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Fitness Trends 2020

COVID-19 has changed the world as we know it. This year’s HCM Fitness Trends have been updated to reflect the new reality of the challenges being faced by operators globally

by Liz Terry, Leisure Media | Published in Health Club Handbook 2020 issue 1

Streaming & on demand
1. Home workouts

The coronavirus pandemic has seen health and fitness operators the world over pivoting to digital to create live streaming or on-demand workouts to keep members engaged and – where it’s possible and appropriate to charge – revenues flowing.

Emergency club closures have unleashed huge energy across the sector, with operators creating digital offerings in a matter of hours in some cases. Gyms who’ve chosen to charge are reporting sign-up rates upwards of 50 per cent, with some studios reporting 100 per cent retention where customers have close ties to the team.

Professional services such as Les Mills on Demand and Wexer have been adopted by many. Others have created home-grown offerings. Operators, such as David Lloyd have created portals with @home services such as nutritional and wellbeing advice.

We expect these services to become part of diversified health club offerings.

Les Mills on Demand partners with gyms to offer home workouts to members photo: les mills
Enjoying the freedom
2. Outdoor fitness

With the world in lockdown for much of 2020, we’re looking forward to how things pan out when we make tentative steps outside.

We believe one of the greatest areas of demand from consumers when it comes to their health club offering over the next few years will be all forms of outdoor fitness.

The coronavirus is less transmissible in the open air, making things safer, while the psychological benefits of outdoor fitness are well document in terms of improving mental health.

In addition, many people will have been indoors for months and will place a high value on being outdoors in nature and getting some freedom.

Expect brands such as The Green Gym and Bear Grylls’ BMF (Be Military Fit) to see rapid growth over the next year, as exercise beyond the four walls becomes hugely popular.

Health clubs with outdoor areas need to freshen them up and do some outdoor programming and clubs without greenspace need to find the nearest park and programme in some outdoor fitness sessions.

Running and cycling groups will also be popular, being mindful of recent slipstream research which shows that the safe distance for runners in terms of coronavirus transmission is five metres, slow cyclists, 10m and fast cyclists, 20m.

As with all things in 2020/21, safety will be the number one priority.

Clubs need to offer outdoor workouts or lose customers to competitors who offer this option photo: les mills
Caring for staff
3. PPE

We expect gym staff to require personal protective equipment (PPE) until a vaccine is found for COVID-19, as they’ll be in the front line.

Operators will need to prepare for the additional cost and organisation required to provide all relevant types of PPE to safeguard staff as they deal with members of the public.

This could include screens at reception, masks and disposable gloves. Staff may also need gowns when carrying out cleaning duties.

We may also see members wearing masks and clubs can consider making these available as part of the service, free or paid for, depending on budget.

Learnings from covid
4. Diversification

Operators that make it through the shutdown will vow to never again leave themselves so exposed to limited, revenue streams and will move to diversify at the first opportunity.

We expect to see moves into other sectors, as well as increased activity in areas such as mail-order retail, F&B – including home delivery – streaming subscriptions, health checks, sleep health insurance sales, etc. Some delivered under license or through partnerships.

First priority
5. Hygiene

Previously an afterthought for many gyms and certainly something the industry has been less than enthusiastic about at best, hygiene will become the number one obsession for operators and gym users – especially until a vaccine has been developed and implemented for COVID-19.

We expect gyms to commit to the highest levels of sanitation to reassure customers it’s safe to return and with finances under pressure, keeping the gym spotless is likely to become the responsibility of gym staff, who will need to ensure that all contact points, from doors to dumbells and fitness kit, are carefully cleaned between users. Operators are unlikely to be able to afford to deploy specialist services on a regular basis, although we will see deep cleaning before reopening.

Most gyms will choose to keep changing rooms, spas and pools shuttered to avoid creating hazards and customers will be accepting of these limits to service.

COVID-19 can survive on plastic and metal, so deliverable hygiene will be critical photo: shutterstock/Oleksandr Khmelevskyi
Dynamic innovation
6. Fit Tech

The coronavirus pandemic has put fitness and health in the spotlight, as evidence continues to emerge about morbidity factors in relation to COVID-19.

Although there are exceptions, the majority of people who succumb to the disease or experience it more severely have underlying health problems – the vast majority of them lifestyle-related.

We expect fitness to assume far greater importance from a public policy point of view going forward, with governments – after decades of paying lip service to prevention – finally inspired to get behind an effective preventative agenda.

Because of the scale of the challenge, we expect them to look to the fitness industry to be an effective partner in achieving this goal. We also think fitness technology will be deployed to drive interventions, engagement and reporting on initiatives relating to this work and that this will happen at scale.

With all major tech organisations already heavily invested in the fit tech space and a wealth of start-ups bringing new products to market, we also expect the consumer market for fit tech to grow rapidly as people – driven partly by fear – look for support in relation to taking more responsibility for their own health and wellbeing.

The scale of the challenge is such, that we will need to harness technology to deliver.

We expect tech to drive multiple aspects of the fitness industry, including a major move towards prevention photo: shutterstock/Syda Productions
New software
7. Distancing control

Software is now available – developed for retailing – that uses an algorithm and in-gym cameras to control social distancing. We expect this to be picked up and deployed by gym operators as part of reopening plans.

Implementation of these systems will reduce risk and liability and show members their gym is really serious about looking after their wellbeing.

It will also be far more cost-effective and reliable to use social distancing software than to tie up gym staff.

From the US to the world
8. Butt workouts

Big in the USA, where a substantial derriere is a powerful fashion accessory, (á la Kim Kardashian and others), ‘butt workouts’ will start to gain in popularity in other markets around the world.

Expect specialist equipment, dedicated, workouts and maybe even butt apps and associated spa and beauty treatments to enable the creation and maintenance of a protruding posterior.

On a more serious note, it’s thought a large proportion of back trouble originates in the glutes, so there will be an opportunity to also develop more curative interventions to address this.

New priority
9. Strength training

New guidance issued late in 2019 by chief medical officers in both the UK and the US places an increased emphasis on the importance of building strength and balance for adults.

Under the new guidelines, adults are advised to undertake strength-based exercise at least two days a week to help delay the natural decline in muscle mass and bone density that starts from around the age of 50. This is a major reason why older people lose their ability to carry out daily tasks and succumb to falls.

The new guidelines follow decades where cardiovascular exercise received more attention and was more often requested by members and recommended by trainers.

We expect new exercise modalities to spin out of this focus on strength, with strength training becoming popular as an addition to HIIT training, as well as being a more popular option in its own right.

After years of a focus on cardio, strength training is a new priority photo: shutterstock/ takoburito
Joe Wicks effect
10. PE

Celebrity trainer and motivator, Joe Wicks, hit the headlines in the UK during the lockdown by stepping up with his daughter Indie to offer a daily workout at 9.00am every Monday to Friday for kids on his The BodyCoach TV YouTube channel.

Called PE with Joe, the sessions were designed to replace the usual school PE lessons and Wicks pulled out all the stops, sometimes wearing crazy costumes and creating sessions bursting with energy to engage children (and parents) in some serious exercise, combined with silly fun.

PE has been a less-than-fashionable area of activity in recent years, but we expect Wicks’ inspired take on the PE lesson to lead to a revived interest in school PE as an exercise category.

Wicks had already spent four years touring schools promoting exercise and is now said to be in talks for his own TV show based on the PE lessons.

With kids’ exercise a priority and childhood obesity a global crisis, a new focus in this area is long overdue. Kids today are tech-savvy and will have been influenced by online workouts during lockdown. We think virtual PE lessons in schools and at home will be a natural extension of this trend.

Joe Wicks attracted over a million people a day to take part in his PE lessons photo: shutterstock/ CUSTOMDESIGNER
Pandemic insurance
11. More insured

Health and fitness operators who had the foresight to take out (useable) pandemic insurance have been few and far between – not many have been fortunate to have the backing of their insurance company during the COVID-19 shutdown. Those that did have found their future secured.

We expect to see a new interest in business interruption insurances of all kinds, as operators seek to protect their position in relation to any future business disruption of any kind.

Increasingly vital
12. Mental health

The pandemic has accelerated the incidence of mental health issues and health club operators have the opportunity to do something to help.

We expect more health and fitness operators to launch mental-health-related services and specialist mental health memberships – in-club and virtual – to support members who need ongoing access to support.

Mental health services will be delivered in partnership with specialist organisations who are experienced in this area, to ensure people who need support are looked after by experts.

Efficacy for all
13. Eliminating male bias

Historically, most of the cells (and humans) studied in medical science have been male and so most of the advances we’ve seen in medicine and exercise science have come from the study of male physiology.

This means we understand less about pretty much every aspect of female biology when compared to that of males.

Drug trials have also historically been biased towards men, meaning even today some drug dosages are calibrated for male physiology and typical body size.

Some of the studies that have defined the world of exercise – for example, the 1982 Multiple Risk Factor Intervention Trial (MRFIT) – which looked at whether dietary change and exercise could help prevent heart disease – only examined male subjects. This specific piece of research studied 13,000 men and no women.

We expect there to be an increasing awareness of the importance of eliminating male bias when it comes to research into exercise and health and the prescription of physical activity interventions.

A significant number of women are taking part in regular exercise and it’s vital their needs are understood. We hope the field of exercise science will commit to eliminating male bias in all studies going forward.

Work is needed to eliminate male bias in research and practice photo: Shutterstock/lucky business
Can’t do this at home
14. Swimming

The lockdown has made the whole fitness industry focus on its USPs – what are we really charging for? What can people ‘only’ do in our gyms and nowhere else?

Streaming, virtual and digital fitness have come into their own during the pandemic, but they’ve shown some people that they don’t need to go to the gym all the time.

As the most popular leisure time activity, pool swimming is one activity offered by many gyms that’s hardest to access anywhere else, unless you’re lucky enough to have a pool at home. A significant number of gym goers have been taking to social media saying how much they miss their swims.

With its pleasurable weightlessness, swimming is almost the complete exercise – offering strength and cardiovascular training, as well as flexibility, so can be a valuable part of a balanced exercise regime. The only extra needed is weight-bearing exercise.

Being in water is also very healing and good for the body, as well as offering a number of mental health benefits.

When gyms fully reopen, we expect there to be a new enthusiasm for swimming and for health club operators to refocus their energies on areas of provision which can’t be enjoyed elsewhere, such as access to specialist equipment and advice and activities which use the pool and wet areas of clubs.

Clubs with pools will find their popularity grows in the years following the end of the pandemic photo: Shutterstock/microgen
Amplifying exercise
15. Post-exercise heat treatments

Staying warm after a workout can amplify the effects, according to new research – How post-exercise heating strategies affect endurance performance – sponsored by ACE, the American Council on Exercise.

Researchers tested three groups – a control group, one which spent 30 minutes in hot water and another where people wore sauna suits following their workout.

Both passive heating strategies were equally sufficient to raise core temperatures, and both stayed below temperatures (102° F/ 39° C) that might increase the risk of heat illness.

After three weeks, the mean VO2max and lactate threshold changes in both the hot water immersion and the sauna suit groups were “statistically significantly greater” when compared to the control group, according to the researchers.

When it came to change in running economy, only the people in the immersion group showed a significant improvement.

Researchers said these post-exercise heat interventions allow people to “augment their training without adding volume and/or intensity, meaning they can achieve performance gains without increasing the risk of over-training or injury.”

Post-exercise passive heating can also be used to “preserve training adaptations if a client is travelling or trying to preserve fitness during an off-season programme,” they said. They also suggest not going beyond the 30 minutes or above the temperatures used and encouraged the adoption of good hydration practices.

With many operators increasingly training athletes and serious amateurs who care about performance, these relatively straightforward-to-apply interventions offer new opportunities to improve services.

We expect gyms to better exploit facilities that enable the delivery of post-workout heat treatments and to ensure their exercise professionals are trained to deliver them safely and effectively.

More: HCMHandbook.com/ACE

Spending 30 minutes submerged in hot water after a workout amplifies the effect of the exercise photo: unsplash/ryan-christodoulou
Welcome all
16. Catering for introverts

In a world set up to reward extrovert behaviour, introverts are commonly misunderstood and judged – labelled as shy, lacking in confidence or even boring, The difference between introverts and extroverts is how they respond to the neurotransmitter dopamine: a chemical released in the brain that provides the motivation to seek external rewards.

Put simply, extroverts recharge with people and introverts recharge on their own – gyms tend to be extrovert environments.

Many perform poorly when it comes to catering for introverts, but there’s much that can be done to change operating procedures to make gyms more welcome – ensuring some equipment is placed in a quiet corner where more introverted members feel comfortable exercising, opening studios early to enable them to come in and find their spot and taking time to make them feel welcome.

We think operators will begin to recognise introverts find the gym challenging and that introvert-friendly operations will develop.

Introverts will come to your gym if you adjust your operations to their needs photo: shutterstock/G-Point studio
Retro revival
17. Trim trails

Big in the 80s, we think trim trails will make a comeback as a result of the pandemic, given they offer a straightforward and relatively cheap way to facilitate outdoor exercise.

The obstacle race sector has boomed since trim trails were last in vogue and we expect a new generation of trails to be developed – in part to play to the needs of frustrated obstacle course competitors who will not be able to take part in outdoor racing for some time, due to social distancing rules and ban on large gatherings.

Trim trails will be reinvented for the ‘obstacle-race’ generation photo: shutterstock/Dejan Dundjerski
Surviving Coronavirus
18. EcSOD – FITNESS to offset the effects of COVID-19

Approximately 80 per cent of confirmed COVID-19 patients have mild symptoms and do not need respiratory support. Professor Zhen Yan at the University of Virginia set out to find out why.

Yan found regular exercise may reduce the risk of complications in people with COVID-19, as well as offering the potential for alternative treatment approaches. He studied an antioxidant called extracellular superoxide dismutase (EcSOD) that’s released in the body during exercise.

His work “strongly supports” the possibility that higher levels of EcSOD in the body can prevent or at least reduce the severity of acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) – one of the worst outcomes of COVID-19. EcSOD does this by hunting down free radicals, binding to organs and protecting tissue.

“Our findings strongly support that enhanced EcSOD expression from skeletal muscle…which can be redistributed to lung tissue, could be a viable preventative and therapeutic measure in reducing the risk and severity of ARDS,” he said.

Research suggests that even a single session of exercise increases the production of the antioxidant, with cardiovascular exercise thought to drive the highest immediate levels of EcSOD production. However, strength training increases muscle mass, also playing a part in the equation.

New research shows exercise can help people survive COVID-19 by promoting the secretion of the antioxidant, EcSOD photo: shutterstock/ Jocob Lund
A new genre
19. Outdoor gyms

Post-COVID, outdoor exercise will be a major way forward, so we expect to see a new generation of outdoor, all-weather fitness equipment coming to market and operators investing in circuits on-property, as well as creating a whole new genre of dedicated outdoor fitness gyms.

This second-generation outdoor fitness equipment will move beyond the all-weather, rudimentary kit of old to deliver a better choice of resistance and a wider range of motion than previously.

In addition, some suppliers are already developing concepts for ‘open-air’ gyms, such as thé Yard, from franchise specialist, énergie Fitness – an indoor concept that has been adapted for use outdoors in sheltered spaces, such as under bridges.

We expect the development of a new generation of outdoor fitness equipment photo: shutterstock/ Bobex-78
New approach to ageing
20. senolytics and senostatics

The science of cellular ageing is complex, with new discoveries being made in the areas of senolytics and senostatics.

These two types of substances act on tissue to flush out old cells (senolytics) or to suppress cell death (senotastics).

Although some substances found to have senolytic effects are heavy duty drugs, such as repurposed anti-cancer molecules, it’s also known that some foods – for example, those containing the plant flavenoid, Finestin (strawberries apples and grapes) can remove senescent cells from the body.

As the fitness and wellbeing sectors move closer, insight into natural anti-ageing interventions will be sought after.

Health club operators are increasingly offering advice on lifestyle and nutrition, so having the knowledge to advise members and customers on the latest trends in nutrition and health will be important as we seek to widen our remit as an industry.

Certain fruits have senolytic properties photo: shutterstock/Olga Miltsova
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