The Next 5 Years Is the Age of Hybrid Models, Digital Fitness Companies and At-Home Gyms

(Editor's NoteThis sponsored article is part of the Club Industry report, "Technology: Agent of Growth for the Health and Wellness Industry," which can be downloaded for free by going here.)

The duration of the COVID-19 pandemic has forced consumers as well as health clubs to develop new habits. When it comes to fitness, virtual workouts are more convenient and less time consuming, albeit not always as effective, as working out at a gym. The opportunity in virtual fitness was so well-received that Equinox made virtual personal training part of its core offering and brands such as Apple offered Fitness+. 

So, what’s in store for the fitness industry in the next five years? These three trends:

1. Hybrid will be the new normal. Members will combine at-home and in-club workouts, thus working out more. They will consume virtual through their gym’s offerings or will complement with a digital offering such as those offered by Apple or Peloton. In-person visits likely won’t improve for 2021, even if a vaccine is ready by the first quarter because mass distribution will take time, many individual fear taking it due to fears of long-term side effects, and consumers will have gotten used to virtual workouts. 

Brick-and-mortar brands with no virtual offerings will see higher attrition, as members will check in less regularly because they are trying virtual offerings. But if gym operators deploy virtual offerings, they can use them as a retention tool and a method to increase virtual and in-person check-ins.  

2. Digital fitness companies will go after gym members and drive leads to brick and mortar. Drive time previously was a hinderance for some people, but technology eliminates this barrier. The general population will experiment with various virtual fitness offerings, and fitness technology companies will create immersive at-home experiences for a nominal monthly fee. Digital companies will perfect lead generation, corporate and referral strategies like gyms have.  

Digital fitness companies will spend billions of dollars educating the market and introducing new people to fitness. That will lead prospective clients to research brick-and-mortar offerings and eventually graduate from virtual workouts to a hybrid solution.   

3. At-home gyms will continue to expand. Fitness consumers have spent a lot of money equipping their home gyms over the past six months and will want a return on their investment. Pack sales will continue to increase as consumers look to complement at-home workouts with brick-and-mortar visits—as will online programming and influencer workouts. The good news is that gyms have an asset to fend off the forces at play: their relationships with members. 

Below are four key initiatives that gym and studio operators should focus on to build a strong virtual presence: 

  • Brick-and-mortar club operators must use digital offerings to increase monthly interactions with members to reach pre-pandemic levels. They must invest in a virtual experience the same way they have in their in-person experience. Zoom will no longer cut it. 
  • Coaches and trainers are more important than ever, as they are the relational element members will pay monthly dues for. Their virtual development and monitoring will be critical. 
  • Free virtual consults and workouts will allow innovators to capture low-cost leads in abundance and increase conversion. Selecting the proper virtual platform to accomplish this is crucial. 
  • Virtual memberships from brick-and-mortar clubs will begin significant adoption early in first quarter 2021. This will include reduced access to in-club offerings, so as to not negatively impact existing membership dues. 

The future is bright, albeit different. The fitness industry is resilient, and the operators who embrace the change and innovate will reap the rewards. 


Mike Tan is the vice president of business development at Lift Session, where he is responsible for growth and helping partners execute on their virtual strategy. Previously, he spent a decade operating and scaling high-end brick-and-mortar fitness brands, notably Orangetheory Fitness. He was responsible for network-wide revenue in Canada, helping scale the brand from 25 clubs to upwards of 100 locations.