What does the future of the fitness industry look like? For Fighting Fit: Lessons While WOFH (working out from home), we asked Alice Liveing, trainer and Instagram fitness star, how she thinks we’ll be exercising post-lockdown.
There are lots of unanswered questions about the future. Will we be able to hug our friends again soon? Will we ever go back to the office? Will normal life ever actually resume? But the gym-goers who have been diligently moving from fitness centres to home workouts at every government announcement are itching to know whether the plans for re-opening gyms on 12 April will actually go ahead.
If you’re one of them, you may have been surprised by how much you’ve missed the gym, lifting heavy weights, practicing yoga, or jumping into a swimming pool. Yet while there was a lot of pressure for the government to re-open gyms during the second lockdown fitness seems to have taken a back seat behind the huge surge in cases and fears over vaccine shortages in lockdown 3. However, with Boris Johnsons’ roadmap out of lockdown recently announced, we’re starting to dream about going back to the gym and wondering what the weights room will look like in 2021.
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In order to find answers some of these pressing questions, we turned to personal trainer and fitness influencer Alice Liveing to share her insight on how things might look in the future.
When will gyms reopen?
For Alice, the dream of gyms reopening has been put on pause, as “right now, there is a collective responsibility to all do our bit. While gym environments are well-ventilated, we know that they are a place where people are breathing heavily in an enclosed environment – which means spreading of the virus particularly with this new contagious strain, is possible,” she says.
However, she was part of the campaign to re-open gyms during the November lockdown, when cases weren’t surging at the same rate. Alice’s reason was that “one solution out of the pandemic is to make sure that we’re all fit and healthy. Particularly given that we’re in the winter months right now in the UK, the option to get outside and get exercising just isn’t there for a lot of people,” she points out.
“If you are working 8:30am-6:30pm, your opportunity to be outside in daylight hours is massively limited. Then we also have to look at the safety of people, particularly women, exercising in the dark either early in the morning or late at night. We have to look at long-term accessible opportunities for people to exercise,” Alice says.
While there’s no telling when lockdown will end, fitness centres should be a large part of our ‘new normal’, according to Alice. “Ultimately, the fitness industry as a whole is a crucial part of healthcare and we are often the ‘first step’ towards health – GPs even now prescribe gym memberships to people. For that reason, I think it’s so important that moving forward, gyms have a strategy out of this.”
Are home workouts here to stay?
However, Alice recognises that even without gyms, many more people have turned to exercise since the start of the pandemic. Alice herself has been leading daily workouts for those without gyms, with some amassing up to 65,000 viewers and, according to research by sports nutrition brand Bulk Powders, 38% of Brits move more now than they did before the lockdowns of last year.
“There are many people who’ve never exercised before but have shifted their priorities since lockdown and are now wanting to look after their physical and mental health more,” she says. For Alice, it is these people who have the potential to shift the industry in the future – will they continue to work out from home as it is all they have known, or will they want to advance and move into the gym environment?
“I would say that I’ve noticed a massive shift in my audience,” she says. “Two years ago, I reckon 10% of my audience worked out from home. Now there’s a 50/50 split of those who will go back to the gym and those who will stick with home workouts because they have noticed how effective they can be, but also because there is a large portion of the population who are still incredibly nervous to step back into a gym.”
A hybrid between the two could be the future, Alice suggests, as “the fitness industry has had to pivot and embrace digital platforms as a normal part of their business now. Interactivity will definitely be much more popular coming out with this, even as gyms do reopen,” she says. For example, imagine a spin class where some people take part from the studio, while others continue to take part from home.
Will gyms cope financially?
As with every industry, some are facing the question of ‘if’ - not ‘when’ - they will be able to open their doors again. “Hopefully we won’t have too many casualties, but I do feel that we are in a position where it’s probably inevitable right now,” Alice says.
“Given the fact that gyms have had to close and then reopen three times, it’s been really draining,” she says. Not to mention that they were given the all-clear to welcome back members in August and December, which are traditionally the quietest times for the industry anyway. “That just made things even more challenging. When we also think about the self-employed trainers who are getting zero financial help, it does become a really huge worry that many people will struggle to come out of this,” Alice says.
“I’m sure that every industry has a case for needing more funding, but gyms in particular will need targeted financial backing are seen as a critical industry for people’s wellbeing and health care,” she adds.
Some people might be questioning why they’d pay for services that they can get for free online. “It will be difficult to transition away from giving things away for free to then being like ‘come to this £25-a-go class’,” Alice agrees. However, given the waiting lists on packed classes after the first lockdown, that doesn’t seem to be too much of an issue for those who would give anything to get back to the workout, sport or training style they love.
“What I hope we’ve gained from this time is people valuing the jobs that people in the fitness industry do, and realising that we really have a place and we bring a lot to society in terms of helping people to feel good about themselves. So once we have done it for free for all this time it would be great if people can see the value in that and embrace paying,” says Alice.
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As for herself? “I can’t wait to get back to the gym. It’s my favourite place to be and seeing my clients gives me a reason to get out of bed in the morning. But I am really enjoying the live workouts and I do feel that they are something I will definitely continue post-pandemic. I’m currently building an app at the moment as well, having recognised that digital platforms are the way to go in terms of being a trainer right now.”
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Chloe Gray is the senior writer for stylist.co.uk's fitness brand Strong Women. When she's not writing or lifting weights, she's most likely found practicing handstands, sipping a gin and tonic or eating peanut butter straight out of the jar (not all at the same time).