In fitness, as in life, change is constant. After a crazy few years that put the brakes on club growth (while simultaneously accelerating digital disruption) the outlines of the new fitness landscape are taking shape – and rapid reinvention is back on the horizon.
But as the industry gets back to growth, what exactly will the next wave of changes look like? Should we expect a continuation of the shifts we’ve seen since the start of COVID? Or will we see a resurgence of pre-pandemic trends as fitness consumers relish getting back to old ways after three years of turmoil?
Spanning new models, evolving member needs, and the return of some classic categories, here are 6 standout trends shaking up club studios in 2023:
1. Strength in numbers
Strength training is back in a big way, with a recent MindBody report declaring it the most popular fitness class of 2022. This trend is being notably driven by Gen Z, with strength training identified as their favorite way to work out, followed by cardio and yoga/Pilates. And for a generation that grew up on social media and have a passion for inclusivity, it’s no surprise hashtags like #girlswholift are inspiring growing numbers of young women to take up strength training – both in studio classes and on the gym floor.
As some of the group’s largest facilities in the US, Gold's Gym Newburgh and Middletown in New York are reaping the rewards of leaning into the brand’s legacy and offering compelling strength experiences to attract younger members.
“We’re seeing a huge wave coming back to the gym and we're also seeing a shift in the average age of people joining. It's dropped by about 10 years from what it was pre-pandemic – the 18 to 34-year-old market is now by far our biggest joiner group,” says owner and managing partner Don Murphy.
“Strength training is more popular now than we've ever seen and social media is definitely helping to drive this. Gen Z film themselves lifting and then share it on Instagram or TikTok – creating a viral effect which drives more people towards gym-based strength training.”
2. Holistic health benefits
One of the biggest legacies of the pandemic has been renewed appreciation for the importance of wider wellness, with club studios ideally placed to provide the connection and shared experiences that modern consumers crave.
A recent report from ABC Fitness revealed that overall wellness remains a key focus for exercisers, who are seeking workout solutions that align their physical and mental health. Beyond the traditional notions, consumers now define wellness as including a discovered sense of community and belonging, with a holistic focus on bringing the mental, physical and spiritual together.
This chimes with 2022 research that also identified a shift in priorities around what motivates people to work out. Pre-pandemic, the report found the top workout driver was to control weight, but with 45% of consumers feeling stressed ‘on a regular basis’, reducing stress is now the top reason for working out, suggesting significant opportunities for clubs with strong mind/body offerings.
3. Pilates bounces back
With holistic health firmly on the agenda, it’s no surprise to see Pilates enjoying a strong resurgence and being widely tipped as 2023’s hottest fitness trend. Driven by its broad appeal and myriad benefits, the training style first popularized in the 1920s by Joseph Pilates continues to inspire new followers 100 years on, with Pilates named one of Gen Z’s favorite workout genres.
At a time when consumers are seeking broader benefits from their workouts, Pilates is perfectly placed for a comeback. On top of being an incredible way to build core strength, scientific studies show Pilates can do everything from improving sleep and bettering sex lives to lifting cognitive function and boosting immunity.
As Pilates participation rates are estimated to have increased by 38% in 2022, operators have been scrambling to update timetables to meet increased demand, while the team behind F45 has announced major expansion plans for its Pilates-infused FS8 concept in the US, Canada and UK over the next twelve months.
4. Flex appeal
Specific workout genres like strength and Pilates are making waves, but it’s a rising tide that’s lifting most boats as consumers express a strong preference for variety on their club’s studio timetable. MindBody’s 2022 Fitness Report – based on answers from 16,000 Americans – concludes that operators can win by focusing on the three w’s: Wellness, Workouts and fitness Wherever they want it.
The report found two-thirds of people prefer a facility that can offer a range of workouts – both in-club and at-home – to keep them motivated and engaged.
Group fitness legend Emma Barry explains how the wealth of options could play out: “Think of consuming fitness like we consume food. Consider the many dining options; five-star experience, cheap snack in a food court, supermarket or food delivery. This equates to exercising at a club, at home on your phone, at work with virtual, on vacation, attending a festival, or participating in a game.”
For the many clubs already offering a broad timetable, the takeaway here could be leveraging your Instructor talent to spotlight the breadth of high-quality classes on offer.
Hosting a club event to showcase your workouts and Instructor team is a great way to promote your brand at its best. Inviting rockstar Instructors to deliver pulsating workouts will help highlight your club’s strong sense of community. Events can also be a great way to win new members, so nailing the conversion and onboarding experience is vital for showing them everything your club has to offer and helping them to fall in love with it.
5. Indoor cycling cranks up a gear
After a decade of growth driven by the boutique studio boom, the past few years have been tricky for indoor cycling, with several big-name brands in the category hitting the skids. Peloton has announced several rounds of cutbacks over the past 18 months, while boutique studio operator SoulCycle recently shuttered 19 studios and laid off 75 employees.
But in a market where both fitness studios and home workout providers are finding it tough, many operators still see strong opportunities in the cycle category. Barry’s (of Bootcamp fame) is launching a new chain of indoor cycling studios, while Xponential has now grown its CycleBar boutique chain to over 260 open studios, with plans to further expand into Japan, Australia and New Zealand.
So what’s driving the cycle comeback? Perhaps the fact that cycle studios are the most profitable area of the club per square foot is proving attractive to operators as margins face renewed pressure. Maybe the ease of exercising on a bike – and its accessibility for all types of members – is proving to be a strong suit at a time when record numbers of fitness beginners are joining facilities. Or perhaps it’s the transferability of cycling from club studio, to home workout, to outdoor pursuit that appeals in the age of Omnifitness training. Whatever the answer, 2023 looks set to be the year we see fitness fans flock back to the saddle.
6. Home-grown club members
While the rise of home workouts sparked fears for the future of brick-and-mortar gyms, 2023 could mark the year this concept is firmly flipped on its head.
Contrary to cannibalizing the in-club experience, high-class digital offerings are helping brick-and-mortar facilities to win new fans online, build brand affinity, and convert them into full members of the club. MindBody’s 2022 Fitness Report found that 35% of Americans started going to an in-person fitness class that they first discovered through digital workouts. In addition, a quarter of people currently doing digital workouts access them via their gym or studio.
The stats suggest an Omnifitness approach offers strong potential for driving member growth by supporting prospects on the journey from home to club. It also caters to the wider wellness expectations of modern consumers by blending live with digital workouts, enabling them to work out wherever they are.
The ability of digital fitness to funnel more people into live workouts was fully evident at the October 2022 LES MILLS LIVE London event, where over 5,000 consumers came together for a thrilling weekend of fitness. Whereas pre-pandemic Les Mills events would typically see an audience split of 80:20 between Instructors and club members, LES MILLS LIVE London comprised 40% Instructors, 20% club members and 40% LES MILLS+ users who were attending their first live fitness event. These people are new market entrants who have taken baby steps through home workouts and are now ready to dive into live fitness experiences – both at events and in clubs.
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