Has the rise of digital fitness been the death of the gym?


With gyms reopening this week in the UK, will there be a rush back to the shared fitness floor, or is the at-home workout here to stay?

Forced industry closures have been the catalyst for many behavioural changes over the past few months, one of the biggest being the huge adoption of digital fitness and doing your lunges in your living room.

The increase in the need to train outside of a brick-and-mortar gym has created the opportunity for individuals and brands alike, to come up with a variety of different ways people can up their game from their living room. Wearable technology, streaming workouts and fitness-related smartphone apps are a booming part of a $30-billion fitness industry, according to Forbes.

The question is, post Covid-19 will there be a rush back to the shared fitness floor, or is the at-home workout here to stay? Given what’s available to you now, at little to no cost at all, will you be cancelling your costly gym membership? Let’s look at some current trends that are hitting the market to help you decide.

Making fitness fun

A broader definition of fitness has been adopted that has not always been part of an inclusive offering, as new research has discovered the benefits of different types of exercise on the body and mind, “A multi-component routine focused on balance, flexibility, and aerobic fitness is better than focusing on just one type of exercise.” Fitness apps offer just that, with a vast variety of different, on-demand, workouts, diet tracking, and gamification.

Gamification has also helped athletes up the ante. Apps like ‘Zombies, Run!,’ an immersive game that has its ‘players’ running (for real) away from, you guessed it, Zombies, increases the competitive edge and helps them push their limits.

The inclusion of Augmented Reality in fitness apps has also seen an increase. AR runner does this by creating checkpoints around the environment for the player to run through in order to set a time. There is still vast potential for AR integration in fitness apps, and it is evolving very quickly.

The online move to get people moving

Pre-COVID many gyms had already started making the move online. Beachbody has been running digitally since 1998, with approximately 1.5 million subscribers. Nathan Foster, who started the streaming workout platform Neu U, recently told Business financial post, “Even before coronavirus, everyone knew that the at-home model was here to stay. It didn’t need a pandemic to light it on fire, but that’s what it has done.”

High-end brands like Peloton bike have been around for years, bringing immersive technology into people’s homes. Customers can set up a bike anywhere in their home and join a community of riders globally with a live leaderboard, bootcamps, training programs and real-time metrics so you never miss your gym buddies.

Other brands like the high-intensity workout classes, Barry’s Bootcamp, also pivoted quickly.  They started to record high-quality content for their customers by transforming a garage into their famous ‘red room’, and broadcasted virtual classes with the same look and feel.

Personal trainers have also moved online. In Fitness Australia’s most recent survey, they found “Just under half of respondents have been able to generate new sources of ongoing income by moving online or adopting one-on-one outdoor PT sessions.” Founder of Dryft, Nathaniel Jewell decided to stream through Zoom as he found it was a more engaging platform for his audience. He even has an on-site production team to fix any technical hitches that may arise.

It could be concluded that the business model shift for gyms has allowed them to engage with more consumers at once, on a more flexible schedule, whilst saving costs on rental leases in busy CBD areas.

Fitness influencers are taking first place

Instagram has now become a platform for top influencers to share free workout videos and rely on brands sponsoring them so they can continue to engage with their audiences. With influencer engagement rates and followers soaring, now is the best time for brands to partner (something we can always help you with). Businesses are making $5.20 for every $1 spent on influencer marketing (Influencer Marketing Hub, 2019).

The influencers + live streaming = the future of e-commerce blog post by Because talks about the power of an influencer on a customer’s shopping habits. Influencers that understand their audience will know they seek authentic content and transparency. This has steered influencers to be as authentic as possible with their live workout feeds.

Influencers like Courtney Black have been sharing regular live feeds of their workouts, and have seen a huge increase in their engagement rates and followings. Joe Wicks has also launched free workouts aimed at kids live on his YouTube channel, to energise and encourage kids to have a more optimistic mentality. Influencers are adapting their content to appeal to everyone at anytime, anywhere.

The tech that drives us to do better

Devices such as Fitbit, Apple Watch, Garmin and many smartphones are putting personalised biometric health statistics straight into our hands, helping us track our health and push our limits like never before.

But smartwatches are not only where it’s at. Enter intelligent clothing. Sensoria Fitness Socks use advanced sensors to track data and how your foot lands whilst walking or running.

As we see the demand for wearable tech increase, the blurring of humans and technology will become more apparent, with the rise of augmented humans and virtual influencers.

So, where’s your next workout going to be?

Of all the industries hit by the pandemic, the gyms must have been one of the worst. Their forced closure and subsequent loss of memberships have had a huge influence on the rise of digital fitness. In contrast, the fitness equipment industry has seen a sales boost of over 600%, as consumers bought kettlebells, bikes and other at-home fitness gear.

There’s no denying the benefits of the at-home workout. You’re not sharing equipment, bound to a specific class time or locked into a hefty monthly fee. There are also no physical boundaries; you can join a Yogi’s class in Tibet or do your own tour of France, never mind the fun the gaming aspect brings to it all.

But the gym’s doors are opening. Granted with noticeable changes, however the option of going will be there. The question is, while the doors have been closed, has the rise of digital fitness sufficiently filled the fitness gap? I guess we’ll soon see…

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Author bio


I’m known as the Because boomerang and started my journey in the Sydney office, spent a short stint in the London office, and then bounced back to Sydney. My passion lies in creating authentic, meaningful connections between our clients and their consumers, and my fascination for innovative tech drives my ideation to help amplify brand identities and create extraordinary experiences.