Virtually Anywhere: The New Role of Digital Fitness

virtual digital fitness

We could be forgiven for thinking the major upheaval seen all across the club and fitness landscape is mostly over. Gyms were closed due to Covid-19 precautions and now (in most) areas they’re open with a return to some form of normal underway. The truth is very different – and we’re actually experiencing a sea-change evolution in how clubs will operate and members will engage with fitness. And it’s not happening a year or five years from now. Change is already underway, and it’s being driven largely by one major factor – the rapid explosion and integration of all kinds of digital technologies into daily gym life. Let’s take a closer look.


Digital is Here to Stay + Motivating Members

The fitness industry has a long track record with fads and trend that flare up, burn bright and die out quickly. But digital technology and virtual class content isn’t part of that world. The current $1 billion digital fitness industry, experts say, is on track to grow to close to $15 billion across categories from virtual classes and content to wearables, smart apparel and hardware. And research shows it’s not an either or proposition either. Members engaging with digital fitness content and virtual classes does not weaken or replace their affiliation with their club. A recent survey by L.E.K. consulting points to more than 70 percent of respondents saying use of digital fitness services either made them a little or a lot more likely to use their traditional gym facilities or had no bearing on their club usage at all. Digital content, virtual classes and streaming instructor one-on-ones are all contributing to member engagement and motivating people to interact more with fitness, which today means physical and digital opportunities.


Those Users Mean Smart Data for Club Management

With the explosion in wearable technology and other in club software, we’re on the cusp of the big data era for club operators everywhere. Products like ClassCount can monitor, track and report on class attendance, identifying busiest club times and participation trends across different instructors and fitness class types. While connected data from wearables in class can now give us performance metrics, heart rates and other data points that can help to shape member experience in classes and inform how instructors manage them. On-demand content and virtual classes – whether on site at the club or at home – is probably the leading data provider for clubs too, measuring usage, class attendance, engagement, peak times, popular content and class types and more.  As we move forward the ability to integrate all of this data and to analyze for continual improvement in classes and offerings is only going to grow.


Digital Content Driving Member Engagement in New Activities

Even before the pandemic, digital content and virtual classes were creating ways for members to engage with new forms of fitness, to try a new class out or go back and perfect a move or position from a live class. Covid-19 and clubs streaming a wide variety of content directly into people’s homes during lock-downs lit a fuse on that trend. Some of the highest usage numbers we’ve seen were in the areas of wellness, well-being and meditation – not surprising given the average person’s stress level in the months of March and April this year. But stretches, yoga and short form muscle-group workouts of seven minutes or less are also a growing trend among club members whether that’s in the studio or at home. Going forward, we’re expecting to see clubs and instructors looking for ways to integrate complimentary workout content into their class programs, encouraging members to select certain types of content for cross training, strengthening and additional performance enhancing practice.


The Rise of Digital – and Club – Communities

Perhaps the most critical role digital fitness is playing today is helping clubs build community with members, particularly challenging in uncertain social and economic times. Club operators are using carefully curated fitness content packages in outbound email marketing to members: helping them find and engage with the fitness content that makes sense to them and their goals. Or they’re creating and deploying virtual challenges at key times of the year, bringing members together in the virtual space as they do on-site at the club. We’re expecting all of this to grow rapidly as the industry moves to a more integrated universe where digital content and virtual classes are experienced and enjoyed by members in a seamless universe that starts in-studio at the club but continues out into the real world across all social media platforms and via streaming delivery into basement family workout rooms and wherever members need to engage with their class mates and clubs.

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