In this post we look at the impact Coronavirus will have on gyms and ask whether it will change how we exercise for good.
At the time of writing the UK government has just announced their plan to get the country moving again after lockdown.
Whilst there wasn’t an immediate decision to open gyms, what will that look like when it does happen?
And perhaps more importantly, will you go?
A new landscape
Every business that reopens after lockdown will need to observe physical distancing guidelines and enhanced cleaning procedures.
For gyms this represents a particular challenge. Not only will this impact the number of people allowed in the facility at any one time. It will also affect how their activities are carried out once inside.
Booking systems will need to be implemented in some facilities to ensure numbers are kept at manageable levels.
The layout of equipment on the gym floor will require a rethink and each piece of kit will need cleaning after use.
Class sizes will have to be limited and air conditioning systems tested to ensure adequate ventilation.
Even with these precautions in place, it remains to be seen whether people will be willing to share a room with others who are breathing and sweating heavily.
This of course is the big question, but the signs are encouraging for the industry.
A recent survey by Equinox, the premium US health club brand, found 74% of its members were keen to return when its branches reopened.
Reports from China, which has allowed health clubs to open under specific conditions, show consumers are keen to get back to the gym. This despite the mandatory use of face masks and temperature checks on entry.
The digital revolution
Whilst a move towards digital products and services was already underway in the fitness industry, the current circumstances have brought more businesses into the marketplace.
Gyms, studios, trainers and therapists have all rushed to establish online services. Both to keep their clients active and maintain some level of income.
Rather like restaurants offering take away food in order to pay their bills, these businesses are offering a different product. It’s one that some consumers may prefer to use even when facilities reopen however.
The sales of exercise equipment suggest the home workout trend might not simply disappear when the restrictions ease. Either that or there’ll be a bunch of cheap equipment on e-bay come Christmas time.
Will Coronavirus encourage more people to exercise?
Whilst there are outliers, the overwhelming number of people who suffer extreme consequences from this virus have compromised immune system function. Whether that’s from old age or chronic disease, or both.
There’s still plenty of research to be done, but I think it’s fair to say the healthier you are, the better your chances of a positive outcome. This podcast with Dr David Katz explains this link well.
It’s long established that exercise is critical to achieving better health and reducing the incidence of chronic disease.
A good diet, adequate sleep and stress management also play pivotal roles.
Will this moment encourage people to improve the status of their health and increase the numbers who exercise regularly?
That remains to be seen but it’s certainly a possibility.
No doubt we’ll see health club brands and public health organisations attempt to communicate this message in the coming months.
Do you really need a gym?
Or to put this another way, which exercise challenges can’t be recreated at home or outside?
Certainly cardio respiratory exercise such as running and cycling can and should be performed outside in my opinion. Especially at this particular time.
The limitations in public transport that have been predicted, may see many walking or cycling just to get around.
It’s more difficult to recreate the resistance training exercises that many gyms offer however. I’ve written before about the advantages of machine based resistance training.
Even freeweight exercises such as the squat will be difficult to perform without a rack and won’t provide a meaningful challenge without sufficient weight.
It’s also true that gyms provide more than just equipment. There’s a social aspect that many people enjoy, as well as a sense of camaraderie that’s not easily recreated online.
Personally I miss the banter with both my clients and my colleagues. Being human is not just about numbers and achieving goals, but also about the fun you have along the way.
There’s no doubt that when gyms finally open, things will be different.
COVID-19 will be with us for some time. Until there’s a vaccine, every business will need proceedures in place to minimise the risk to both its customers and staff.
This together with the economic impact the lockdown has caused, will make 2020 a very challenging year. The quicker companies can figure out what their customers want, the better.