There is a light at the end of the tunnel and it is not attached to an oncoming freight train. Vaccinations for COVID-19 are proceeding apace, hospitalizations are down, and folks are beginning to sense a return to some kind of normality.
Many months ago when gyms re-opened after the initial shutdowns, I asked in this blog whether folks would really return to gyms. The numbers who came back in the late spring and summer were quite small; as a personal trainer, I was operating at about 40% of where I had been pre-pandemic. Trainers at other facilities with whom I spoke reported similar downturns in gym attendance. But now that there are vaccines and hopefully something approaching herd immunity, what will the future hold for gyms? An article published on http://www.cnbc.com back in July, 2020 shared the results of survey; the findings were that 59% of Americans were not planning to renew their gym memberships after the pandemic. I am sure there is more recent research, but I have not seen it. Anecdotally, most of my clients have stated that it is more convenient, cost-effective, and (perceived to be) safer to pivot to on-line training; they simply do not plan to go back to a gym at all.
Clients at At Home Senior Fitness have begun to ask what my plans will be when things open up more. My business model–which I began to develop when COVID-19 was unknown outside of the scientific community–was always to train folks in their own homes; I would bring the equipment, the expertise, and the fitness plan. The pandemic pushed me toward virtual training and that now accounts for about 95% of my business–both in one-on-one training and in remote group fitness classes. I certainly have no plans to train in a gym any longer; the overhead is so high that I would make a fraction of what I do as a self-employed personal trainer…and I am still able to remain competitive price-wise.
I do think that gyms will come back, but perhaps not to the same levels as before. Those facilities that succeed will be the ones that offer the cleanest, safest environment; even before the pandemic, we know that some gyms, their equipment, and locker rooms were not clean enough. They will also be the ones that are able to respond to what customers are looking for rather than adhering to outdated “take it or leave it” policies.
As for my business, I only see growth ahead. Pandemic or not, many older adults prefer the ease of staying at home. They do not have to worry about driving. Those that have mobility issues do not have to fret about the walk from the parking lot to the fitness center. At-home training means they will not be intimidated by the machinery (we keep it to dumbbells, resistance bands, and body weight exercises) or others in the gym prancing around showing off their physiques. It is the most comfortable setting to be in.
There is a place for gyms. For those who like the social experience and want access to lots of different equipment, there is no substitute. Still, the pandemic has shown many that there are alternatives to the typical gym that have their advantages too.
The main thing is that once the danger of COVID-19 has passed, people need to recommit to their health and fitness. Just because the pandemic ends does not mean that all of the sudden we are healthy. It just means that we have one less obstacle in our way and more choices for how to reach our goals.