When we last checked in with the fitness industry, the sector was slowly making a comeback – although visits still lagged behind 2019 figures. Now, over a year and a half after COVID first hit the United States, we dove into the data to understand how this hard-hit industry is faring under the new normal.
Americans are Returning to Gyms
The fitness sector suffered a heavy blow over COVID. As health clubs closed throughout the country went into lockdown, many gyms could not afford to stay in business – according to one study, 22% of gyms have shuttered permanently since the start of the pandemic. And as home workouts gained popularity, some experts predicted that even after gyms reopen, many would choose to continue their home routines.
But despite the doomsday predictions, an undeniable fitness recovery is underway. Visits to fitness centers nationwide compared to 2019 were down only -3.2% and -3.3% in June and July, respectively. And while the visit gap increased slightly to -4.8% in August – likely a result of a rise in COVID cases and reinstituted indoor mask mandates – the data definitely does not support the theory that a significant contingent of the population has decided to permanently ditch the gym - especially considering the continued disruption to normal work and school routines and city traffic.
Visit Recovery is Unevenly Spread Out
July visits to Crunch Fitness, Planet Fitness, Workout Anytime, and Anytime Fitness grew by 33.3%, 7.1%, 12.3%, and 6.6%, respectively, when compared to 2019. And although August visits fell almost across the board – likely due to the COVID resurgence – these gyms have successfully weathered the past year and a half, and they will likely continue to thrive despite the current setbacks.
Meanwhile, visits to Orangetheory Fitness, LA Fitness, Gold’s Gym, and 24 Hour Fitness fell by -5.2%, -20.8%, -22.1%, and -40.6%, respectively. But the low visit numbers do not mean that these brands should be written off. First, class oriented brands like Orangetheory have been hit harder than most by rising COVID cases. Second, many of these brands have a large proportion of locations in major cities which have recovered at a slower pace.
Gym-Goers Slowly Returning
And, indeed, month-over-month visit comparisons indicate that the brands with the largest visit gaps are also the brands that are experiencing the greatest month-over-month growth. Between May and July, visits to Orangetheory, LA Fitness, Gold’s Gym, and 24 Hour Fitness increased every month when compared to visits the previous month, indicating that these chains have yet to reach their visit peak. And while August visits dropped across the board, foot traffic is likely to climb back up as the current COVID wave subsides.
Visit Length Increases
Another positive sign for the sector’s recovery is the increase in visit duration. We had last looked at the change in visits length in April, and we had found that the share of short visits had increased over the pandemic while the share of longer visits had decreased. But analyzing the average visit length over the last three full months reveals that people are now actually spending more time in the gym now than they were before the pandemic - a significant sign of a growing level of comfort in these locations.
The increase in average visit duration may reflect how excited people are to be back in the gym. While home workouts may be more convenient and cost-effective, it seems that they will never be able to truly replace the vast equipment and class selection, professional trainers, and motivation that the gym has to offer.
Rise of the Boutique Gyms
Looking beyond the visit leaders, some of the sector’s highest performers are boutique gyms that specialize in a specific type of fitness activity. As fitness visits nationwide are still falling below the pre-COVID benchmark, and despite the August downturn, Pure Barre, Club Pilates, and CycleBar posted visit increases of 6.8%, 28.8%, and 6.2%, respectively, when compared to 2019.
Since the start of the pandemic, many Americans have been increasingly prioritizing wellness. The fitness industry’s impressive overall visit recovery along with the rise in visit duration signal that despite the difficult year and a half, the sector is making a comeback. It looks like the 2020 predictions about “the end of gyms” will not be coming true any time soon.
When will the fitness industry close its visit gaps? Will visits to boutique gyms continue to grow?
Visit Placer.ai to find out.