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Envisioning the Fitness Industry After COVID-19

The curve may be flattening, but things are far from returning to the way that they used to be. In fact, they may never. Industries have been turned on their heads — from the co-working industry that may be facing its demise in major cities after social-distancing regulations, to the health industry which is witnessing a pandemic-fear-fueled boom with the sales of supplements and health-oriented products. But on the health note, what about fitness?

Gyms were one of the last places to close when the pandemic hit America. But from tight quarters to the high rate of possible infection from sweat droplets and otherwise, it probably should have been one of the first. 

Giants such as LifeTime Fitness and workout studios like Soul Cycle have had to completely cease operations, rendering revenues down to zero as they refunded hundreds of thousands of customers’ monthly membership fees. Beyond sharing online resources to support their gym-goers workout plans at home, their hands have been tied — making it plausible that the set of gym giants that have led the space in the past few years may not look the same when this is all over.

Fitness Built on Autonomy

Instead, individuals have had to create their own workout routines to do from home, their backyards, or whenever they could fit in a quick run or brisk walk around their neighborhoods. If anything, COVID-19 has proved how autonomous we can be when we have to be. Online resources for workouts such as a free program by Chloe Ting have soared in popularity, and the ease of staying at home and working out on your own time in your own privacy won’t soon be forgotten when workout spaces reopen.

How then, can we give individuals more autonomy over their fitness? We can think through what a gym offers that at-home doesn’t — the equipment, for one, but also personal trainers. Workout classes hold individuals accountable to their goals. You can’t easily clip out mid-spin class or stop your downward dog in yoga class. So, while accountability may require the in-person elements of fitness, autonomy doesn’t have to. 

Just look at new technology FitnessAI: an app that uses artificial intelligence to craft personalized weight lifting plans on a daily basis. Its founder, Jake Mor, is no stranger to finding ways to insert autonomy into the lives of those seeking a good workout. “In college, I founded an app called Lift Log, which helped people keep track of their weight lifting,” Mor said. “40,000 people logged over six million workouts on Lift Log, which helped me create the data for FitnessAI.” 

Technology is only improving, making it more plausible that artificial intelligence could one day replace personal trainers completely. Fibits, Oura Rings, and Apple Watches are making it easier than ever for individuals to check in on their health on a daily basis — to make sure they’re hitting their ideal number of steps, and their fitness goals. Do these workouts really need to be done from a gym?

The Ease of At-Home Workouts

Fitness founder Neha Motwani said to CNBC that she doesn’t see a possibility of gyms and workout classes hitting their pre-pandemic capacity anytime soon, due to social distancing norms. At this point, it’s not only a guideline anymore — it’s a way of life. And as we’ve been taught to stay in our bubbles and get used to it, breaking out again may be hard. 

Motwani began to offer her online classes for 60-70% of the in-person fee she usually charges in her workout studio. And even then, there are so many free classes and workout resources available now, that the ease and cost-efficiency of at-home workouts is becoming an unparalleled option. Why return to packed, sweaty, expensive gyms even when the pandemic is in our rearview mirror? It threatens to disrupt the fitness industry more than we can yet see.