Streaming is causing a fitness revolution — and it could redefine gyms as we know them
Inside a minimalist, airy space in the heart of New York City’s Flatiron district, I’m face-to-face with a trainer that’s about to guide myself and more than 60 other attendees through this morning’s cardio workout.
Except I can’t see any of the other participants; rather, I’m staring at a slab of mirrored glass with a display panel underneath it that’s showing my trainer as she instructs the class. There are also bits of information scattered near the bottom of the glass, such as heart rate data and calories burned.
That’s because I’m not in a boutique fitness studio, but in a storefront where fitness startup Mirror sells its product of the same name. Mirror — as its name implies — is a $1,500 mirror that’s meant to function as a home gym, letting owners peer at themselves in a full-length mirror as they follow along with their instructor.
Mirror is just one of many companies seeking to replace traditional gyms and fitness classes with training sessions you can stream at home via internet-connected devices. Among the most recognizable companies in the space is Peloton, which sells a stationary bicycle priced at more than $2,000 and treadmill for over $4,000 with built-in screens for streaming the company’s custom workouts.
The buzzy fitness startup just filed for an initial public offering at the end of August, and it was most recently valued at $4.15 billion about one year ago according to Pitchbook.
It’s not just startups that are participating in the streaming video trend. Equinox announced last month that it plans to launch a home workout service that would pair the same bicycle found at SoulCycle studios with personalized digital content — surely a move to remain competitive with Peloton. While working out at home through pre-recorded or live-streamed classes isn’t new, Peloton’s IPO and the expansion of Equinox’s SoulCycle brand into the home is certainly another sign that the at-home fitness movement is having a moment.But that doesn’t necessarily mean traditional gyms and fitness clubs are going away anytime soon. In fact, over the next five years leading up to 2024, revenue in the gym and fitness franchises industry is expected to grow at a rate of 2.6% to $4.9 billion, in part fueled by increased awareness about health and the benefits of exercise, according to market research firm IBISWorld.
But experts do believe technology will play an increasingly important role in how gyms operate and retain their members. In the next five years, many industry players are likely to implement new technology-powered offerings to improve customer satisfaction and retention, says an IBISWorld report from May.
“I think the technology is either going to have to be included in traditional gyms and fitness clubs, or a lot of these clubs are going to fall behind the at home offerings,” said Ryan Roth, lead industry analyst for IBISWorld.
The firm pointed to Anytime Fitness’ acquisition of personal training app PumpOne and Orange Theory’s use of wearable technology as an example of the direction gym chains are likely to take when it comes to incorporating more technology into the workout experience.
Why people love streaming workouts at home
There are a few simple reasons why working out at home is becoming increasingly popular: people are busier than they used to be, and there’s an increased demand for workouts in specialized disciplines like barre or yoga.
“It’s become more accessible now than ever for people to really get this type of training that they want,” said Roth. “As opposed to going to the gym and having to either educate themselves, or not feel as motivated as they are while getting training through these online classes.”
Those interested in streaming live and on-demand workout classes from home have a wide variety of options at their disposal, ranging from smartphone apps like Daily Burn and ClassPass Go to specialized hardware like bikes from Peloton and Flywheel.
In the short term, Roth said companies like Peloton and Mirror that offer hardware-based products are likely to be more successful since they allow participants to indulge in their favorite types of workouts with the convenience of staying at home. But over the long term, fitness apps that work in conjunction with wearable devices could end up being more popular. “People really want to quantify their health,” he said.
Working out at home is a concept that’s been around for decades. After all, it was probably Jane Fonda’s famous workout tape from 1982 that truly popularized the concept of exercising at home instead of at the gym.
But Mirror CEO Brynn Putnam says it was her lack of satisfaction with the currently available options that led to the development of Mirror, which launched in 2018. While Putnam wouldn’t divulge sales statistics, she did say the company sold Mirrors to every state across the country within a couple of months of its launch.
“It was a passive, one-way experience,” said Putnam in reference to at-home workout apps she’s tried in the past. “There was no interaction, there was no community, there was no progress reporting.
“That community aspect has proven to be a particularly important driver behind the growth of digital workouts. Although home workouts are typically done in isolation, they often inspire in active online communities where participants gather to share tips and techniques. A recent Instagram search for the hashtag #tracyandersonmethod turned up more than 12,000 photos and videos of users sharing their experience following the workouts of popular fitness trainer Tracy Anderson.
That can sometimes translate to sharing workouts in real-life too. Tricia Han, CEO of Daily Burn, an app that offers guided workout classes specializing in everything from cardio to mediation and high-intensity interval training, said sometimes app members will gather to workout together in person rather than going to a gym together.
For example, she mentioned a group of teachers in a small town in California that convene each morning to workout through Daily Burn together.
What’s next for digital workouts
In the future, home workouts will have more benefits to offer besides convenience, according to Han. Technology could make it easier to further customize workout options and provide personal coaching and individual exercise plans.
“As we go forward where it’s really going to get interesting and the things that we are building today are thinking about the personalization aspect,” she said. The company may, for example, use data and artificial intelligence to create customized experiences based on a user’s fitness level, goals, and preferences.
Putnam says Mirror plans to expand into areas like personal training and meditation in the near future.
As digital fitness apps and products continue to evolve, it’ll be more important than ever for traditional gyms to keep up in order to differentiate their products and incentivize customers.
“If these traditional fitness clubs aren’t able to leverage new technologies within the next few years to their own benefit, then I think that’s one of the areas that’s going to significantly hinder them,” said Roth.
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