Top takeaways and insights from The Next Fitness Consumer Report by ABC Fitness Solutions, the IHRSA Foundation and ClubIntel.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the U.S., it created a significant disruption within the health and fitness industry. Owners and operators had to undergo mandated shutdowns, outside-only operations, and consumer concerns — all leading to significant losses in members.
With this in mind, ABC Fitness Solutions, the IHRSA Foundation, and ClubIntel set out to understand insights and strategies for motivating the consumer’s return to health clubs and gyms through “The Next Fitness Consumer Report.”
The study was conducted through an online survey in June 2021. Survey participants were recruited using a series of screening questions to qualify a “highly targeted profile of active consumers.” The study targeted adults over the age of 18 who are either currently active or have an interest in becoming active.
The survey results provided great information on how consumers’ fitness habits and motivations have changed since the COVID-19 pandemic.
One point that was revealed is something the industry was already aware of: significant growth with at-home exercise regimens is continuing as the pandemic eases.
According to the results, active consumers are continuing to use at-home options for their workouts at a rate now exceeding that of health clubs and fitness studios (current usage compared to pre-pandemic usage). The largest increases have occurred with free online fitness — such as YouTube workouts, fitness influencers and Instagram — at home fitness equipment — Peloton and the Mirror — and digital-only programs like Apple Fitness+ and Les Mill On-Demand.
“The insights from the report speak to the increasing need for clubs to meet their members where they are, both inside and outside the club,” said Bill Davis, the president and CEO of ABC Fitness Solutions. “This presents an opportunity for clubs to rethink how and what they deliver in terms of programming. Every day our client-facing teams witness how technology is inspiring programmatic changes that help more members reach their fitness goals.”
The report also revealed which members are — and are not — returning to facilities, which varies by age and gender.
Studios lost traction with the 18 to 24 and 40 to 55 age groups. However, they have seen increases in the 25 to 39 age range. Women are statistically returning less to health clubs/big-box gyms, in-person personal training, sports activities, and studios. However, more women are using at-home equipment, but have shifted to spending less than $25 a month when it comes to fitness post-pandemic. Conversely, women also indicated that a digital membership for trial and a more welcoming atmosphere were key factors that would encourage them to join a big box gym.
“The differences in fitness preferences by age group and gender indicate that there is an opportunity for clubs to understand the behaviors, motivations and beliefs of their member base,” said Davis. “Understanding their members’ personal fitness preferences will allow them to tailor programming to deliver a more personalized fitness experience.”
Despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, active consumers have remained diligent with their workout frequency. While they may be working out through different methods, consumers have maintained, or in some instances, increased their workout frequency. However, compared to those who have retained to their big-box gym memberships, those who have recently canceled have felt declines in their workout/fitness levels more so than their counterparts.
On the other hand, nearly 80% of the participants stated they are on track to meet their fitness goals. For those who are not on track to meet their fitness goals, they stated lack of motivation has been the No. 1 thing getting in their way. Second to motivation is a loss of interest and enjoyment.
Another key finding of the survey is the usage of big-box gyms.
Currently big-box gyms have 34% of the active consumer market share. Among those who are current members of big-box gyms, approximately 40% have joined within the past year.
Here are the other key findings:
“I am encouraged by the fact that 49% of consumers reported they plan to rejoin a fitness club within the next six to 12 months,” said Davis. “This represents an exciting opportunity for clubs to differentiate their offerings to meet their members’ personal fitness preferences and become the hub of their entire fitness journey.”
Lastly, the study asked the participants to rate the relevance of over 30 exercise programs, services and training devices as it related to their personal exercise routine. In general, cardio training, flexibility/stretching and free weight training ranked the most important. However, the most important vary slightly when looking at the data by gender and age.
For instance, women place a higher emphasis on flexibility/stretching and cardio workouts than men. On the other hand, men have a stronger preference for outdoor sports. Interestingly, both genders place equal weight on free weight training, proving that more women are adding them into their workout routines.
The Next Fitness Consumer Report by ABC Fitness Solutions, the IHRSA Foundation and ClubIntel provides the industry with vital information for reopening and regaining members. Keeping these results in mind, gyms and health clubs will be able to have strategical and thoughtful plans in place to not only get their members back, but also attract the 80% of the population who doesn’t belong to a gym.
“We have seen exciting innovation from clubs as they rethink their strategy in response to a shift in members’ expectations,” said Davis. “My hope is that the responses and related insights in the report will help ignite creativity and help redefine innovation for the future of fitness.”