Gym V/s Online Fitness Apps: What is the future? Experts speak

As COVID restrictions started getting relaxed across the country, majority of people went back to their tedious daily routines, this once again led to them neglecting their health.

By:Updated: Nov 26, 2021 2:38 PM
Let’s find out from some leading fitness brands in the country how consumer pattern and approach to fitness has changed since the onset of the pandemic and where do we stand now with the country having opened up again.

The initial two waves of Covid-19 had brought the country to a standstill, and undeniably impinged a plethora of problems on each one of us. However, the major challenge was to maintain a healthy lifestyle by being confined to our homes. No matter how gloomy things appeared to be, people started discovering their unexplored sides to keep up their spirits. At home workout played a vital role in this regard.

A study conducted by Frontiers on adults who were regularly working out in the gym before the COVID-19 pandemic but stayed at home during the nationwide lockdown revealed that during the initial phase of pandemic, participants had a negative situational perception and a lack of motivation for fitness routines. They also show-cased psychological health concerns and overdependence on social media and OTT platforms resulting in a lack of motivation leading to a day that was unhealthy and lacked a structured routine. However, as weeks went by, there was a gradual increase in positive self-perception and motivation to overcome one’s need to attend a gym or a fitness studio. Individuals once again resumed their tryst with fitness by enrolling themselves onto online fitness classes. Several brick & mortar fitness studios and gyms pivoted and went completely online during the lockdown. In fact a lot of individuals who were not fitness enthusiast prior to the pandemic too were seen warming up to the need to stay fit and healthy. The regular fitness workouts at home during the lockdown greatly helped individuals overcome both psychological issues and physical fitness concerns.

As COVID restrictions started getting relaxed across the country, majority of people went back to their tedious daily routines, this once again led to them neglecting their health. Paradoxically, a considerable number of people also became more cautious about their health, especially the ones who battled COVID and started regular workout either at home or by enrolling at their closed neighbourhood workout studio or gym. Let’s find out from some leading fitness brands in the country how consumer pattern and approach to fitness has changed since the onset of the pandemic and where do we stand now with the country having opened up again.

Sarvesh Shashi, Founder, SARVA – The world’s first and online digital Yoga based wellness & fitness platform, Siddharth Singh, Founder, Crosstrain Fight Club – One of India’s first and leading Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) training center focused on training and weight loss objectives and Mohit Mathur, Founder CEO, OneFitPlus – India’s largest connected fitness & at – home Fit-Tech brand discuss how will digital apps & fitness platforms continue to thrive in 2022 with gyms and other brick and mortar set ups opening up & how relevant will they be? Also, are people still as enthusiastic about fitness & health as they were during the lockdown. Excerpts:

The future of fitness in 2022 which will be the permanent changes caused by the pandemic

Sarvesh Shashi – One permanent change is the work/Working out from home which is here to stay. Interestingly this means that the apps that allow one to practice any kind of wellness from home have grown tremendously. Whether it’s better heath, better fitness, better nutrition, better appearance, better sleep or better mindfulness, there is incredible awareness in the users. I also believe that self-monitoring in health (whether its blood sugar, the number of steps you take, your average blood pressure or your resting heart rate) can become a phenomenal culture shift, because who doesn’t want to catch irregularities in health early on? Self-monitoring in turn allows cementing of personal health goals which require personalized health maps for each individual. Users will not want a “one size fits all” routine. Wearables, home workout apparatus and lateral growth into categories is expected. Everyone wants a seamless, step by step, guided approach to wellness at one place.

Siddharth Singh: Short workouts (30-45 mins max) in a socially distanced manner while keeping their overheads low for the fitness business owners will define the future of training in 2022 and beyond. 

-The fitness centres that are able to provide high quality of instruction, deliver results to their clients and offer a flexibility in training/workout time schedules will succeed. For eg. off-peak time slots might become primetime slots for clients to visit and train at the centre. 

-Quality over quantity with a side online training course will be the recipe for success 

Mohit Mathur: Pandemic has brought about more awareness among people that a fit body can fight infections and diseases, which has put a spotlight on fitness. As more people choose health & consciously try to integrate fitness into their sedentary lifestyle, this is also driving investment interest in this space. The market is expanding and ever-growing. As tech and ecommerce continue to evolve, it can translate into a better customer experience – whether it is shopping online or working out. When it comes to working out from gamification, entertainment to community building, it is all a big part of it. Deeper engagement with customers leading to an enhanced customer experience is a crucial piece. In the case of fitness, it is also delivered in the form of variety, one day you could be doing yoga or pilates and the other day, strength training. As people in the tier 2 & tier 3 cities become more comfortable with ecommerce, internet penetration drives their behaviour and an increased interest in staying fit – there will be higher acceptance.

From Left to Right – Siddharth Singh, Founder, Crosstrain Fight Club; Mohit Mathur, Founder CEO, OneFitPlus; Sarvesh Shashi, Founder, SARVA

Do you see people continuing with their online fitness regimes or are they reverting to their old fitness habits of visiting gyms, yoga centres and other forms of brick and mortar platforms

Sarvesh Shashi: This is a tricky one. It could go either way. Of course there are people who’d love to work from home, workout from home because it’s convenient. And convenience is the most enabling environment for good habits. But there is a large section of fitness enthusiasts who love to step out, whether it’s a hike or an outdoor Yoga class or swimming or even the gym. Because these places are good spaces for community interaction and group motivation to get fitter. I think interestingly, it will become a hybrid model, something like a few days from home, rest of the days from the gym sort of model.

Siddharth Singh – The recent trends show that online fitness programmes due to their cost effectiveness and the ease of training from home are going to be the real winners in the future. However more and more of the fitness enthusiasts are getting back to their pre-COVID training fitness regimes inside physical fitness centres because in reality no matter how good the quality of online instruction, nothing compares to training onsite with coaches and training partners. People with elderly at home are still staying with online training but fully vaccinated people are mostly back to their pre-COVID training regimes. So while I believe online training programmes have a market, they are in no way going to replace fitness centres and gyms. 

Mohit Mathur: This time of the year normally, New Year resolutions take on a little weight inevitably with people gearing to head to the gym, but more often than not it fizzles out. However, post-COVID, the same may not hold true. While gyms and brick and mortar formats are slowly opening up and regular goers are obliging no doubt, there is still resistance. A major part of the reason is, work from home still prevails and will be a part of our new normal as well. So, let’s say when you log off from work at 10 pm in the night and want to sweat the worries of the day away, it’s a lot easier to quickly get 30 mins in rather than commuting to a gym at an odd time of the night. We see more and more a mix of at Centre and at home fitness with the final outcome that users exercise 15 days a month.

Are you as a brand likely to pivot taking into consideration the most recent trends

Sarvesh Shashi: The pivot with SARVA has already happened. We’re already offering goal based, guided, step by step, transformational programmes. Which means, if your goal is to lose weight, you won’t have to run post to pillar to find a diet. In the earlier question we spoke about self-monitoring, accessible and hyper personalized solutions and we’re here to do just that. SARVA’s pivot is to offer a one stop solution to learn what to do to reach your goal in a finite number of days. What to do, how to do it, how much of it to do, what to eat, how to meditate, how much to sleep, how to change your mindset from an “all or nothing” to a moderation friendly one. Its quite literally the last plan you’ll need in your life to succeed.

Siddharth Singh: We at Crosstrain Fight Club (@crosstrainfightclub) have, since 2012, been the pioneers of MMA and combat sports training (sports like Muay Thai, Boxing, Wrestling etc) in India. When the first lockdown was announced we did a hard pivot, by moving from exclusively close contact training, to social distance training. We launched a revolutionary social distance MMA training programme ‘Crosstrain 30’ which is the first of its kind in India. The entire workout is only 30 mins long and we no longer have fixed classes at fixed times. Instead our members have an opportunity to visit the academy at any time of the day and get their 30 mins personalised full body workout. Another advantage of our programme is that a new class starts every 3 mins so one is never late for class and we provide a personal trainer along with each session without any additional charge, which our members love. Our members are able to punch and kick and burn up to 500 calories in just 30 mins and the fact that there is no sparring makes the programme open to all age groups and all genders. We often have professional fighters training alongside casual fitness enthusiasts and because our programme is personalised, everyone gets a great workout based on their own level of fitness. 

Mohit Mathur: Yes. During pandemic we launched connected live studio with Fitwarz connected gaming and we are seeing high active engagement. E-commerce is helping us go deeper and as much as 45% of our users are coming from Tier 2 and Tier 3. We not only provide digital services there but also send our engineers for assistance, installation and bridging the tech divide.

The lockdown/pandemic led to many having adopted some form of online based fitness regime be it yoga, meditation, cross fit, cardio workouts, etc. – Do you feel that consumers are still as enthusiastic or was it just a phase.

Sarvesh Shashi: Well that’s a 1.5 trillion dollar question…. Mckinsey insights foresees fitness/wellness reaching a $1.5 trillion business. Of course the enthusiasm dies down because things are not new anymore. But at the core of the subject, what drives that enthusiasm. Was it just the need to ‘pass the time’? OR was it the deeper awakening that health does come first. I believe it to be the latter. I think it was a fearful but a poignant awakening for everyone. There will most definitely be a dip in the “enthusiasm” we’re talking about. But never in the core value. The thought process was “I am stuck at home, I need to do something for my health” today, it is, “I did my workouts and I feel great, I want to keep going”. A survey conducted online has brought surprising results. 46% of students said they would like to keep practising Yoga online after lockdown. Live online yoga helped 36% students practice more often. So I think this is clearly here to stay.

Siddharth Singh: Online training is going to be a part of our culture for at least the foreseeable future however Aristotle once said that ‘ man is by nature a social animal’. Looking at the recent trends more and more people are returning to physical gyms and fitness centres because the latter is hands down a much more enjoyable experience. For someone who has had a long and stressful day filled with zoom call meetings, kicking the heavy bag or working out in the spinning class is for sure more fun than getting more screen-time in front of a laptop for another online workout . Therefore while online training is going to stay, the majority of the people will return to their pre-COVID routines.

Mohit Mathur: A focus on health & general wellness is here to stay. However, the question about people’s enthusiasm has more to do with the realities of the post lockdown world than it being some phase. People got to explore and commit to fitness in a way that wasn’t seen before. Continuing the same in the harsh realities of the WFH scenario has proven to be challenging. Which is why I do believe that India will open up and accept connected fitness and a hybrid approach to fitness for the better. 

Another important point to be highlighted here, fitness studios and yoga centres were forced to shift their classes online without much notice. Conducting an online fitness class on Zoom is not their core business proposition; hence the providers won’t be incentivised to continue with this trend. At the end of the day, their business is successful when more people physically come in and use their fitness infra to meet their health goals. So if it was a phase it was certainly not for the customers because they continue to prefer to work from their homes at a time of their choosing and still getting to connect with a fitness driven community from 27,000 pin codes in India serviced by OFP.

With the country opening up how do you foresee the future within the fitness sector.

Sarvesh Shashi: Well, the future of a $1.5 trillion business is very bright I’d say. After 2020 and 11 months of 2021, the world has come to a collective awakening that fitness/wellness (however someone choose to define it) is a non-negotiable requirement for everyone. Whether you are a gymmer, swimmer, athlete, dancer, yogi. Gymnast… (etc)…movement is non-negotiable. Choose how you want to move. But I think that is the biggest cultural shift we have seen. I’ve answered the specific trends in the questions above.

Siddharth Singh: The global pandemic has changed the world and affected each and every one of us. It’s no secret that the fitness industry was very severely affected by the numerous lockdowns that were implemented. Virtually every fitness centre on the planet faced financial losses and many even went out of business. The future trend within the fitness sector will be an amalgamation of both online and social distanced training onsite training. Online training programmes are cost effective and require very little infrastructural cost which makes them best suited for any future pandemics, however they lack the ‘atmosphere’ and the ‘ambience’ which is needed for a truly enjoyable session. There is no doubt that training in an actual gym with a physical trainer near you is still the most effective way to work out and to get in shape however the rental cost alone has run these business’ to the ground due to the pandemic. So while one is convenient but lifeless the other is effective but financially mercurial for the fitness business owner. I, therefore, believe the future trend will be a hybrid fitness model that will adhere to both the social distancing norms while also providing a complete training atmosphere in a physical training space/studio.

Mohit Mathur: The pandemic, which started early last year brought the entire fitness industry specially the gyms and studios to a grinding halt. Although they have reopened and as vaccination drives cross a milestone inoculation every day, more people are returning to gyms. However, the future of fitness will be dominated by tech and personalised content. Tech will play a major role both at the front-end and back-end. At the backend, we are already seeing fitness industry focused SaaS business models which are helping gyms and spas to automate a dozen processes which are either done manually or through an excel sheet. At the front-end, tech has been disrupting the fitness industry. Launch of wearables to map one’s health vitals was a starting point. At OFP, we have taken it a step further by providing a complete fitness ecosystem to our customers in the comfort of their homes. By purchasing our fitness equipment, our relationship with the customers begin for a long term where their entire fitness needs right from customised workouts to diet consultation to gamifying and providing an immersive work out experience are met.

In conclusion one can safely state that the global pandemic has for sure made people more cautious about their physiological and psychological health due to two main reasons – one being the fear of getting infected by the virus and the second being boredom. However, this does not justify nor does it in any way support the general perception that people have or will lose interest in keeping up with their fitness levels in a post-COVID world. In fact there are individuals who may never give up their love affair with fitness. One thing however that can be stated with upmost certainty is that from an industry standpoint that the pandemic has made way for a hybrid approach to fitness one which was unforeseeable prior to the March 2020.

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