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The end of the traditional gym?

30 October 2020


Lucy Gore Langton, Intermediary Strategist

The abrupt nationwide closure of gyms in March led to frantic purchasing of home exercise equipment, as the well-sneakered realised there was no more room in their bathroom cabinet for any more loo roll, and shifted their stockpiling mentality towards dumbbells and Lycra instead. 

The Decathlon website crashed, and almost every retailer of over-priced gym equipment and other bits and bobs that no one actually really knows how to use (or what they’re for), had a waiting list which ran into months. Joe Wicks was racking up over a million hits a day on his YouTube channel and our fresh-out-of-hospital Prime Minister was telling us all to get fit to fight the virus.  

Gym owners and fitness instructors adapted admirably quickly. Within weeks we could do our Pilates, Zumba, yoga and stretch classes online, either live or on demand. We no longer had to squeeze a trip to the gym into our already-hectic day, but could do these classes from our living rooms, at a time convenient to us. The popularity of online fitness classes has risen so much that Fiit have seen their subscriber growth up by over 1,663% and their membership now sits at 24 million. The company has recently announced a partnership with Sky, allowing Sky customers to stream Fiit’s content to their TVs in their living rooms. 

Those who preferred to take their exercise outdoors (or never successfully made it onto the Decathlon website) took to the streets on two feet and two wheels. 1.3 million Brits purchased bikes during lockdown, as people enjoyed the streets devoid of traffic. The nation actually sold out of bikes: a colleague told me that his teenage daughter had recently sold her fifteen-year-old bike on eBay for a 200% premium. Halfords reported a 500% increase in the sale of cycling equipment during lockdown and its shares jumped by 17%.  

And then there are those companies which can benefit from both the sale of gym equipment and subscription to their online content... Step forward Peloton. On the 16th March, the day that lockdown in the UK began, the Peloton share price was $22[1]. For those of you not already indoctrinated into this cult, Peloton sell “connected fitness products”. To we lay people, this means static bikes and treadmills with an on-device TV. At the push of a button, you can enjoy thousands of classes at a fitness level and ability suited to you. You can filter by class length, music type, class type… it can take longer to choose which class to do, than it can to choose a film to watch on Netflix. For those of us who balk at the sky-high price tag of a Peloton, two-year interest-free credit makes the monthly cost of the bike less than our monthly gym membership. Suddenly, it’s accessible to the masses. The share price at time of writing (29th October 2020) is $115.91[2]

The world currently looks different. We take fitness classes together online, instead of catching up over a glass of wine after work. We now have WhatsApp groups discussing our Strava statistics, because there’s little else to discuss. It is commendable that so many people have taken up exercise during 2020. And, even better, that we have enjoyed it. 

However, online interaction is nothing like the real thing. People ran the London Marathon this year online, taking to tracks, fields and roads up and down the country, instead of pounding the pavements of London past some of the capital’s greatest landmarks and finding motivation in the cheer of the crowds. Friends who braved the 26.2 miles told me that it was rather a depressing, solitary experience. 

There is a camaraderie in group exercise and in ‘real’ fitness classes which cannot be replicated online. A decade ago, I met my friend Katie in a Pilates class. Both hiding at the back, feeling out of place in our baggy tracksuit bottoms, neither Katie nor I knew our core from our elbow, we laughed together until we cried and have been firm friends ever since. 

Going to the gym also gets us out of our homes. With many of us having been confined to the same four walls for months and months (and months), I’m sure that I'm not the only one who cannot wait to get back to enjoying my weekend workouts with friends. 

Most importantly, we are slowly beginning to remember the value of having face-to-face instruction and correction from a highly qualified fitness professional. I speak to more and more people who are injuring themselves with their home workouts because of poor form, overloaded joints and over-exerted muscles. An eminent private orthopaedic surgeon told me the other day that thus far his consultation fees from his patients' lockdown home-workout injuries alone, amount to an entire year's worth of private school fees.

As I write this article, I stare anxiously at my kettlebell which has been gathering dust since its arrival (after having waited eight weeks for its delivery). It turns out that I have no idea what to actually do with it, other than to use it as an edgy modern doorstop. As much as we are enjoying our foray into this new digital fitness world, I am certain that the gym will survive. And this can only be a good thing. 



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