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The companies defining at-home fitness after the pandemic

Workouts, like work, are going hybrid.

Image copyright: Vinnie Neuberg
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The future of at-home fitness
Image copyright: Vinnie Neuberg

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Looking at Peloton’s performance this year alone, you might think that the at-home workout trend is on its last legs. With society reopening again, people have rushed to join their friends at in-person gym classes, dash alongside hundreds of others at marathons, or just generally take advantage of outdoor activities. It’s the same sort of pent-up boom that industries like travel and weddings are in the midst of.

But the workout-from-home industry isn’t going anywhere. This summer the pendulum will swing toward gyms and outdoor activities, according to industry insiders, but after that consumers will swing part of the way back. Like with work, the new equilibrium will include a new “hybrid” approach to exercise.

When the pandemic forced people to stay home, fitness providers quickly jumped to provide digital content. Sometimes it was as straightforward as a coach from an independent studio livestreaming exercises from their living room, but a handful of companies took at-home workouts further. Peloton was the breakout star leading the pack but Lululemon also provided at-home workout options through Mirror, a smart gym mirror that streams on-demand classes. And concepts like Tonal use a dynamic weights system to recreate a compact but complete gym.

Wearables like Whoop and Oura, meanwhile, enabled instructors to check if someone really was getting their heart rate up or count the number of reps—even if their client was in a different location or timezone.

But now, the industry is shifting toward the “hybridization” of workouts, in which people will do a combination of both in-person and at-home fitness.

With the specter of more covid waves still to come, the strongest players in exercise likely can’t afford to just focus on one format or the other. “There’s going to be a marriage of the two,” says Carson Caprara, a VP at Brooks Running.

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A weight lifter works out at home in front of a screen.
Image copyright: Tonal
Tonal’s home gym.

Three eras of fitness

Charles Beck is said to have established the first gym in the United States in 1825. For much of its history, the value a gym provided came from space and equipment. A gym looking to grow its members usually did so by upping the number of physical locations.

Starting in the 2010s, boutique fitness boomed, shifting value away from place and hardware to connection and personality. More than a workout or brand name, an inspirational and charismatic instructor became the main attraction. That shift propelled workouts like SoulCycle and Crossfit into the mainstream.

The current era in fitness, which accelerated during the pandemic, deemphasizes physical locations even further. Although gyms still have a role to play, today’s focus is on interconnectedness and customization. It’s about meeting the consumer wherever they want to work out—whether that is at home, at a gym, or on the road, for 10 minutes or two hours, and at the intensity they want. 


COMPANIES TO WATCH

 Peloton: Arguably the leader for at-home hardware, its pricey stationary bikes were a hot-selling item in the pandemic. But the company has been struggling to keep its momentum and recently announced a big pivot away from hardware and towards digital content via its app.

🪞 Mirror: The Lululemon-owned smart mirror is the athleisure brand’s first foray into hardware. Aside from its own content, the company has signed on a variety of boutique fitness providers to join the platform.

🎮 Zwift: This cycling workout is one in a wave of gamified fitness concepts. Users are immersed in a multiplayer competition as they pedal their avatar around a virtual course.

📣Future: This app pairs people with a 1:1 private coach, who then creates customized workouts for the client depending on their schedule and environment.

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🔮Predictions

“Gyms and studios will no longer be the hub of a fitness seeker’s universe. Instead, they’ll be a spoke in the exercise ecosystem, giving way to a new kind of fitness bundle,” said Joe Vennare, the cofounder of Fitt Insider, a website that tracks the industry.

“Nutrition, health data, and mental wellness will also figure as part of these bundles, reaching beyond fitness as retailers like Lululemon and tech giants like Apple bring exercise into their ecosystems—redefining what it means to be a fitness company in the first place.”

Vennare added that the new flexibility and customization options will entice the wider public to start their fitness journey. Although the pandemic has encouraged people to prioritize their health more, the CDC reports that a quarter of Americans are sedentary.

“From gaming to virtual reality to outdoor exercise to omni channel options to whatever becomes of the metaverse, it’s all of the above,” Vennare said. “Because we obviously need way more solutions that appeal to way more different types of people to meet them where they are on this journey towards fitness.”

Although providing a sense of community is something that can be a compelling selling point, Rishi Mandal, the CEO of Future, told Quartz what’s crucial is actually balance. Concepts that succeed will adapt to when the user just wants some alone time to sweat it out, but can also switch it up for a social experience if they are craving that.

Connected devices and software—whether that’s a Fitbit, Strava, a smart treadmill, or a combination of all of those—can help optimize tailored workouts for each individual, Scott Hayton, associate partner at McKinsey, said in a report studying the sector. For example, if someone has slept badly, “Imagine if your sleep data was connected to your exercise service or your exercise bike so that when you hop on your bike, you’d be getting a class designed for someone who’s had a poor night’s sleep,” Hayton said. “Or imagine your fridge starting to make suggestions to you ‘Don’t make coffee,’ for example.”


📣

Sound off

Would you rather workout…

With a digital private coach at home

At an in-person group class

On your own without an instructor

Last week 48% of you said crypto would bounce back. We’ll update our Dogecoin holdings accordingly.


Have a great week,

—Tiffany Ap, How We Spend reporter (and prodigal Ashtangi)


One 🛀 thing

Holistic wellness practices such as meditation and sound baths are a small fraction of the overall fitness and nutrition market but are picking up the pace. While self care typically has been a solo activity or something only shared among close loved ones—like a mother-daughter spa date—there’s a shift towards making it a place to gather, too. Concepts like Remedy Place, which describes itself as a “social wellness club”, provide a temptation and toxin-free venue for a date night, birthday party, or corporate outing. “We understand the importance of human connection,” said founder Jonathan Leary “and use that to not only enhance the benefits of the treatments but also to enhance the connection of who you enjoy it with.

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