Recently, our Enterprise Health Consultants hosted a webinar to educate our broker and consultant partners on what impact COVID-19 has had on human behaviors, the fitness industry, and corporate wellness programs.  

We’ve seen surprising results as humans shift their focus from typical fitness-related activities to new ways of staying active. With fitness facility closures happening all over the country, the fitness industry as a whole was sure to be impacted. And with that, corporate wellness programs felt the effects, as well. 

Now, as the world begins to open up in phases, what does this mean for fitness trends, needs, behaviors, and planning for benefits present and future?


Before shelter-in-place

In order to understand what the future holds, we must take a look at what fitness was Before COVID and stay-at-home orders were enacted. 

About 15 years ago, big name gyms dominated the fitness scene. However, scrappy boutique studios offering focused classes like yoga, Pilates, boot camp, and cycling started to take the industry by storm. 

What was originally seen as a boutique approach to fitness was quickly transformed into a fast-growing industry. According to FITT Insider between 2013-2017 traditional gym memberships increased by 15%, while boutique studio memberships grew by 121%.

Meanwhile, fitness options had been a growing trend in corporate wellness, however there was no solution out there that accommodated this niche market. 

That’s where Peerfit stepped in.

We set out to redefine wellness by making fitness easy, enjoyable, and an engagement engine for employers and corporate wellness programs through the power of peer-to-peer support and camaraderie. 

Offering employees access to this growing trend in boutique fitness allowed employers to stand out in the hiring market. And the fact that the program was flexible and paid-for by health plans and wellness dollars allowed employers to up the ante on their wellness benefits package and offer more than big-box gym discounts and stipends which were hard to administer and manage.

Two-dimensional fitness

Historically, fitness seemed two-dimensional - you either work out at home or at the gym. Whether you had fancy equipment at home, no equipment at all, or found a digital program that guided you, people typically had preferences. And those ‘gym’ folks would rather give an arm than work out at home. 

For us, this deeply segmented behavior wasn’t surprising — communities that the boutique studio culture creates is what drives connection and accountability and why boutique fitness classes work so well at attracting and retaining members. Fitness is the byproduct of this type of culture and community, which is the model driving Peerfit’s core values. 

Digital fitness used to only account for a very small portion of the fitness industry. According to Sifted, a new-media platform for Europe’s innovators and entrepreneurs, in 2019 global digital fitness options accounted for only 8.5% of the fitness industry. Sifted notes that although digital fitness had been growing at a rate of 32.6% year-over-year, the coronavirus has turbo charged that number and they now believe it could account for over 20% of the fitness industry by the end of 2020.   


The effect of shelter-in-place on digital trends 

Corporate fitness companies without digital options were highly affected by COVID-19, either closing down or quickly trying to adjust their historic models to serve their clients needs. Meanwhile, consumer fitness brands like Peloton experienced app downloads grow five times that of the previous month. 

The world responded with mixed emotions to stay-at-home orders. The majority of the population experienced a lower level of activity than normal. According to FitBit, while communities adapted to social distancing, it’s no surprise that overall walking activity dropped significantly compared to the same time last year. Activity was down 12% in the US alone.

And what’s not surprising is the underlying affect that isolation had on humans. A new survey conducted by the USC Center for the Digital Future and the Interactive Advertising Bureau found that 37% of Americans are lonelier and 61% more anxious than pre-COVID.

As studies suggest, physical activity is imperative for improving mental health and resilience and with reduced access to ‘normal’ activities, such as walking, and of course, the fear of the unknown, Americans experienced significant negative effects.

While Peerfit saw these trends growing, we were watching our own data closely and we saw a different story - people’s behaviors quickly shifted. Historically, 96.4% of our members utilized our gym and studio partnerships for their activity, while only 3.6% subscribed to our digital streaming partners. 

In April we saw that subscription number jump significantly to 53% of our active population participating in these digital opportunities. And the number of videos watched increased by 3.5 times the number of videos from the previous month.

We even saw this digital trend growing in our Peerfit Move community, which is our Medicare Advantage benefit. This demographic is historically prone to big-box gym memberships but are engaging with and responding to digital fitness more than ever before and taking advantage of our at-home fitness solutions.

What’s next for corporate fitness?

We see how people are consuming fitness content given today’s restrictions. While they are gravitating toward these digital solutions, they're also ready to go back to their favorite gyms. Our partner, MINDBODY, surveyed their consumer-facing app users and 50% reported in a recent webinar that they'd return to just working out at the gym, while 40% reported that they’d do a combination of both digital and gym.

We’re going to see employees respond to these openings in stages, as well. The segment of members that were surveyed by MINBODY represent the first two types of individuals we expect to see. The first third of the population who will eagerly go back to their gyms, while the second third of the population will do a combination of both, as they sit back and wait to see what happens to their first population. Did they get sick? Will the gyms stay open? While the last third of the population will likely be the slowest to return to life-as-usual. We tend to see these folks be slow to change in general and are typically the hardest audiences to engage in corporate wellness programs.


Is digital here to stay?

Having a corporate fitness program that is both capable of digital and virtual, as well as the physical brick and mortar options is not only valuable for your employees, but it’s valuable for you. 

Something to remember is that digital does not mean you have to work out alone. With the right model, employees can have a connected environment on a digital platform. And we need to continue to think what the future will be like and remember that humans may need both community and digital as they adapt to the uncertainties of what’s next. 

And the fact is, employees have formed new behaviors because of COVID-19. Although we see people gravitating towards their gyms already, we know that behaviors are forever affected and the ease of access to digital workouts is a trend we do not see going away, especially for companies with dispersed employees, remote employees, or multiple locations. Digital is truly a way to bring all employees together.

Whether digital is the gateway to an employees’ first in-studio experience or the supplement to an employees’ in-person fitness routine, individuals see that at-home workouts are effective and useful for saving time, great for midday mental health breaks, as well as opportunities to connect and interact with others. 

As a whole, the digital fitness industry, which includes fitness apps, wearables and other digital experiences, is expected to be worth $27.4b by 2022, growing at a rate of 32.6% year-over-year.

Even our partner gyms and fitness studios who have gone virtual today will likely continue to stream as an extra revenue source to monetize for reduced in-person attendance.

So, our opinion, digital fitness has a place in corporate wellness and should be considered as a part of all fitness strategies now and in the future.


How do you prepare your corporate fitness strategy?

The world is currently in a transitional state and will be for the unforeseeable future. Our advice is to ensure that what you’re looking at today for your clients will fit a strategy beyond the NOW. 

It’s important to ask how multi-dimensional your client’s program will be. Will what you are implementing today be relevant 6 months from now? Will there be room to grow? Will there have to be another implementation with another company in the near future to suit your clients needs at that point?

We suggest looking for companies who offer engaging digital, virtual and in-person options and opportunities to work out and stay fit to serve the mix of demographics that they might have as the world begins to open up.

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