By Chris McGill, VP of Global Sales for Freemotion
COVID-19 has flipped the global health and fitness industry on its head – changing the way we consume fitness and giving rise to new sets of behaviours, trends and expectations. Because of the stay-at-home and social distancing measures enforced by governments the world over to protect us all from the virus, there are more home exercisers than ever before. Whilst, for some, this may paint a bleak picture for operators, viewed from a different angle, it provides an unprecedented opportunity to tap into a global audience that’s more ‘health-aware’ and ‘in-tune with exercise’ than ever before.
Over the past twenty years, we’ve had a disconnect between working out at home and working out in the gym – they were isolated from each other. Gym owners didn’t really have anything to do with home equipment because it was viewed as potentially taking away members. However, the landscape has changed. Now, members want to work out at home and in the gym. It’s important to recognise this and be proactive in a way that you won’t lose members but instead keep them loyal, motivated and achieving their goals, give them something they can do at home and in the gym. The key to achieving this? Content…
Content is providing exercisers with new possibilities in terms of what they can do, how they can do it, and where they can do it – replacing the likes of a run around the local park or a run on a treadmill looking at a blank wall with a virtual run along the beach in some far-off destination, or replacing a studio-based group fitness class with a Facebook Live workout accessed through your living room TV.
Content is what people turned to when they wanted to start working out at home; it’s what drew them in and inspired them to take action. Subsequently, the ‘connected fitness’ market is booming, with smart machines and devices offering instant access to around-the-clock, personalised workouts. Sales of iFit®-powered fitness equipment from NordicTrack and ProForm – sister companies to Freemotion – have been up 200%, showing the sky-high demand.
That being said, connected fitness, which is generally defined as any way technology and content can be used to connect people with fitness – or in which fitness can be used to engage, motivate, and inspire the end-user – isn’t new. Rather, the COVID pandemic has expedited its growth and forced gym operators to address it as soon as possible. Now, we expect the connected gym equipment market to reach a staggering USD 5.96 billion globally by 2025!*
For gyms to thrive and cardio floors to remain relevant now and in the years ahead, it’s time for operators to integrate not only connected fitness but also interactive fitness into their service provision – not just focusing on offering excellent equipment, but also excellent interactive digital content.
Every organisation – now, more than ever – is in the content business. Fitness facilities that can pivot their business models to move beyond their four walls by bridging the gap between home exercise and the gym environment are the ones that will be most successful in the new fitness age. This means operators must provide their members with great, content-driven experiences that can also be accessed at home – which is made possible with the Freemotion 22 SERIES and iFit®. If a facility can provide immersive, content-driven experiences that engage, excite and motivate its members through the 22 SERIES powered by iFit, then stay connected with them at home through the members’ own iFit-enabled equipment, consistency is maintained, members achieve better results, and fitness becomes a habit.
The progressive workout series created by iFit and enjoyed on the 22 SERIES are great examples of this. Designed to build up the user’s fitness and confidence levels over time, they help operators to keep members motivated, engaged and coming back for more. Once the member starts a series, which could consist of 12 or 15 parts, they’ll want to keep going until they complete it, whether that’s entirely at the gym or also using their iFit-powered equipment at home.
But before diving headfirst into the connected fitness world, there’s one key point for operators to remember… The quality of content is everything. As well as offering your members that face-to-face, world-class instruction and motivation as they exercise with their coach, your connected fitness equipment must also offer a type of virtual coaching that goes beyond just a workout if it’s to strike the right chord with today’s content-hungry (and highly discerning) consumers – the type that’s only available through iFit and the Freemotion 22 SERIES.
Users need to be drawn in by their coach’s personality and storytelling abilities through the visual content that truly brings the workouts to life. This style of virtual coaching creates the ‘friend effect’ whereby the user can develop a sense of personal connection with their favourite coaches, which strengthens over time as they complete more and more sessions together. From an operator’s perspective, this leads to increased attendance, member engagement, and retention.
We are all looking for ways to strike up powerful connections with our members and clients to keep them happy and returning time after time. But if we – as the commercial fitness industry and gym owners – fight the home exerciser, we are going to lose. Instead, we need to capture the hearts and minds of a new, more-engaged audience which demands and expects content as part of their ‘fitness mix’ – having become accustomed to digital/virtual workouts during the pandemic. It’s about encouraging people to spend their money in the gym environment without competing with the retail side of the sector; offering something for these ‘hybrid gym members’ that want a physical and virtual service – the best of both worlds.
If we can provide tools that allow the member/client to break through the personal and physical barriers to fitness by joining the dots between home and gym, that’s when they become truly engaged and more likely to stay as a life-long customer.
*As reported by Grand View Research in the Connected Gym Equipment Market Analysis Report