So what could the future of fitness look like, and should your business be evolving to meet these new demands?
The gym has entered the mainstream and is now a cultural institution, with many exciting, growing companies that make the world a better place. Yet what excites me most is what will happen next. I believe we're on the cusp of even more dramatic change as the fitness industry transforms and the lines blur between fitness, health, science, technology and gaming.
A 'GYM' OR A 'HEALTH CLUB'?
Probably three-quarters of the global health crisis is caused by stuff we do to ourselves - poor diet, lack of exercise, environmental pollution and so on. The modern healthcare system really only provides an ambulance at the bottom of the cliff.
Our industry has the potential to be the fence at the top of the cliff. Yet just as the global health crisis creates the need, and opportunity, for deeper and more complex services from health clubs, the fastest-growing segment is in fact the stripped-down budget club.
So it's not safe to assume that minor adjustments will keep the fitness industry abreast of changing times. Other industries - health insurance and health delivery, for example - are already moving. So are government regulators. If we in the fitness industry don't solve the health crisis, someone else will.
How can we make sure we're not swamped or bypassed by solutions that are more effective, or require less effort, or that are more popular because they're simply more fun?
I see three solutions. We must make fitness more fun. We must make exercise more social. And we must create real 'health' clubs, instead of being 'just a gym'.
With its bright lights, white walls and massive mirrors the modern group exercise room is a cold, intimidating space that induces self-consciousness. What message do we send to our members when we expect them to put up with lifeless spaces? Will they believe we care about their physical wellbeing?
Making our clubs more fun can start with a great experiential dimension, led by welcoming architecture and design. Spaces need to be designed for convenient equipment storage, ventilation, water access, sound and lighting - all of which can make them intimate but also energetic.
Technology is having a crucial influence too. Almost weekly, new interactive 'exergaming' options hit the market, many of them designed for health club spaces.
Great audio-visual technology can also enhance exercise and make our clubs better places to be.
An incredible number of people now have access to some form of digital gaming platform, at home or in their pocket. As gaming programmers get even better at merging games, exercise and fun into a single experience, this technology presents a potential revolution that challenges the traditional health club model of exercise as hard work.
It’s up to us to ensure the gym experience is as much fun as the alternatives.
Success comes not only from relationships with our customers, but also from building connections between our customers. As my friend and industry consultant Michael Scott Scudder says: "No-one ever left a gym because they made too many friends or were having too much fun."
Group exercise is a good place to start building a social environment- and it can be lucrative. But it’s not the only way to build a social atmosphere in health clubs. Other opportunities include:
- Small group personal training - six to eight people - to create camaraderie and friendships akin to that of a sports team. Participants renew their membership over and over because of the results they get and the friendships they make.
- 'Clubs within a club' to build social networks and loyalty - healthy cooking, wine-tasting, personal development and nutrition lectures, and so on; and club-organised training for marathons or charity cycle rides.
- Making the most of social media by encouraging your members to interact online, motivating and encouraging each other. This gives them the opportunity to build a stronger relationship to your instructors, and to other members, that will make them feel more part of a community.
THE TRUE 'HEALTH' CLUB
Our third and more difficult task is to move from being the centre of people's exercise experience to being the centre of their total wellness. True 'health ' clubs will exist only when we help people grow from interested party to hobbyist to expert to fanatic when it comes to both their own health and the wellbeing of their wider community. You might widen your organisation's health focus by, for example:
- Developing your own regular newsletter with educational tips and inspiration on health, food, exercise and avoiding toxins in the environment. This positions you as more than just a gym - you become a wellness provider.
- Linking your health club to other providers in the community. Host seminars. Educate your staff and have them model and advocate wellness in their one-to-one contacts with members.
- Offering discounts, exercise education and so on to local doctors and other health providers. Nothing is more powerful than a "join this gym" recommendation from a doctor, nurse or physiotherapist.
LEADING, NOT FOLLOWING
Ultimately, our industry needs to lead the way and embrace the opportunity to be about more than just fitness. We need to look at wider trends and think laterally about how they can be integrated into the way we operate and the way we attract and retain our members. When we do that, we'll be closer to meeting our potential to benefit humanity. Are you ready to start reviewing what you offer?