Last spring, when fitness clubs had to close due to the pandemic, they offered online classes as an option to their customers who lacked exercise. It should be a temporary fix, but it has become a long-term change in the way – and the places – people exercise.
The clubs are expanding their online offerings to reach out to members who have realized they enjoy exercising at home.
“We took lemons and made some pretty cool lemonade,” said Kyle Beste, vice president of fitness and nutrition for Life Time fitness clubs. “What we thought was a stopgap has become a new way of thinking about our business.”
By linking its clubs, Life Time offers more than 600 livestream courses weekly, several hundred of which are available via on-demand recordings. While production is ramping up, the company is keeping an eye on up to 1,000 livestream courses per week in everything from yoga to cycling, strength training to cardio workouts.
“If members want to take a thousand lessons a week, we give them to them,” he said.
Life Time is by no means the only club taking this step. The YMCA360 program offers a wide variety of online programs, from Silver Sneakers classes for seniors to children’s yoga. National fitness chains such as LA Fitness and Orangetheory have also dedicated themselves to live streaming.
Technological innovations – including Zoom, YouTube, and FaceTime – have also opened the door to small, independent clubs online. There are even individual trainers who have taken action, like Kelsey Lindell from Minneapolis, whose sessions are offered as part of the Shape Society Collective, a cooperative fitness organization.
And it’s not just the clubs. The companies that make exercise equipment also offer streaming and on-demand courses. Peloton is perhaps the most famous for its advertising, but it has plenty of company, including Nordictrack and Bowflex.
Even fitness apparel companies have hit the market. Nike has launched its Training Club app. In addition to the exercise classes, Reebok offers wellness sessions. And the mirror recently purchased by Lululemon offers real-time, interactive training.
Of course, there are also the video offerings that were there before the pandemic but increased production, including Crunch Fitness and Beach Body.
This is not a purely American phenomenon either. A recent report by AMA Research in the UK, which tracks healthcare trends, said interest in online fitness classes is growing around the world and it is predicted that the growth will continue until at least 2025.
“Online fitness classes are becoming increasingly popular because of growing health awareness among people, increasing Internet penetration and increasing numbers of smartphone users,” the report said. Everyone “from children to adults is very interested in online fitness classes.”
One of the main reasons for the increase in Life Time in online teaching has been the recognition that the landscape of the world of work is changing.
Various economic analysts predict that many people will continue to work from home, at least part-time, even after the all-clear for the pandemic. And that means many people will likely continue to exercise from home.
“We want to meet people where they are,” said Beste.
“Most people still work from home,” agreed Nastassia Smith, Senior Director, Group Fitness Operations, Life Time. “It’s their new normal.”
Smith doesn’t expect the in-club classes to go away. You’re still a big draw. However, when the courses are available online, participants can choose which courses they want to attend in person and which are better crammed into a busy schedule by being remotely connected.
They have also proven popular with the class leaders.
“The instructors can keep in touch with the members of their classes,” said Beste. “You get a lot of energy from class.”
There was an adjustment period at the beginning of the online class, Smith admitted.
“People had to learn to get involved virtually,” she said. “We have created a whole new kind of connection.”
The goal is to make the person at home feel like they are part of the class. To do this, one of the items in the class – person # 7 if you care about details – is replaced with a video camera.
“You’re just one of those people in class where 30 other people sweat with you,” said Beste.
There’s also a lot more flexibility in finding a class that fits a person’s schedule. All of the 150+ Life Time clubs across the country are linked to the same website. This means that a member can attend a class on the East Coast as early as 4:30 p.m. Twin Cities time or a class on the West Coast until 8 p.m. The club that each class is from and the name of the instructor also listed.
“You can attend a class with your favorite teacher or try something new,” said Beste. “You can shop for locations. You can shop for instructors. You can search for a time and format that works for you.”
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