Group exercise is set to be the most resilient facility type as we emerge from COVID lockdown, recovering quicker and stronger than gym and swim facilities.
This is the topline finding of a new report – The COVID-19 Impact Report: The fitness and leisure sector’s path to recovery, co-authored by ukactive and 4global Consulting – which offers projections for the UK’s physical activity sector over the next 12 months.
The report assumes a number of restrictions will remain in place for three months after re-opening in early July: 50% capacity, no access for those aged 70+, no swimming lessons and no team sports. Based on these assumptions, the report estimates that the industry will have stopped ‘recovering’ by the first week of January 2021.
At this point, throughput for the sector as a whole will have reached a ‘new normal’ that’s 2% lower than 2019 levels.
However, looking specifically at group exercise, studio throughput is set to return to 2019 levels by the first week of November. By the first week of January 2021, it will reach its own ‘new normal’ throughput – one that’s 3% higher than 2019 levels.
All of which makes for interesting reading for any operator deliberating what to do with group exercise spaces once clubs re-open.
We know, for example, that some operators have been looking at suspending all classes, relocating gym equipment into studios to facilitate social distancing, with more space around each station.
But is this the correct strategy if, as the new report suggests, group exercise will actually recover more strongly than other forms of activity? Isn’t it more important to look at ways of safely continuing to offer group classes – particularly given we already know that group exercise members tend to be clubs’ most loyal members?
We believe continuing to offer group exercise is absolutely the way forward. Certainly, Wexer customers who have already re-opened and offered Wexer Virtual classes to their members are seeing a significantly increased demand, up from typically three or four participants per class before lockdown to, now, an average of eight to 10 participants – this new headcount in many cases the maximum allowed due to social distancing.
Group exercise is something members want when they return to their clubs. The challenge for operators is to offer it safely and cost-effectively in limited capacity studio spaces.
Members still want group exercise at home, too, which is why an integrated digital offering that seamlessly spans in- and out-of-club is so important, allowing members to do the same classes wherever they are. The evidence: an insightful new report from Mindbody, published in May, which found that 43% of respondents would continue to do at-home virtual classes post-lockdown, as well as going back to the gym. Of those, 60% expected to add two or three live streamed workouts a week.
It’s clear that new group exercise habits have been forged in the fires of this crisis. More specifically, new digital group exercise habits have been forged: people are now used to doing virtual classes at home, which means members will be familiar and comfortable with a virtual class format when it’s offered to them in the gym environment.
In this new world of social distancing, virtual is also a highly cost-effective solution: a way to deliver round-the-clock group exercise, putting as many classes on the timetable as are needed to ensure everyone can do the workout they want – even when each class can only cater for eight or perhaps 10 people.
And if demand still exceeds studio capacity, virtual opens up other options too. You might, for example, look at creating overflow areas – also carefully marked out for social distancing – to extend capacity for popular classes. In this scenario, even if the studio is full, other members wanting to take part can scan the QR code on the Virtual player and do the class elsewhere in the club, or indeed at home; with both the Wexer App and the Wexer Web Player simply use the QR code to launch the relevant class.
To find out more about Wexer Virtual, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org