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The Great Return of the Gym — Indoor Fitness Is Back

The pandemic undoubtedly had a great impact on how fitness fanatics got their movement in. As we return to a “new normal”, how have gyms and gym-goers changed, and what might we expect from indoor fitness moving forward?

By Morgan Wood1851 Franchise Contributor
SPONSOREDUpdated 9:09AM 05/02/22

As gyms and fitness centers dealt with the ramifications of COVID-related shelter in place mandates, mask mandates and individuals’ responses to the pandemic itself, various policies were put into place and changes made to adapt to the reality of the pandemic. Now, as Americans approach a “new normal”, it seems many are embracing forever-changed fitness and wellness routines.

With the realities of the future of indoor fitness becoming more clear, two Fitness Premier franchisees share how the pandemic has impacted their businesses, how their communities have responded to the changes that have been implemented and how they see indoor fitness adapting in the near future. 

“The pandemic absolutely altered how many people look at gyms,” said Jason Markowicz, Fitness Premier CEO. “But as we come back, many of our owners and members feel that the community has become even stronger, and that community connection and support is really what we’re built on.”

In an effort to make all members feel more comfortable with the return of indoor fitness, Josh Biba, Fitness Premier multi-unit franchisee said, “Really, what we’ve mandated inside of Fitness Premier is respect around the matter. We respect kindness and compassion around whether you want to wear masks and get vaccinated.” As COVID-related suggestions and mandates change quickly and frequently, Fitness Premier prioritizes a culture of community and respect within their clubs.

Mike Orwig, Fitness Premier multi-unit franchisee and regional director of training and development, said, “COVID really allowed us to look at ourselves in the mirror and say, ‘What are we currently doing that we can change?’ And one of those things was our cleaning procedures.” 

The brand began to use sanitation backpacks to spray down all of the equipment for even more thorough cleaning. “Members still, to this day, see us doing that,” he said. “That goes so far, and it’s something you can’t put a price tag on, but members see that and can tell how invested we are in keeping the clubs clean.”

Beyond cleaning practices, Orwig and Biba both note changes to clientele and the ways that members are viewing their relationship with fitness. Biba said his biggest takeaway has been the prevalence of mental health and how exercise can support it. Many members were upset when gyms had to undergo mandatory lockdowns, he said. After returning, “I saw a ramp up of positivity literally over the course of a couple weeks of people coming back to exercise. The culture, the positivity and gratitude for the gym has gone up since COVID.” 

Members continue to have personal preference as to how they work out, but whether they choose to do so individually, with a personal trainer or in a group format, they are looking to become healthier. 

Biba said, “You’re 70% more likely to work out with friends or a group of people,” and having a gym community that champions each other’s progress creates a motivating, encouraging space for members to return to.

People’s understanding and prioritization of their wellness has become more and more clear. While new memberships have not spiked dramatically, Biba says his locations are seeing more usage than ever before as current members begin to take advantage of the amenities available to them. 

“The average age of people using the gym has drastically dropped post-COVID. Normally, the 24 to 34 year old age group makes up 80% of memberships. Now, the average age is 16 to 24. More younger people are working out now more than ever,” Orwig said.

Generally speaking, “Health and wellness is more in the forefront of our brains now. It’s not as much about weight loss anymore. It’s more so about being a healthy person,” Biba said. 

“Here’s the biggest side effect of exercise: it works every time. Regardless of what you’re trying to accomplish, you’re going to feel better mentally and physically, you’re going to sleep better, you’re going to look better and you’re going to drop body fat,” Orwig added. 

However, there are still people who don’t like to do it. Working to make exercise fun is what will draw more people to gyms, and that is part of the Fitness Premier model. The brand is able to create an environment of fun and belonging by embedding members into a larger culture. 

“It’s about investing time and energy into them and showing them that they’re so much more than just a member,” said Orwig.

As the two look toward the future of the industry, they note a few changes that will likely stick around. The emphasis on overall wellness is here to stay. Biba predicts that gyms and other fitness establishments will begin to incorporate more of an emphasis on overall wellness with things like physical therapists, endocrinologists and sports massage therapists on-site. 

When people go to search for a gym, they’re no longer looking for just a place to work out; “They’re looking at ‘How do I become healthier?’ That’s what people want to know,” Biba said.

Further, the motivation to get a workout in has increased. Over the course of the pandemic, members participated in things like virtual personal training, remote group fitness classes and self-led at-home workouts. One of the ways Fitness Premier worked to support their members was by creating a system to distribute personalized workout plans to members. “A lot of people are just looking for a workout. We were able to digitize a workout plan and email it to our members. They can pull it up there, and it is also embedded right into our app,” Orwig explained. “This really allowed us to target more people and get more people a program that was specifically designed for them, even if they do not want to work in person, one on one with a trainer.”

“Coming out of COVID was challenging, but ultimately, more people are taking action and we’re seeing way more non-gym-goers get involved now than we did going into COVID,” Orwig said.

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