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How fitness has changed in 2020 — and the trends to look forward to in 2021

A nine-month pandemic has led to a major shift in how, when and where we exercise. Here's what your workout will look like in 2021.
Twenty-five percent of professionals are exercising more now than at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Twenty-five percent of professionals are exercising more now than at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.TODAY Illustration / Getty Images

This year has changed the way our lives look in many (or, most) ways. And our fitness routine is one area where we have seen some significant shifts. A new trends report released by ClassPass, a subscription site that allows members to book in-person and online boutique fitness classes and wellness treatments at a variety of venues, gave us some insight into how our exercise habits have evolved over the past year — and what we can expect moving into 2021.

Being confined to our houses over the past nine months has provided many people the flexibility to recommit to a fitness routine (or cling to one for an ounce of sanity in a world where we now live where we also work). In fact, 25% of professionals are exercising more now than at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the ClassPass report.

And the shifts we have seen this year will become the trends of next. Curious how fitness routines are changing? Here are the major takeaways from the report, and what it means for your fitness routine in 2021.

The lunch break is back

Gone are the days where people arrive at the office and keep their butt glued to a desk chair for nine hours. For the first time in a long time people are utilizing a lunch break — and they are using the time to work up a sweat.

“For the first time ever, 12 p.m. is the most popular time to work out during the week,” according to the report. “Lunchtime workouts have seen a 67% increase in popularity. This shift can largely be attributed to a rise in remote work — and the ease of no-shower required virtual meetings. Even as people have returned to studios, the 12 p.m. weekday time slot for in-person classes is more popular now than it was before lockdowns.”

And health experts say a midday workout is good for your physical and mental health (not to mention your productivity). Interested in making lunchtime fitness a part of your routine next year? Here are seven tips for making lunchtime workouts a habit.

A new focus on restorative fitness

Self-care and mental health have been trends on the rise in the wellness space for the past few years. But the sky-high stress levels of 2020 have led to an even bigger uptick in fitness for the sake of our mental and emotional health. Restorative fitness genres — yoga, Pilates and barre — took the majority of the slots in the top five most popular digital workouts this year (and meditation and stretching made it into the top 10), as members called for ways to manage pandemic stress.

“All of our old motivations for staying fit have gone by the wayside during the past nine months. Our tropical vacations, weddings, reunions, all these in-person events that made us focus on reaching a 'goal weight' are all virtual or postponed,” Sadie Lincoln, co-founder and CEO of Barre3, a fitness studio franchise and online workout platform, told TODAY.

“For the first time ever, the larger community is now seeing more and more people replace those thoughts about an ideal body type with learning how to be more present and mindful within their own bodies in fitness," said Lincoln. "It’s truly a wonderful development for our community and makes it more inclusive for those who have struggled to join in the past."

A digital/in-person hybrid

Digital workouts will remain popular because of their convenience, but that doesn’t mean in-person classes are obsolete. The survey found that 92% of professionals hope to return to fitness studios and gyms in 2021, with 40% planning to return exclusively to in-studio workouts when they feel safe to do so.

“The past year has shown us that digital fitness has its clear benefits," said Lincoln. "It's convenient and removes some of the financial and time barriers that we might face getting to an in-person class, as well as any self-conscious feelings about working out with others. "People are learning to be physically and mentally at home in their bodies and that’s a magical thing!”

This explains why half of respondents are planning a hybrid mix of in-studio and at-home workouts next year. The report found that members are booking equipment-heavy classes like HIIT, cycling, Pilates and boxing, surmising that members will rely on in-person classes for workouts that are tough to do at home.

“Our fitness communities are really vital to our physical, mental and social well-being and while digital options have helped us through the pandemic, they can’t completely fill that void of connecting and exercising with other clients and instructors in the studio,” said Lincoln. “The brands that will really succeed once we are vaccinated will be the ones that have both in-person and digital offerings. The omni-channel model will become the only way for fitness communities to stay dynamic and create innovative in-person and digital experiences. We’re entering a phase where the consumer will decide what works best for them and we need to meet them everywhere they want to be. We need to be able to seamlessly serve a client who still craves the community of their in-person classes, but has an irregular schedule and needs to do some classes online, too.”

Scratch your travel itch with a workout

Another bonus of increased digital offerings? Being able to tune into a workout happening anywhere. Last week I took a class with my favorite boxing trainer in Hawaii and did a full-body workout standing on the edge of a cliff in Ireland with my Oculus headset. Your fitness options are no longer limited to what is in your own city. Between virtual reality and apps that provide live workouts, you can exercise anywhere in the world.

More than half of ClassPass members have tuned in for classes taught in other cities. (Fun fact: North America fitness fans are likely to “travel” to London, Sydney and Amsterdam.) The ability to work out in another state, or even country, is a welcome escape during a time when travel has been placed on hold, and many of us are cooped up in our homes. And studios and gyms have definitely taken note. For example, "Barre3 is actively investing in growing our digital platform in a way that enhances the studio in-person experience and meets our clients at all times of the day and all stages of life," said Lincoln. "We have over 300 classes in our digital studio and are just around the corner from our first all-digital, month-long January Challenge."

Corporate wellness will be a necessity, not a luxury

Seventy percent of professionals say that fitness benefits are the most valuable after healthcare and four in five professionals say fitness has been crucial to establishing a new work-from-home routine. Even as we start transitioning back into an office setting, working professionals are not only going to want to continue to make fitness a part of their daily routine, but they are going to look to their companies to help make that happen.

Laura Putnam, CEO of Motion Infusion, a San Francisco-based wellness company that brings movement into the workplace, and author of “Workplace Wellness that Works," told TODAY that wellness initiatives are becoming essential. "What I’m seeing is that wellness is moving from a 'nice to have' to a 'must have,'" she said.

"More and more companies are finally getting it that it’s way more than just having a corporate wellness program in place, it’s about well-being as a way of doing business.” said Putnam. “I hope one of the silver linings that comes out of the pandemic will be a recognition by employers that movement and physical exercise is critical to employee well-being. From what I’ve heard from managers and business owners, increasing physical activity levels, especially during work time, will be at the top of their priority list when people can begin to return to their workplace."

What will this look like? "I expect that businesses will begin implementing official policies to encourage employees to be more active throughout their day and normalize activities such as walking meetings, team-based stretches or mid-day workouts," said Putnam. "I also believe employees will be encouraged to go for walks during the day, rather than just taking a coffee break, or incorporate movement into the work place like jogging on the spot or providing ellipticals, similar to when standing desks were introduced to the workplace."