ClubIntel and Dynata, commissioned by ABC Fitness Solutions, surveyed more than 2,000 active US adults about their exercise habits in 2021 and in March 2022, the team followed up with 500 of the original cohort and a further 1,000 adults to produce The Next Fitness Consumer Report, primarily to see how the pandemic has been shaping our exercise habits.
It appears consumers now value their health more than pre-pandemic and haven’t reverted to 2019 behaviours. Indeed people are getting more active: there was a 5 per cent uptick in activity levels between 2021 and 2022 and seventy one per cent of those surveyed consider themselves active. In addition, 42 per cent said their fitness levels have improved since the onset of the pandemic and 43 per cent work out more than 12 times a month. Those with no interest in being active fell from 9 per cent in 2021 to 4 per cent this year.
Where and how
Omnichannel is definitely here to stay, but interest in digital only and free online programmes has waned. There is still strong appetite for gym membership and those who like going to the gym have specific requirements, including a social experience and support for mental health.
A good proportion of people (38 per cent) prefer to exercise outdoors, although this is down 5 per cent from 2021 and at-home exercise continues to be popular, with 35 per cent saying this is their workout place of choice. A further 14 per cent cited health clubs as their favourite workout space and 9 per cent said studios.
Big box gym membership rates have increased among active consumers to higher levels than 2021: from 34 per cent to 38 per cent. Solo workouts and group classes are the most popular, with PT down by 3 per cent. Although 40 per cent say they’re not interested in joining a gym, this is still 12 per cent less than in 2021.
All about the mind
Losing weight is no longer the primary goal of exercisers and ranks third in the list of priorities, behind ‘simply being active’ (47 per cent) and ‘stress relief’ (44 per cent).
An overwhelming number of those surveyed – 85 per cent – said they experienced mental unrest during the pandemic, including stress (39 per cent); anxiety (38 per cent); boredom (35 per cent) and depression (31 per cent). They reported an interest in health clubs providing mental health services.
Fifty eight per cent would like classes on self-improvement, such as mindfulness, while 55 per cent would like a qualified member of staff to oversee mental health programmes and services.
Although many people experienced problems, they also sought help, either turning to exercise or meditation or their doctor. Some talked to friends, while others engaged in therapy. A few self-medicated with alcohol and tobacco.
Many said they would like to be able to turn to their health club as a source of support and would like gyms to offer a balanced approach to physical, mental and emotional health.
The perfect health club
Affordability and convenience are the biggest draws when it comes to choosing a club. People also look for a welcoming environment, where steps have been taken to reduce the intimidation factor. They want the workout spaces to be clean, safe, judgment-free and uncrowded, with an uplifting, supportive and encouraging atmosphere. Since staff determine the vibe, they need to be caring, attentive, friendly, available, educated and not bothersome.
Of their memberships, consumers want simplicity and flexibility: to be able to work out for a monthly fee and quit when they want. They also called for transparency – with no game-playing or gimmicks – and many would like the opportunity to have a free trial. Seasonal memberships for winter were also cited as a like-to-have.
There’s increased interest in flexibility and stretching, functional training and meal-tracking. The dream health club scenario would offer unlimited classes for a low price; age-related classes to reduce intimidation; at home workout plans; a variety of equipment and classes and focus on both physical and mental wellbeing.