Fitness test

Can offline gyms make a strong comeback?

Globally, the fitness centre and gymnasium business is under immense stress.
Globally, the fitness centre and gymnasium business is under immense stress.

Even though gymnasiums and fitness centres were finally allowed to reopen in August, albeit in limited capacity, they aren’t in good health. A sizeable number of fitness enthusiasts are delaying their return to gyms as the fear of the virus still looms large. Besides, home workouts and online fitness classes have soared in the past year. Struggling to get back on their feet, almost all fitness centres are offering huge membership discounts.

Vital stats

Unable to pay high rents and strapped for funds, many gyms have had to shut down permanently in the wake of the pandemic. “Because of severe financial struggles, about 20-25% of the market was wiped out over the past six to nine months. Some gym owners hoped to reopen later in 2020, but many had to completely wrap up operations,” says Jayam Vora, co-founder and COO, Fitternity, a gym aggregator service.

Globally, the fitness centre and gymnasium business is under immense stress. In May 2020, Gold’s Gym, a leading international chain of gyms, filed for bankruptcy in the US. Two other American fitness training centres, 24 Hour Fitness and New York Sports Club, also filed for bankruptcy.

Footfall in gyms is yet to pick up, say gym owners. “Batch sizes have been halved because we need to follow sanitisation protocols; business for us is at 65-70% of last year’s levels,” says Badal Makwana, director, Anytime Fitness (Andheri and Khar), a global chain of gyms. Like many others, Makwana is offering a 25-30% discount on membership fees to woo customers. According to industry estimates, in January, the recovery of the fitness business was about 40% of January 2020. Both Vora and Makwana expect a full recovery only by the end of 2021, if everything else stays the same and the vaccination drive goes on smoothly.

All 95 centres of Anytime Fitness are fully functional, which is why the gym has stopped offering free online classes to its members, even though many still want an online option, says Makwana.


According to Vora, about 35% of gym members still prefer to work out from their homes. Sohrab Khushrushahi, founder, SOHFIT, says those who are going back to working out at gyms have specific requirements, such as lifting heavy weights, which cannot be done at home.

Trainers like Khushrushahi, who were earlier able to serve a limited clientele with their offline classes, have reached a wider audience by going online. Vora says this has particularly benefited people in tier II and III cities who could not access specialised trainers in their cities.

Even though online sessions have taken off during the past several months, gym owners are counting on the revival of physical gyms, as retaining members through online classes is tough. Ankur Pahwa, national leader, e-commerce and consumer internet sector, and partner, EY, observes that those with no access to equipment have chosen to experiment with online offerings. However, he says, these are just short-terms trials, with minimal commitment.

Vora expects that gym operators will earn 15% of their revenue from online offerings over the next two-three years. However, not all of it will come from fitness training. Experts believe that dietary consultations, fitness programming and consultations with experts are segments that have already moved online, and will continue to see sustained acceptance.

For fitness training to achieve greater penetration, “the programme may need an offline component to be offered in conjunction with the online offering in the long term,” Pahwa adds, indicating the need for an omnichannel approach. Stronger social media integration and gamification of online training could beef up offerings further.

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