In Club vs Digital: What’s the Most Effective Way to Work Out?



What makes a live class in club better than a digital workout elsewhere? Is it the presence of an inspiring Instructor; the sense of community; the pumping music; or the specialist equipment?


Most operators would say it’s all these things combined that make a live class the pinnacle workout experience. And it’s something we’ve known throughout the pandemic, even when the boom in digital fitness caused some in the media to question whether gyms would soon become extinct.


The ‘live revival’ we’ve since witnessed has squashed such talk, with clubs coming back strongly and digital demand softening significantly. But wouldn’t it be nice to put the club vs digital debate to bed once and for all?


Well, now we can. According to new research presented at the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) Conference in June, taking a live class in club brings better results and more enjoyment than doing the same workout digitally at home.


Believed to be the first of its kind, the pilot study from the Les Mills Research Lab compared a BODYCOMBAT class in a gym setting with livestream and Video on Demand (VOD) sessions following the same release at home. Participants’ average heart rate was 14 percent higher during the gym class compared to the livestream and VOD sessions, despite being the exact same class format and release.


As well as motivating them to work harder, the in club workout was rated by participants as being 13 percent more enjoyable and 14 percent more satisfying than the two digital workouts.


Researchers believe the greater intensity and more positive perceptions of a club-based class can be attributed to what they call ‘Groupness’. The term was coined after previous research from Penn State University found that people in live group exercise classes experience increased levels of individual exertion, enjoyment, and satisfaction as a result of exercising together in a studio, particularly when their movements are synchronized.


Dr. Jinger Gottschall, Adjunct Associate Professor at the University of Colorado and Lead Researcher for the study, said: “When considered with previous research, our findings show we really are social when it comes to working out – being together brings out the best in us.


“The combination of exercising as a group, led by an Instructor, in a live studio setting, results in a more impactful and immersive workout than doing the same class at home via livestream or VOD. Having more fun and feeling connected also increases the likelihood of maintaining an exercise habit over a sustained period of time.”


A viable option


But despite in club workouts yielding better results and enjoyment, the research found that digital solutions still have a role to play in helping to grow the club market and attract new audiences.


“Although live classes are best for maximizing both physiological intensity and psychological perceptions, our research shows livestream and VOD fitness class formats are viable options for maintaining regular physical activity routines,” adds Bryce Hastings, Les Mills Head of Research and co-author of the study.


“In fact, study participants reported feeling less self-conscious and worried about their performance during the VOD workout, highlighting its potential as a gateway into regular exercise for newcomers who may not yet feel confident enough to join a live class in club.


“A live class at the gym remains the pinnacle experience, but the rise of digital fitness and flexible working reinforces the notion that hybrid fitness habits will become the norm. The 2021 Global Fitness Report found the majority of exercisers now favor a 60:40 split between gym and home workouts, so it will be interesting to see how fitness habits shift as the world learns to live with Covid.”

A new age of fitness
A new age of fitness


The ultimate winner will be the consumer, who now has more ways to work out and greater flexibility, making it easier to sustain their exercise habit. For clubs, the key challenge will be to leverage these digital tools to maintain member motivation and engagement in a way that complements the in-club experience.


With excellent execution, the retention benefits this brings are two-fold. The extended reach from their digital offerings means clubs can do more to motivate members in between each club visit and maintain their exercise habit, while it also reduces the risk that their heads will be turned by rival offerings online or elsewhere.


Maximizing this opportunity requires a total reimagination of the member journey and how we measure engagement. Instead of simply tracking club attendances, we need to pan out and look holistically at all the touchpoints a member has with their facility. This includes home workouts via the club’s digital offering, and even use of the club app to accurately assess member engagement and take actions to enhance this. Customer-centricity and seamless connection between the club and home will prove key to winning in this new age of fitness.


“One of the most important strategies that health, fitness, and wellness clubs need to employ is to expand their reach beyond the traditional bricks and mortar to provide members with a total wellness solution,” says Kevin McHugh, COO of The Atlantic Club in New Jersey, US.


“The leading health and fitness clubs of the future will provide a full omnichannel solution to their members.”

Les Mills is a global leader in group fitness, with 20 programs currently available in participating gyms and fitness facilities worldwide. Les Mills programs include the world’s first group exercise resistance training workout BODYPUMP™, BODYCOMBAT™ (martial arts), RPM™ (indoor cycling), LES MILLS GRIT™ (30-minute high-intensity interval training) and the revolutionary immersive cycle experience, THE TRIP™. Each workout is refreshed and updated with new choreography and music every three months.


Founded in New Zealand in 1968 by four-time Olympian Les Mills, the company has grown over the past 52 years to become a world-leader group fitness. Les Mills workouts are delivered by 140,000 certified instructors in 20,000 clubs across 100 countries and are available as live, virtual and immersive classes, as well as via the LES MILLS™ On Demand streaming platform.


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