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How the pandemic
changed America’s
fitness routine

By Sigurd Neubauer


Almost two years into the pandemic, Americans have dramatically upended their fitness routines as gyms across the nation were forced to shut down during the height of the lockdown of 2020.  

 While the long-term implications of the pandemic’s toll on everything from the economy to family life and mental health issues have yet to be established, a dark picture for America’s fitness industry has nonetheless emerged:

 As of July 2021, 22 percent of gyms and studios across the nation have been permanently closed due to Covid, according to a report from the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association (IHRSA).  The report adds that “the closures amount to roughly 9,100 facilities.  For fitness studios the numbers were slightly higher at 27 percent.”

 In California and New York, where the state governments employed especially stringent measures during the height of the lockdown, the implications on fitness facilities permanently closing far exceeded the national rate at 39 percent and 31 percent respectively, according to IHRSA.

For the fitness centers convincing staff and patrons that it was safe to return remained a challenge

America’s fitness industry “lost $29.2 billion in revenue from March 2020 through June 2021. In 2020, alone, theindustry lost $20.2 billion in revenue, down from $35 billion in 2019,” theindustry group says.

For the fitness centers managing to stay open, convincing staff and patrons that it was safe to return remained a challenge, however. This was also the case for the Aspen Hill Club in Silver Spring, Maryland.

“In my 40-year career in the Health Club Industry, I have faced many challenges but none like the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic. It was imperative to understand the dynamic of the pandemic in order to understand what precautions would be necessary to sustain the business,” says Aspen Hill Club General Manager Danielle Bouchard.

Bouchard explained that she first had to create a safe environment for the team in order for them to feel comfortable returning to work.  “Once those protocols were determined and in place, then I had to determine what protocols to put in place in order for the membership to feel safe,” she adds.

America’s fitness industry lost $29.2 billion in revenue from March 2020 through June 2021, according to IHRSA

Once federal guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) were established for fitness facilities, Bouchard explains, was to ensure that anyone who became infected with Covid notified the club immediately. 

“My responsibility then was to notify anyone within the Club whom may have come in contact with and ask them to monitor their symptoms.  If they became ill, they would need to inform us as well.  The person with Covid was asked to stay away for 14 days, CDC guideline at the time, and until their next Covid test was negative,” she explains.

After months of social isolation brought by the pandemic, trends are emerging how fitness consumers are changing their exercise behavior, according to a survey carried out by Qualtrics on behalf of LesMills, a New Zeeland-based fitness and lifestyle conglomerate. The survey, which covered 12,157 male and female consumers globally, including in the US between May 22, 2021 – June 18, 2021, found that the pandemic has forced the fitness industry to reassess its market strategy to entice customers to return to their facilities.

 The survey found that in the US:

  • 71 percent of people who regularly exercise do so at a gym facility.
  • 60 pecrent of gym members prefer to workout with others in small or large groups.
  • 80 percent of gym members also worked out at home.

If there is a silver lining to the pandemic, the survey reveals that the health crisis has created “a new generation of exercise beginners.”  The “new generation” is deciding on what steps to take next as they seek to realize their fitness goals. In the US, 26 percent of the fitness market considers themselves “absolute beginners.” The trend accelerated by the pandemic captures a growing trend among Americans committed to improving their health and lifestyle, according to the survey.

Danielle Bouchard of the Aspen Hill Club
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