use of apps. The problem with influencers is that many are genetically gifted in terms of physique, but that doesn’t mean they are experts.  Moreover, the programming they sell typically doesn’t involve coaching and movement correction. So, in my opinion, it isn’t a substitute for coaching and community…but here we are. That being said, I would venture to think that once they get going with fitness, Gen Zers will start to do more research, gain knowledge, and seek out great programs.

And Gen Z is more apt to use AI. I’ve asked Chat GPT to develop a strength training routine and, honestly, it wasn’t so bad! I don’t believe the gym industry will be impacted as much as some industries by AI (of course, it will to some degree). I feel this way because there’s just no digital substitute for a great coach, an inspiring environment, and human connection.

Bottom line: the gym business will always be demanding for facility owners. We are in contact with many different personalities, each with different reasons for wanting to get fit and different barriers to achieving their goals. It’s a high-maintenance industry where you constantly motivate others, handle others' emotions, etc. We see so many people start with the best of intentions and then fail to commit. The churn rate is always an issue. Keeping new members engaged (often just getting them to walk through the door) has been our biggest challenge. In that “welcome new members” section of our monthly newsletter…half of those people quit, many within a few weeks or a month. In an age where anxiety is a big problem (31.1% of Americans are reported to live with an anxiety disorder), taking that first step into a facility can be an overwhelming one.

That being said, those who do commit have a special place in our hearts!

I’d love to hear from you…what are your thoughts on these statistics and what keeps you coming to the gym?

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