Digital Fitness, the Global Warming of Brick and Mortar

Apr 13, 2021

"I can't wait until things go back to how they were before COVID-19." - screwed fitness pros everywhere.

Before COVID-19, 27% of gym members had not declared that they do not plan to come back to the gym even when the world is completely open.

Before COVID-19, there was not a four month wait list to order a kettlebell so that you could begin to build the home gym that would replace the membership.

Before COVID-19, there was no Apple Fitness, Peloton had not doubled it's revenue to $1.8B, and Lululemon hadn't paid $500M for Mirror (which only had 10,000 users at the time).

Before COVID-19, wearables were an obscure idea that the person who was enamored by both tech and fitness was excited about, but no one else cared about.

There is no going back to how things were before, and people who are waiting for those days are going to disappear like the doctor who refuses to adopt MRIs because they don't like too much technology in their practice.

You heard it here first, here is what's coming...

In the next 24 months, if not sooner, we are going to see companies like Mirror partnering with companies like Garmin for access to the data coming from their watches. The consumer is going to be able to purchase digital one on one training sessions for less money than they cost in the local gym because the volume for the digital provider is going to be so great that the margin they need to make per session will be low. A digital personal training session is going to happen between a client, and a real trainer, maybe even a celebrity trainer (think Cameo for fitness). The trainer will be able to see the client on their local big screen, and they're going to be able to see all of the data flowing from the wearable at the same time.

The screen is going to be futuristic, the client and all of their measurable data on the same screen at the same time. Heart rate, respiration rate, distance moved, total power output calculations changing in real time, joint angles, and more are all going to be displayed on the screen for both the client and the trainer to see.

The trainer's view of the screen is going to be their client and their client's data, with a small "facetime" like picture in picture of themselves and the client's will be the equal opposite. The in person advantage of the coach to see and correct technique better than the many to one model that exists today will be gone.

The only advantage that the in person coach will have is tactile cueing (which I believe will be replaced by vibratory wearables to call attention to an area that the trainer on the other side of the screen can initiate at the push of a button) and the "in the room energy" which can't be measured and is hard to market.

Sound like doomsday for brick and mortar fitness? It should. Because it is what's coming and if Brick and Mortar fitness providers do not adapt their business model and their offerings to provide something superior to this, they're going to be gone like blockbuster.

So what can Brick and Mortar fitness businesses do to reduce the threat of global warming...? Many things.

  1. Start prioritizing the value of the personal trainers in the commercial gym space. They're an asset when properly educated and positioned, a profit center, not a loss center. This can be done by simply increasing the minimum standard for the education of the trainer in the gym and expanding the scope of what the trainer does when on the floor and not with a client to make the gym a place that feels welcoming and valuable to the member. Gym owners will need to pay these professional trainers well, and to do that they're going to need to raise prices significantly to numbers that are likely double or triple what they're currently charging. The $20/month gym will be gone. Digital fitness is going to chase glitz and glam because it works. Create meaningful value and the long game will play in your favor.
  2. Niche down on the kind of client you want to service and have the perfect equipment lineup for them. Spin classes don't make commercial gyms a lot of money unless many people join thinking they will access the spin classes, and then decide not to come after all. You don't need all of the equipment so that everyone can find something with you. You need the right equipment and offerings so that some people can find everything with you. Tonal, Mirror, Peloton, Apple, they can't compete with heavy steel for the strength athlete's attention, they can't compete with TRX straps, medicine balls, sleds, and turf for the function seeking client, and they can't compete with the aquatics centre for the client who wants to swim. There are many examples of equipment offerings that a gym could focus on, these are three that came to mind.
  3. Make it about more than the workout. Make your gym a status symbol, a force for positive change in your local community, a place that intentionally changes people's lives in and out of the gym. Provide education so that people can come to be empowered and decrease the friction between them and your equipment. Every commercial gym has the group of people who stay downstairs on the cardio equipment and couldn't even point out the belt squat upstairs if you showed them a picture of someone using it. Why? Because they lack the education to make the equipment upstairs feel approachable and valuable to use. Once you provide the education, the digital fitness brands can't replace the access to the equipment.

This is not about competition between brick and mortar and digital fitness. Approaching it as competition is the critical the mistake. I've seen progressive gyms adopt private rooms that provide access to all of the "competing" digital brands for their members. If your gym is in a city where most of your members live in one or two bedroom apartments or basement apartments, they may not have room for a dresser, let alone a spin bike, treadmill, or cables.

I'm not a climate scientist, but I have a pretty good idea that Earth is getting warmer based on what the scientists have to say. The way I see it, I have choices. I can either live a full life in which I'm considerate to the changes that may be coming down the pipe, or I can put my head in the sand and leave it to the next generation. I choose the former. For brick and mortar fitness, this choice doesn't exist. The low lying cities of brick and mortar fitness have already been drowned by the rising sea levels, and the water is only going to get higher.

What do you plan to do about it?

-By Dr. Sean Pastuch