The Next Fitness Consumer Report highlights the importance of mental well-being, most popular outlets for exercise, active consumer’s fitness regimen, role fitness facilities play in well-being, and more.
The IHRSA Foundation and ABC Fitness Solutions recently commissioned ClubIntel to conduct a research study examining the motivations and behaviors of fitness consumers. The resulting report, The Next Fitness Consumer, shows post-COVID exercise enthusiasts value the physical and mental health benefits of exercise.
Active consumer motivation for a total fitness experience demands a highly personalized delivery—the fitness industry can no longer provide a one size fits all approach.
“This report gave us timely insight about what the future of fitness holds for the industry,” says Bill Davis, CEO of ABC Fitness Solutions. “As consumers look for more choices to create their fitness journey, they want a variety in equipment, programming, and facilities. Four out of the five most relevant modalities are features in gyms and fitness clubs, making them well-positioned for growth across multiple segments and demographics.”
The demand already shows as fitness clubs using ABC Fitness Solutions in the U.S. experienced 26% more new member joins in Q2 2021, compared to the same quarter in 2019. Year-to-date experience is on track to surpass the overall 2019 trend by nearly 10%.
Mental Well-being Ranks as Second Most Important Motivator for Exercise
While being active is the number one goal for consumers (46%), mental well-being ranks second (35%), and weight loss ranks third (32%). Active consumers value physical activity and sports participation for benefits beyond appearance and weight loss. A previous IHRSA report showed that fitness consumers engaged in exercise over the pandemic as a means to manage stress and mental well-being.
Recently, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported the impact of the pandemic on disrupting mental health services across the globe. Although it’s no cure for mental illness, independent studies have shown the vital role regular exercise plays in promoting mental health. Fitness professionals and clubs have a unique position to provide the personalized guidance and resources consumers need to engage in consistent physical activity.
Green Exercise Remains Number One Outlet for Exercise
More than two out of five active consumers engage in outdoor exercise (43%), a trend that grew by 7% during the pandemic while brick and mortar facilities were closed. Walking, running, hiking, biking, and other outdoor socially-distant sports grew in popularity over the pandemic.
While operating on harsh restrictions, some fitness businesses were quick to pivot in response to the growth in outdoor exercise. Across the globe, for clubs and studios in jurisdictions barring indoor workouts, many operators moved equipment, fitness programs, and team training outdoors.
Scientific research has shown that exercising in natural environments can boost self-esteem and mood, reduce stress, and even help manage symptoms of anxiety and depression. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that active consumers saw the outdoors as a go-to outlet for physical activity in a time when social isolation—due to shutdowns—took a toll on mental health. The Next Fitness Consumerconfirms that outdoor exercise is here to stay.
The Active Consumer’s Fitness Regimen Indicates Physical Wellness is a Top Priority
The Next Fitness Consumer underscores the increasing importance of physical wellness among active individuals. Over the pandemic, nearly half of consumers invested in fitness equipment while gyms and studios were closed. One in 10 active consumers spent more than $1,000 on fitness equipment.
Consistent with the omnichannel approach fitness professionals and clubs employed over the pandemic, the active consumer engages in physical activity using a variety of options. Home fitness equipment, digital content, outdoor exercise, and gym and studio usage all shape the fitness universe of the new fitness consumer.
As consumers gradually return to their gyms and studios, home and online fitness engagement continues. Relative to pre-COVID, active consumers increased:
usage of free online workouts (+15%),
at-home fitness equipment (+13%),
other digital exercise programs (+8%), and
outdoor exercise (+7%).
The wide range of options calls for fitness business operators and practitioners to curate a personalized delivery.
“As fitness clubs redefine who they are and the value they provide to our members, it is becoming clear that programming and technology can bring together the disparate elements of member fitness journeys. Operators must prioritize and meet member needs from access and optionality to goal tracking and personalization to accomplish this. While this will look different between clubs, every operator can craft and deliver a unique Total Fitness Experience for their members,” says Davis.
Fitness Clubs & Studios Play a Vital Role in the Well-being Regimen of Consumers
Regardless of workout modality, three out of four active consumers feel they are on track to meet fitness and wellness goals. However, nearly all active consumers using a gym or studio indicate their goals are progressing at a respective 84% and 83% of total club goers. Belonging to a fitness center provides consumers with the tools, structure, and accountability to reach personal goals.
In addition, four out of five of the fitness offerings most relevant to active consumers are available at virtually all fitness clubs and studios:
Cardio equipment training
Free weight training
Equipment-based exercise classes
Health/nutrition wellness coaching
With the increasing importance of a total fitness experience, health and nutrition wellness coaching services should grow among business operators and fitness professionals.
Traditional Gyms Can Expect a Return From Canceled Members
Nearly half (49%) of active consumers that used to belong to a big-box gym indicate intentions to return within the next 6-12 months. Consumers returning to the gym may be no surprise. The most relevant fitness offerings among active consumers are accessible for an affordable monthly fee at low-priced facilities. The report also shows that the range of equipment, amenities, and variety of workouts triggered former members to return to their clubs.
The number one reason cited as a concern for return was that the pandemic was not yet under control, as 44% of former members selected this reason. As many industry insiders project, a successful and speedy vaccine rollout intertwines with industry recovery. Although challenges remain with COVID-19 cases rising due to variants, The Next Fitness Consumer shows that active members intend to resume their workouts at fitness centers once they feel safe to do so.
Opportunities Remain to Serve Underrepresented Groups
Historically, the fitness club industry is known to attract affluent, able-bodied professionals. The report shows that Americans with household incomes of at least $150,000 a year are more likely to be active than those from households with an income of less than $50,000 (78% vs. 59%). Nearly one-third (31%) of Americans from the lowest income group observed do not work out but are interested in regular activity.
Unemployed and disabled workers have the lowest exercise rate at 53% and 44%, respectively. Among the disabled, 40% that do not exercise are interested in getting active. This interest ranks highest among all demographic groups observed in the report, providing fitness businesses with an opportunity to build programs and offerings inclusive to individuals with disabilities.
Davis concludes, “While options from brands like Peloton, Apple Fitness+, Mirror, and others are not new, the industry can no longer run in parallel and expect the same results we saw during previous home fitness booms, instead, they must pivot and adapt. This presents [an] exciting opportunity for the industry because operators now have the knowledge and technology to blend their existing expertise with ‘next consumer behavior’ to deliver experiences that exceed expectations.”
The Next Fitness Consumer is available at abcfitness.com for free.
This article was a team effort by several IHRSA experts.
IHRSA, the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association, is a not-for-profit trade association representing the global fitness industry of over 200,000 health and fitness facilities and their suppliers.
IHRSA maintains a leadership role in advancing physical activity, which is critical to peak health and fight the battle against obesity and chronic lifestyle disease. As one of the world’s leading authorities on the commercial health club industry, IHRSA’s mission is to grow, promote, and protect the health and fitness industry. IHRSA provides its members with benefits and resources that will help them be more successful. IHRSA and its members are devoted to making the world happier, healthier, and more prosperous through regular exercise and activity promotion. IHRSA is the publisher of Club Business International, the leading monthly magazine for the global fitness industry.