Pete McCall by Pete McCall
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Uber changed transportation. Netflix put Blockbuster out of business. Toy sales from Target and Wal-Mart contributed to the demise of retailer Toys R Us. The introduction of the iPhone by Apple basically ended the sales of their popular iPod. Disruption is much more than a trendy catchphrase—it is a fundamental principle of business. Disruption is often the result of a competitor who figures out how to provide a better product or service at a lower price point. For example, the growth of online retail giant Amazon has led to the closure of many brick-and-mortar retailers. And as we’ve witnessed this past year, outside forces such as a pandemic can also cause a major disruption to numerous sectors and industries, including the fitness industry.

As challenging as the current climate is for the fitness industry, the future is nonetheless looking bright for those who survive the existing climate and, most importantly, evolve with how this increasingly changing industry. While there is no way to accurately predict the future, this blog offers a general overview of how COVID-19 is disrupting the fitness industry and includes a few educated guesses for how health and exercise professionals can help their businesses thrive in 2021 and beyond.

Here are five ways that health and exercise professionals could expect the industry to change in the foreseeable future.

1. The general public’s perception of fitness will finally change

ACE Certified Professionals have long known the role that regular exercise plays in promoting good health and reducing the risk of developing a chronic health condition. One bright spot for health and exercise professionals is that physical activity is finally being recognized by the general public as a means of achieving and maintaining optimal health. Despite years of the public health community attempting to educate consumers about the health benefits of exercise, many people still think of exercise solely as a way to achieve an aesthetic outcome like losing weight or growing muscle. As the medical community begins to understand the role of exercise for reducing the risk of fatality from COVID-19 and other diseases, it should lead to a growth in new fitness consumers who will need the guidance of an educated professional.

The health benefits of exercise have been understood for years, but the pandemic may be the catalyst that can finally encourage the general public to begin adopting healthier lifestyles. This, in turn, creates opportunities for health and exercise professionals with the ability to facilitate that change.

Amy Thompson, vice president of the Fitness Group for Pocket Media and an ACE Certified Health Coach, is excited about this growth opportunity. “In a post-COVID-19 world, the need to help others adopt healthier lifestyles is the perfect scenario for ACE Health Coaches who have the skills and abilities to help clients make the lifestyle changes necessary to establish healthier habits,” she says.

2. The delivery of fitness to the consumer is evolving

In an effort to curtail spread of the virus, many government entities forced the closure of fitness facilities all over the world. These mandated shutdowns have resulted in the bankruptcy of large health club operators such as 24-Hour Fitness and Town Sports International, as well as the closure of studio operators such as Flywheel and numerous independent business owners. These closures are a significant source of disruption and have resulted in lost jobs and incomes for thousands of health and exercise professionals. However, these closures have also encouraged more widespread use of virtual programming, which may provide tremendous business opportunities for ACE Certified Professionals. While home-based workouts are not new, the pandemic has spawned an explosion of online services that represent an entirely new way of delivering workout programs to consumers.

Facilities such as studios and health clubs have to pay rent for a physical location; when the mandated shutdowns occurred, operators had to close their businesses and forgo the ability to collect revenue while still being contractually obligated to pay rent. Companies that provide live-stream fitness classes, such as Peloton, Les Mills on Demand and the Mirror, have a major competitive advantage over traditional fitness facilities in that they can deliver workouts to an almost unlimited number of consumers while paying only a fraction in rent. Video fitness providers were experiencing gradual growth prior to the spring of 2020, but as governments established the shelter-in-place orders that forced facilities to close, that growth became exponential.

Virtual fitness classes can be delivered one of two ways: asynchronously (i.e., on demand), meaning a consumer can choose a workout from a library of previously recorded programs; or synchronously (i.e., livestream), where the consumer follows along with class as it is being taught live and broadcast over the internet. Whether on-demand or live, consumers looking for workout solutions at home quickly adapted and became accustomed to the convenience of doing an instructor-led workout from the comfort of their own home. This change in consumer behavior will create business opportunities for ACE Certified Professionals who can begin offering streaming workouts of their own.

Large companies are not the only ones providing streaming workouts. When health and exercise professionals were put on furlough or terminated by their employers, many responded by using services such as FaceTime, Zoom or Facebook Live to continue working with clients and teaching group fitness classes. Aimee Nicotera, an ACE Certified Group Fitness Instructor based in Massachusetts, was put on furlough and ultimately terminated by a national health club company. In response, Aimee turned her basement into a video-streaming studio and has begun offering workout classes that participants can either take live or through an on-demand system she established through Vimeo. Creating her platform has allowed Aimee to continue teaching to her clients in her current market and made it possible to reconnect with former group fitness participants in Southern California and South Florida, where she lived prior to her current residence.

3. Social media allows health and exercise professionals to market directly to the consumer

Another disruptive force that is changing the way that health and exercise professionals connect with clients is the use of social media. The traditional model of a fitness business involves working with clients in a physical location, such as a health club or traveling to work with clients directly in their homes. Prior to COVID-19, that model was already starting to change and now even more health and exercise professionals are adapting to the use of social media to attract new clients. Personal trainers can design and produce workout programs for a variety of outcomes, from weight loss to muscle growth, and then market it by creating engaging content on video platforms such as TikTok, YouTube and Instagram.

Between streaming platforms and social media channels, health and exercise professionals have a variety of ways to engage with and deliver solutions to clients. However, many individuals marketing fitness services via social media are relying primarily on physical appearance or creative content to promote their services. This creates a need for ACE Certified Professionals to communicate the benefits of working with a professional who holds an accredited certification.

4. Nothing will be able to replace the live, in-person fitness experience

While consumers are adapting to having access to workouts anywhere they have a screen and wi-fi connection, nothing can replace the connection that occurs between an instructor and their participants during a workout. Kira Stokes is a personal trainer and group fitness instructor who taught live classes in New York City prior to the pandemic. Stokes is also a well-known fitness personality on Instagram and created her own app that delivers her signature workout program, the Stoked Method. “I launched my app a year before the closures, and I’m extremely grateful for its success and continuous growth,” explains Stokes. “While the app will always be the core of my business, I can’t wait to get back to teaching live in-person classes and events when it is safe to do so.

5. The changing office environment will increase the demand for live, in-person workouts

The pandemic has spurred a dramatic change in office environments, as many organizations are realizing that modern technology allows employees to work remotely while staying connected with their co-workers. As a result, many are transitioning to a remote workforce and drastically reducing expenditures on office space. Working from home is convenient but people will undoubtedly want the opportunity to have live, in-person social interactions at some point during the day and many will seek them at their local fitness facility.

Yes, there will continue to be closures of both large and small fitness facility operators, and yes, streaming workouts will become a consistent part of the fitness landscape. However, once we are able to transition to whatever the new normal will be after the introduction of COVID-19 vaccines, the need for instructors to lead live workouts, both group and one-on-one, will increase and create new opportunities for ACE Certified Professionals. Fitness consumers love the in-person connection of a live class, but they also appreciate the convenience of being able to do a streaming workout at home when their schedule doesn’t make a trip to the gym possible. As health clubs experience growth in the post-COVID environment they will need to adjust programming to offer both live and streaming options for their members.

Matt Wright, an executive in suburban New Jersey who is helping with the production of a new facility, understands the need to evolve operations and indicated the company he is working for is creating a space to allow personal trainers to deliver sessions via a streaming platform. As devastating and fatal as the virus has been, the silver lining is that once all of the data is reviewed, there is a strong possibility that health and exercise professionals will be considered essential personnel because we can help people achieve and maintain optimal levels of health.

Expert Discussion: What to Expect in 2021 for Health and Exercise Professionals

ACE Expert and Certified GFI Shannon Fable held a live discussion with 4 industry experts on what to expect and how to thrive as a health and exercise professional in 2021. Check it out!

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