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The World of Digital Fitness: Running Laps Around Traditional Gyms

As we start a new year, many are thinking about their resolutions and goals, and millions of people are setting their sights on losing weight, trying to exercise more, and generally taking up healthier habits. But this year, there’s an added level of complexity in turning these goals into a reality.

As we enter the 10 th month of the pandemic, more than ever we’ve had to get creative in the way we exercise. Personally, I’ve tried over 11 different fitness apps in the last year, taken advantage of countless Youtube/Instagram workouts, and purchased a hodgepodge of dumbbells and resistance bands in an attempt to create my own apartment gym. So when I got a new Apple Watch for Christmas – and with it 3 months of free Apple Fitness plus – I was skeptical. I wondered what could possibly set this app apart from the dozens of options I’d been using for almost the last year?

As I experimented with the app’s different workouts, I quickly noticed that it offered more flexibility than other home workout apps. Strength training classes can be done at home or at the gym; rowing classes offer a follow-along format to be done at the gym; yoga classes can be done practically anywhere; and the running programs even offer a flexible walking option. As I gained more experience with the different classes and formats, I started to think about the world of digital fitness and all the changes it’s recently undergone. I began to wonder how long the shift to digital at-home fitness has been on the horizon, and what role the circumstances of the past year played in expediting that migration?

At Egg, we often work to uncover trends and consider the larger cultural forces at play that help shape human behavior. To answer my own question, I wanted to think beyond the forced isolation of COVID and understand some of the broader cultural trends that have helped position the category for success in recent years.

To get started, I first considered the gamification of exercise. On a broad level, we know that gamification leverages behavioral economics principles to encourage behavior. From wearables encouraging you to hit your step goal for the day, to in-class leaderboards measuring performance among other attendees, there’s been a push to make exercise feel like more of a game vs. a chore. One of the many challenges consumers face in adopting a home workout routine is the lack of excitement that comes from physically going to a gym or workout class. Gamifying the at-home experience delivers on the excitement and fun; in some cases making it even more engaging than going to the gym.

Perhaps one of the largest barriers holding consumers back from home fitness is the lack of community in-person experiences often deliver. Part of the initial draw for studio boutiques was not only the exclusivity factor, but the idea that you got to be part of a collective with each class you attended. Just look at how SoulCycle has built their brand. Unsurprisingly, replicating this shared experience has long been unattainable at home. In recent years, however, many brands have placed special focus on virtually delivering that sense of community. Whether it’s being part of a formal workout group online, doing a live-class with your friend across the country, or having a sense of loyalty to your favorite virtual instructor – apps have worked to bring the feeling of community home, perfectly positioning brands that have embraced this challenge for the current “together alone” cultural moment.

Finally, home fitness has increasingly become more a premium experience. The term “home fitness” used to evoke images of clunky treadmills and ellipticals our parents once had in their basement. Today, home fitness has become a more high-tech category with a sleek and sexy design that you’re proud to display in the back of your Zoom meetings.

While the home fitness industry has made strides in attracting new consumers and evolving the category, challenges still lie ahead as brands continue to innovate and grow. To start, the move towards luxury has the potential to create new barriers of entry to the space for some consumers. The price point for equipment, physical space limitations at home, and the potential for intimidating technology may turn some consumers off.

Another challenge to consider moving forward will be innovation. So far, the digital space has been focused on recreating the gym experience at home and keeping up with other digital competition. Though we’re unsure when, it’s likely in-person gyms will come back – even if they look different from how we currently know them. This means digital fitness brands will not only need to keep pace with current competitors, but also will need to account for the returning competition that’s looming.

Currently, digital fitness has a leg up on in-person gyms in terms of convenience and novelty. To ensure this continued success, brands will need to proactively consider how consumer needs will change when in-person options return. Differentiating from the competition and providing something consumers can’t get elsewhere will remain key to standing out and maintaining brand equity.

As for the original question, there’s no denying home fitness has long been an option in the background for consumers. But it wasn’t until recent innovation and strategy – and having consumers as a captive audience — that this category was pushed into greater consideration. Moving forward, the digital fitness space will continue to serve as a strong case study for reinvigorating a classic category.