Virtual Fitness Will Continue to Gain In Popularity Post-Coronavirus


“Ok, who’s ready to sweat it out? Get your resistance, mats and towels ready! We start in 30 seconds,” fitness instructor Kallie Apfel yells into her phone screen. Despite being alone at her gym, Work It, Apfel is hardly on her own. One hundred and twenty-five participants are taking her virtual fitness class.

As the coronavirus quarantine drags on in North America, virtual fitness classes have become popular, and not only because in-studio exercise is impossible. On-demand and live-streamed exercise classes have emerged as the preferred option for those who want to work out where and when it suits them. Anecdotal and economic evidence suggests this trend may soon rival that of traditional bricks-and-mortar gyms, challenging mainstream methods of working out. Smart gym owners are adapting.

“Last year, I started receiving direct messages on Instagram asking if we had any plans to go online,” Apfel says. “Honestly, I hadn’t thought of it because we have such a dedicated client base, but we decided to do it given the unbelievable demand. It has allowed me to offer more classes and reach more people at times that are convenient for them.”

Rising Digital Demand

According to market research firm Reportlinker, the global digital fitness market is expected to reach an estimated $27.4 billion by 2022. It is forecasted to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 33 percent through the same year. The Global Wellness Institute reports that 28 million people currently subscribe to on-demand and streaming virtual fitness services online or via apps.

Additional analysis by Euromonitor International, a market research firm, found that of 15,301 participants, 36 percent said they work out at home. In contrast, just 12.75 percent surveyed said they attend in-studio group fitness classes.

The Benefits

“I was a studio junkie before I had my children, but life changed so drastically after my firstborn that I turned to working out from home. I love it as much as going to the studio. There are so many different types of classes online, and I can do it when it works for my schedule, even if that means nine at night,” says Maria Thompson of Toronto.

As Thompson notes, convenience is a significant reason why the at-home fitness trend is on the rise. People lead busy lives, and their work, study and personal obligations dictate their schedules. On-demand classes enable people to choose where, when and how to exercise.

Saving time is also a factor as people can choose the length of the workout, without having to factor in travel time.

Affordability is another significant incentive, especially among millennials. While boutique gym memberships can run upwards of $3000 annually, virtual classes are cheaper on a pay-as-you-go basis and provide the same physical benefits as being there in person.

Platforms like ClassPass and Mindbody offer access to thousands of international gyms, most of which subscribers would never have the opportunity to experience offline.

A Win-Win

While gyms risk losing money on individuals opting for online access, they can increase revenue by reaching more people than they ever could in-studio. They can also offer their gym members the added service of virtual classes, when and if they choose to take them.

Apfel admits she feared her gym might lose that “family” feel if she added the virtual component, so she invested in technology to create an interactive online community. Depending on the class, participants can see where they rank on leaderboards, comment in real-time, and chat with her. She addresses many by name.

“Our accepting and encouraging culture starts with our instructors, and we’ve adapted to bring our personalities and expertise to our members virtually. The feedback from our long-time members has been amazing.”

With more people exercising than ever before, gyms are evolving to meet them where they choose to be, and increasingly, that’s online. Working out when, where, and how you want is a compelling option, one that is on course to become the new norm.

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