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THE GUIDE IN BRIEF

Covid-19 has created a home fitness boom

LUCY KIRK for Quartz
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

💡The Big Idea

The coronavirus pandemic is pushing the fitness industry out of the gym and onto the screen. Some players are capitalizing on that shift, while others won’t recover. Here’s the TLDR on our latest member-exclusive field guide on home fitness.


🤔Here’s Why

1️⃣ Amid stay-at-home orders, the fitness industry has gone online at breakneck speed, and the competition for home exercisers’ attention has never been more fierce.

2️⃣ Well-established—and well-funded—players, including Peloton, are using the moment to attract new customers with free trials.

3️⃣ Studios, influencers, and instructors that cultivate personal connections with their clients are more likely to make it.

4️⃣ Those connections help fitness businesses compete with the free universe of workouts on social media.

5️⃣ Even when restrictions lift, the fitness industry will be forever changed.


📝 The Details

1️⃣ The fitness industry has gone online at breakneck speed, and the competition for home exercisers’ attention has never been more fierce.

Globally, over 210,000 private fitness studios, sports clubs, and recreation centers clubs served an estimated 183 million members in 2018, raking in about $94 billion in revenues. Now, the vast majority of those clubs are closed and revenues have fallen off a cliff. Many boutique studios were arguably already vulnerable, thanks to their classes being commoditized by services like ClassPass. Meanwhile, home workout app downloads, YouTube views, and live-streams have all skyrocketed, as millions of stiff and anxious exercise enthusiasts embrace modes of exercise that stretch back much further than the exercise tape and home yoga mat.

2️⃣ Well-established—and well-funded—players are using the moment to attract new customers with free trials.

The brink of a global recession might seem like an odd time for the maker of a $2,245 stationary bike to shine, but Peloton executives will tell you that a stationary bike is not, in fact, its primary product. Instead, the company is pushing Peloton Digital, an app membership that offers non-cycling on-demand classes including yoga, cardio, and audio running programs with its beloved instructors via an app. Peloton CEO John Foley has described it as a funnel for Peloton’s broader business, where “digital members fall in love with the classes, the instructors, and the community.” And now it’s giving away this entry-level offer—which usually costs $12.99 per month—for free for 90 days, the most aggressive of the many free workout subscription trials now available.

3️⃣ Studios, influencers, and instructors that cultivate personal connections with their clients are more likely to make it.

The intense circumstances of Covid-19 and quarantine make for a palpable sense of connection online, and many stuck at home are turning to workouts for a sense of connection and community. Love Yoga, a Los Angeles-based studio that had never offered an online class pre-pandemic, has had some 400 students join classes via Zoom. (Love offers some free classes with corporate sponsors, and others for $6 per person, as opposed to $24 for a regular drop-in class.)

4️⃣ Those connections help fitness businesses compete with the free universe of workouts on social media.

As the economy is increasingly shaky and millions of jobs are lost, it’s no surprise that free workouts—whether on YouTube, Instagram, or Zoom—are seeing huge engagement. Views of home workouts have increased by more than 200% since March 15. Also among the free fitness movement’s breakout stars: the short-shorted and generously mustachioed choreographer Ryan Heffington, who welcomes thousands of fans several times weekly to his low-fi, high-energy Instagram Live “SweatFests”—a dance party recently endorsed by Fleabag’s hot priest Andrew Scott, Reese Witherspoon, the pop star Pink, and this writer’s 74-year-old mother.

5️⃣ Even when restrictions lift, the fitness industry will be forever changed.

It’s likely that the coronavirus will cull the industry of many gyms, studios, and instructors who were too slow to go online, or are operating on margins too thin to outlast stay-at-home orders. Those that do make it will likely change their business models to sustain a relationship with a widening home audience that’s wary of returning to the gym, or just newly appreciative of the convenience of working out at home. “Our little world was working the way it was,” said Love Yoga’s Sian Fujikawa. “Now that we’ve been forced to shift, I think that shift has actually been expansive.” Spoken like a true yogi.