The fitness industry experienced an exceptionally tumultuous period over the past few years asCOVID-19 restrictions kept many away from their workouts, leading some to question their continued viability. But gyms proved resilient, with foot traffic to major fitness chains recovering as soon as vaccines became widely available and the pandemic began to subside. Now, with the sector’s strongest month of the year behind us, we take a closer look at the segment's January performance to see how major chains are doing post-COVID and explore specialty fitness brands.
New Year, New Elevated Visits
Improving health and wellness is often a top priority for many in the new year, so January is usually the busiest month of the year for gyms and fitness centers – and this year seems to be no exception. During the last week of January 2023, offline fitness visits increased by 23.3% compared to the same week in early 2022 (year-over-year, YoY) while year-over-three-year (Yo3Y) visits grew by 8.0%. The increase in January 2023 visits relative to pre-pandemic January fitness traffic is particularly noteworthy given the comparison to the busiest time of the year for gyms.
Looking at the baseline change in visits from December 2022 to January 2023 also underscores the impact of new year's resolutions, with visits increasing dramatically as January began and many kick-started their 2023 fitness goals. The consistently elevated foot traffic – YoY and Yo3Y – reveals a fitness industry that is not only back in business but surpassing its pre-COVID numbers.
Visits Per Venue Flexing and Strengthening
Digging into individual chains reveals that low-cost options continue to be popular with gym-goers. With the cost of living still high, chains with value-priced options like Anytime Fitness, Planet Fitness, and Crunch Fitness reported impressive growth in visits and visits per venue for the quarter, with a 3.7%, 26.9%, and 80.8% increase, respectively.
This growth may also be due in part to an increase in the number of locations – between 2021 and 2022, Planet Fitness grew by 158 locations and Crunch Fitness opened over 100 new gyms. This expansion seems to be welcomed among gym-goers, with Q4 visits per venue elevated to all three chains Yo3Y, meaning that more people are visiting more locations.
On the other hand, LA Fitness and 24 Hour Fitness experienced modest foot traffic declines, likely due to their recent rightsizing efforts. Both reduced the number of locations over the past few years – LA Fitness (which also rebranded some of its locations to its low-cost option, Esporta) by 137 and 24 Hour Fitness by 168. Despite – or perhaps due to – these closures, both chains saw an increase in their visits per venue, with 24 Hour Fitness experiencing a 41.4% increase and LA Fitness a 14.0% increase relative to Q4 2019.
Alternative Training Options Picking Up The Pace
While big-name, lower-cost chains have been a clear winner in the space, there’s still plenty of room for more specialty, higher-cost gyms in the health and wellness space. Yoga, Crossfit, boxing, and pilates gyms remain popular, and now, functional training, one of the top fitness trends for 2023, is gaining steam.
Functional fitness is designed to make daily movements easier by improving strength, mobility, flexibility, and cardio health and often adopts a community-focused approach. A rising star in the functional training scene is F45 Training, an Australian import with thousands of locations across 74 countries and the backing of industry heavyweights such as Mark Wahlberg. The chain increased its location count by over 200% over the past three years, going from 276 venues in Q4 2019 to 863 in Q4 2022. The fleet growth was accompanied by a 79.9% increase in foot traffic in January 2023 compared to the same period in 2020.
And it’s not just functional gyms seeing increased interest. Club Pilates, a California-based chain with over 750 locations across the country, enjoyed Yo3Y visit growth of 44.5% in January, in part due to its rapid expansion. And climbing gym Central Rock Gym grew its visits by 31.5% Yo3Y in January.
It seems like finally, at least for the fitness industry, the dust of the pandemic has settled and a new normal has been reached. Despite a challenging economic climate, gyms have proven their resilience and foot traffic to major chains has recovered, and alternative training options such as functional fitness are proving their ability to hold their own next to name-brand chains. As people increasingly seek to improve their health and foster community, the fitness industry seems poised for continued growth.
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