One of the most positive stories coming out of this global pandemic has been the UK’s embrace of fitness. We can’t seem to get enough of it: we’ve got street gym sessions across the country, a 100 year-old doing laps of his garden and inspiring a nation, viral 5k challenges making millions for the NHS, and a new online fitness superstar in Joe Wicks, who is even a contender for Sports Personality of the Year. It seems we’ve become a nation of fitness addicts. All it took is for us all to be locked inside our homes under the threat of an indiscriminate virus to get us off our collective behinds. 

Most pleasingly, this movement seems to have democratised fitness in a way rarely seen before. Of course staying fit was always available to all who wanted it, as anyone can make use of the great outdoors. But the brands setting the tone for the category tended to be at the luxury end of the market and out of reach for most. Take Barry’s Bootcamp, 1Rebel, Equinox, SoulCycle, Crossfit; many of these gym brands demand memberships of £200-£500 a month. Of course, you get what you pay for: access to high-end saunas, Kombucha on tap, personalised towel service, rooftop cool-down areas, a space to rock your new Athleisure outfit, and access to an exclusive lifestyle only money can buy.

A new fitness landscape

The pandemic and subsequent stay-at-home measures have completely flipped the landscape. It has moved fitness to the most inclusive of spaces, namely online and in people’s own homes and neighbourhoods. It’s made it accessible to all; and, elevated by a dose of creativity that only mass boredom can instigate, has caught fire. Sport England’s lovely campaign #StayInWorkout captures the national sentiment perfectly. And our own recent research looking at people’s current engagement with fitness illustrates this new found interest in adapting to the context in unique ways:

“I’ve been using Instagram and online fitness instructors a lot to do different sessions and keep the workouts balanced for my whole body. I have found that my mood was more negative towards the start of isolation but now I have found my own routine, I can say that physical activity has definitely helped keep my mood positive”

“Being manager of my U14s team we have used WhatsApp to set daily fitness challenges. I’ve let the boys choose what we do and we’ve sent in videos which has been fun, but also kept us together as a close knit team which is good for us all mentally.”

MTM Sport research for Football Foundation & Sport England, 2020

Sport England – and other organisations that focus on getting the population active – will be pleasantly surprised by the collective engagement with fitness. Who would have thought a lockdown would have got people moving en-masse?

The response from the fitness industry

The fitness brands who rely on in-person experiences will be deeply concerned and will be desperate for a release of restrictions. In the meantime, they’ve had to get creative and democratise their offering. Barry’s bootcamp, which usually charges £23 for one hour-long class or £340 a month, is putting their classes online for free for anyone to access. 1Rebel are also offering online classes for 5 days for free. This will maintain brand engagement for some time, but barring a full transition to online classes, they’ll need to think about how to deliver their core offering with social distancing in mind. This will be a challenge.

The real beneficiary, at least in the short-term, is the fit-tech industry. Peloton, whose stock grew 9.2% last month and has been one of the big winners in the fitness space. They’ve also been making their offer accessible to all with new users getting 90 days free to try their app filled with at-home classes. Strategies like these are great to spread the word and increase brand awareness. Other home-led luxury fitness brands are hoping to take advantage of the sudden publicity and engagement in home exercise. Tonal, who offer high-end wall mounted gym support, have reported a tripling in sales in lockdown and will be hoping that the restrictions continue for some time yet. 

As with most industries, it is hard to gauge likely long-term change. What is certain is that personal fitness is top of mind in the collective consciousness. How brands and organisations adapt to that collective mindset alongside the changing context will have a big say on their relevance long-term. 

Need something to keep your body moving? Check out these discounted and free classes: 

Peloton – 90 days free fitness classes on the app

Barry’s free Instagram live streaming sessions 

Move GB free trial and £1 classes

Lululemon UK free classes 

CorePower’s yoga classes

Triyoga online classes

For kids, check out Joe Wicks of course