How coronavirus has affected the fitness industry

On my way to work this morning, the sun was shining and as I was setting up for my first session of the day, the common was full of people getting their daily exercise in. There has been such an increase in the number of people donning the parks and outdoor spaces pre and post work, and with the news last week that Boris Johnson is holding off the re-opening of gyms and leisure centres we can’t help but think is outdoor workouts now the new norm….?

I have now been back outside training for three weeks, and wow have I missed it. As a business I have had to adapt as has the fitness industry as a whole, during this coronavirus pandemic. Zoom has been the life line to my clients, had anyone heard of Zoom before coronavirus?! Online classes have given me access to both 1:1 sessions and my bootcamps keeping everyone fit, motivated and sane from their lounges, balconies and gardens. However nothing beats training clients outside and face to face, it’s given me time to realise why I love my job so much, the interaction with other people is such an important  part of my job role which you can’t always achieve through a computer screen.

With the initial restrictions of only being allowed out once per day, many of us have had to re-evaluate our time and make the most of the outdoor time that we have been given. That saying “sometimes you don't appreciate what you have till it’s gone” has rung true for many of us. However let’s not forget there is a very good reason why we’ve all lived our lives through computer screens in our homes for the last few months.

How many new runners have you seen donning the pavements or exercise newbies tying some quite precarious bits of rope from trees and lampposts in exchange for the TRX. Sales of weights, kettle bells and bicycles have gone through the roof. I myself spent till midnight refreshing my screen to get my bike order through decathlon with the demand so great. We have all adapted, times have changed, and I know for one the fitness industry prior to coronavirus was a very different place to the one we have at present. 

As a nation we have become so aware of the importance of physical activity, and in how many different forms that this can be. Not only for your physical well-being but also your mental health. As many of you know I am an avid gym goer, initially panic set in thinking how am I going to get my workouts in, but 3 months down the line I have to admit I am not missing the gym. It has given me time to weigh up the positives of not travelling to the gym, booking classes and waiting for equipment to be free. The versatility of spending lots of time outdoors running, cycling and doing workouts from my garden and lounge has been refreshing, this is not to say I’m not missing the squat rack though! 

With news last week that Boris is not reopening gyms there seemed to be a big backlash across social media, why the pubs and not gyms? We have to remember all businesses are trying to keep afloat in these financially uncertain times, larger gyms are battling on, prepping for when they are allowed to open, and small independent gyms probably just about surviving through online classes.

From research the UK has 7,239 gyms, with around two-thirds of these run privately. This comprises 10.4m memberships. The fitness industry is an £8bn-a-year industry that employs around 190,000 people. David Minton, director of the leisure database predicts that one in five people will ditch memberships. This will also highlight the “sleepers”, the lucrative group who pay a membership fee for a service they never use. Around 31%, or 3.6 million, of the country’s gym members fall into this group, The other factor to consider is the “Joe Wicks effect”, have people actually got into a habit, and will that prevent them from going back into a gym where they may not necessarily feel safe?”

UKActive chief executive has said polls suggest over 80% of UK members do want to return, in Switzerland the return rates have been 70%-90%. The reality is no one really knows.

UKActive is the industry’s trade body, responsible for drawing up guidelines to help gyms get back to work. The advice includes spacing exercise equipment 2 metres apart or marking every other machine as out of order. A gym’s maximum capacity should be based on 3 square metres per person with the same maths applied to swimming pools. Markings could be drawn in a studio to ensure socially distanced classes. But most importantly, it describes the need for a cleaning rota that would put Mrs Hinch to shame. 

The worry is for the studios that are purely class based, there is the potential that they will struggle due to the limited occupancy. Can they survive with only half full classes?

Huffing and puffing comes with the territory in a gym, there is inevitably, an amount of sharing of equipment, and that risk of someone else's sweat wafting your way. High-use areas will be cleaned every couple of hours and at night gyms will need to be deep cleaned. There is also talk of expensive robot cleaners that use light beams to zap surfaces to ensure club and studio cleanliness standards. The gym will never have been so clean! 

Gym goers will also have to become more hygiene-conscious. You’ll no doubt have to wipe down equipment before, and again afterwards for every piece of equipment you use. If people are sensible, we will be able to return to our gyms safe in the knowledge everyone has a shared goal, to be respectful to each other and minimise any risk of sharing the virus. 

Will all this being said, enjoying our outdoor workouts are all well and good with the heat wave the UK has been experiencing, will we feel the same when the suns stopped shining, the nights draw in and winter edges around the corner.