Boutique gym attendance and class bookings in some world regions have bounced back to around 91 per cent of pre-COVID levels.
The figure comes from research by gym management software provider, Glofox, which collated and analysed data from gym attendance and class bookings globally – including online classes – to draw insights into how the fitness industry has changed amid the pandemic.
The report is based on analysis of activity across a sample of 2,000 fitness businesses in the US, UK, Ireland, Australia, Singapore, Hong Kong and Malaysia.
Around 70 per cent of the operations included in the research are boutique studios, 20 per cent are gyms and 10 per cent are yoga and pilates studios.
According to the data, some boutique businesses in certain regions – such as the UK and Australia – are now busier than before COVID-19, while online classes are accounting for between 5 and 10 per cent of all activity in countries that are now fully out of lockdown.
There is, however, concern for the US market, where uncertainty and recurring local lockdowns are having a major impact on fitness businesses.
Glofox says the US market remains at around 50 per cent of pre-COVID levels – with online classes also having lower adoption than in all other countries surveyed.
Another key finding is that increases in online fitness classes have had an enduring effect on people's behaviour.
In Ireland, where gyms reopened and have remained open, online is helping increase activity levels beyond pre-COVID-19 levels.
This, the report suggests, will drive gym operators towards adopting a hybrid model as they search for revenue streams.
"We thought COVID-19 was a catastrophic event for our industry, but – although challenging – it has turned into a transformative event," said Kevin Mannion, author of the report.
"Globally, attendance and class bookings within our sample reached a low point at the end of April 2020, with a decrease of 95 per cent when compared to the start of March.
"Less than a week after most countries went into lockdown, however, we noticed that gyms everywhere were organically starting to run online classes through Zoom, Facebook, Youtube and Instagram.
"Some larger operators were able to offer classes free on their social media channels, while at the same time developing a paid online service that could reach people the world over.
"Smaller gyms and studios needed to transition their entire businesses online, charge for this service and deliver the same value they did before if they were to have any chance of survival."
In its conclusions, the report says that the pandemic will have a lasting effect on fitness operators – especially in the way they future-proof their businesses by diversifying and pivoting to hybrid models.
"Even before the pandemic, the transition to digital fitness had already begun," says Mannion, "Many businesses had not placed themselves in a position to take full advantage of digital and online fitness.
"There was a fear that this emergent trend would eventually replace the need for brick and mortar gyms altogether.
"COVID-19 accelerated a trend of at-home workouts and businesses have been forced to respond. The convenience and flexibility of streaming workouts at home can no longer be denied.
"The fitness businesses of the future realise they need to be adaptable and offer both in-person and virtual workouts in order to prevent shocks and to cater to the evolving needs of the consumer.
"Gyms and studios have been forced to move online to survive. The best practice for gyms and studios is to take learnings from this shift and combine them with an in-studio offering to continue giving current and prospective members an immersive and consistent experience that will deliver results."
Download the full report here