Group workouts, packed gyms, carefree sessions on cardio machines — it all seems like a dream after almost a year of social distancing and warnings to avoid indoor exercise with others.
If 2020 was “truly Armageddon” for the health club industry, as some analysts have called it, what will gym goers find in 2021?
Experts predict the COVID-19 vaccine means things will not only get back to normal, but mark the start of a boom for gyms since people are hungry to return to their pre-coronavirus fitness routine.
There will be a “huge rebound” effect for health clubs by the third quarter of next year, said Walter Thompson, past president of the American College of Sports Medicine and lead author of its Worldwide Survey of Fitness Trends for 2021, released on Tuesday.
“Gyms are going to be overwhelmed with business. I’m incredibly optimistic about what's going to happen to the fitness industry in 2021,” Thompson told TODAY.
“People are going to want to get back into the gym — not just for exercise, but to meet people, to socialize just like they did prior to COVID.”
That hope is badly needed for an industry in crisis.
The coronavirus lockdowns and restrictions have led to “the toughest time” for health clubs in more than 50 years, analysts said. About 15% of gyms and studios have permanently closed, and $15 billion of revenue has been lost this year, according to the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association.
“There is no curbside pickup for fitness,” the trade group reminded the public as part of its campaign to support the Health and Fitness Recovery Act — a proposed $30 billion fund to provide grants to affected clubs.
So what will gyms look like next year? Expect enhanced cleaning routines and social distancing measures to stay in place until the COVID-19 vaccine becomes widely available.
The American College of Sports Medicine’s forecast for 2021 offers some more clues. The findings are based on a survey of more than 4,300 health and fitness pros.
Online training will still be big
Online training was the top fitness trend in the report and no wonder: This was the year when millions of people streamed fitness classes at home rather than attending in-person, prompting gyms to create their own online offerings.
“The really smart ones [that] were able to transition to more of a home delivery model not only survived, but thrived,” Thompson said.
Expect your health club to keep those online options in place to keep engaging members at a distance — at least for now. Gyms will continue to stream live classes or keep a library of prerecorded sessions.
But people will be lured away from their Pelotons
Gym goers will face a choice between exercising at home or the club.
“Which of those would you prefer? Now that people have been isolated for over a year come the second quarter of 2021, I think most are going to want to have more of a social experience in gyms rather than the continued isolation at home,” Thompson predicted.
“If we were to ask, ‘Why did you go back to the gym?’ my guess is that the majority are going to say, ‘I want or need that social experience.’”
Most people who exercise regularly need extrinsic motivation, or incentive from somebody other than themselves — somebody saying, “Hey, great workout today,” he added.
Expect lots of body weight training
This type of fitness includes pushups, burpees, squats, mountain climbers and other exercises that can be incorporated into a class and require little or no equipment. That makes it inexpensive for the clubs and clean for members because people don’t have to touch machines that others have just used.
But it’s not all about equipment-free exercise
Strength training with free weights, barbells, kettlebells, dumbbells and medicine balls was another top trend for 2021. Gym goers may be eager to re-discover the variety of fitness gear they’ve been missing at home.
Group fitness will return slowly
Group training — which has been very popular in recent years — “fell dramatically” in the ACSM top fitness trends survey for 2021, not a surprise given the realities of 2020.
“It's going to be a little bit slower in returning than people coming back to gyms and working out on their own,” Thompson noted. “We're going to start seeing small group personal training become more popular as people get more comfortable being in groups.”
Gyms may offer outdoor activities
There’s less chance of catching COVID-19 outside so small group walks, group rides or hiking groups have been popular during the coronavirus crisis. Health clubs may organize such outings for their members or offer classes in parks.
Get ready for big discounts on memberships
Many people who were worried about catching COVID-19 canceled their gym memberships, so health clubs are expected to offer very steep discounts to lure those former members back.
“The health fitness industry is going to have a very good year in 2021,” Thompson said. “I think it's going to be business as usual by June or July.”