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The Golden Age of Health Clubs

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Bruce CarterBruce Carter

The beginning of 2020 was a positive time for health clubs. According to the IHRSA 2020 Global Report - The State of the Health Club Industry, the industry's future looked bright. The industry was excelling in its sincere desire to help people improve their lives, and the number of clubs, memberships and health club visits were at an all-time high. Multipurpose clubs had reached new levels of services, facilities and inspiring design. Thousands of quality low-price clubs had lowered the barrier to joining to as low as 35 cents a day. Exciting boutique facilities with memorable environments provided a wide range of engaging physical activity options. All of this contributed to the enormous positive impact the health club industry provided to populations fighting to stay healthy and active in a world where technology (with its wonderful advancements) often has a significant downside... less physical activity in day-to-day life.

Then, early in 2020, COVID-19 hits. Like nothing before, people's lives are turned upside down. People cannot get together, affecting most businesses in a dramatically negative fashion. Clubs close, and then, here and there, they are allowed to open with a variety of restrictions.

Surprisingly, many articles, blogs, news reports and "studies" started to appear. We read that clubs are very dangerous and "dripping" with the COVID virus. Concurrently, there appears to be a dramatic shift to so many people exercising at home but also with hearing such things that COVID and the closing of clubs proves that clubs were never needed in the first place. Or, anywhere from 40 - 75% of members will never go back to a club.

Is the assumption that the virus has somehow strangely motivated more people to be more physically active without clubs? Has the virus motivated people to better watch what they eat?

One thing can be perfectly clear. The total physical activity output of the country has gone down, not up since COVID. So many are always looking for motivation to be more active, but COVID has not been that missing solution. In addition, millions of pounds of weight have been gained during COVID, and sadly, the amount of stress has also soared.

Yes, there has been a shift from club exercise to home exercise. However, those that were regular with exercise at a club were the first to be regularly active at home (and outdoors). Home equipment sales and virtual fitness have soared, and one reason is the 64 million club members (IHRSA report) no longer had a club to go to. Yet, exercising at home has always been an option for anyone wanting to exercise, and COVID has now motivated clubs to provide virtual fitness as one of their many offerings, and this will continue as an ongoing value-added service.

As a result, we are seeing exercising at home as another opportunity for clubs to be the leader of fitness in their community. Whether at home or in a club, the more people who exercise, the better for all in the fitness industry. It's not as if there are not enough inactive, out-of-shape people to help make a difference in their lives. The fitness industry seems to have an ever-expanding market with two-thirds of adults in the United States being overweight or obese, and children are growing up out-of-shape more than ever.

Then, the question would be, what does this all have to do with the Golden Age of Health Clubs? During the fears and uncertainty of COVID, it is human nature to look at the "now" as the foreteller of the future. Yet, COVID will become a thing of the past. 2021 will be a transition year with many uncertainties. Many clubs won't make it, but many of those clubs will be picked up by others. Other clubs will recover slowly.

Some of the general population will still have fears about their safety even after COVID is successfully dealt with, but most people will want to get on with their lives. People will want to become empowered again, and this is a great opportunity for clubs in a post-COVID world. The Golden Age of Health Clubs can happen when a population goes through an unsurpassed drastic challenge of health, emotional and financial stress, and the club industry rises to the challenge with its best effort (facilities, interiors, programs, services and positive human interaction) to cater to the physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing of the population. No other industry is positioned to do this like the club industry.

Quite simply, demand for clubs will be stronger than ever. The term, "absence makes the heart grow fonder" will apply. Home exercisers will get bored working out at home, often in cramped inconvenient spaces. People will crave personal interaction and support again.

This is how clubs will be better than ever:

  • With design, more clubs will reach new levels of "environmental psychology," creating interiors that make the club experience uniquely inspirational and enjoyable. Spaciousness will be appreciated more than ever. The creative process of using a variety of materials, finishes, architectural features, natural elements, music, colors and lighting will become even more of an "art and science." The old club concept of "equipment in a room" will fade away even quicker after COVID.
  • Because of COVID, clubs will be cleaner and safer than ever. Many of the practices incorporated for sanitation and cleaning will become the norm for most clubs.
  • Clubs will incorporate technology more than ever for better mechanical systems, virtual fitness, fitness programming and tracking.
  • Fitness programming and health options will reach new levels of conditioning and "user friendly" effectiveness. Mind-body programming will expand offering better solutions to mental, physical and spiritual health.
  • Virtual fitness will become a norm for clubs as part of their offerings. Members have grown to like the option of exercising at home, and this will not be an "add on" but an actual separate brand for clubs wanting to excel at virtual fitness just as they do with fitness in the club. In turn, this also creates the need for clubs to have special interior environments with branding for streaming virtual classes. Also, note that more people than ever will want to "check out" a club virtually before they decide if they want to visit, so exciting interiors filmed by a professional will bring the best results.
  • Clubs will have cleaner air than ever before with HEPA air filters and UV-C irradiation lights added to advanced HVAC systems. Clubs will be built with more antimicrobial materials than ever before.
  • Clubs will take bigger steps in aligning with the medical community and furthering the principle of "Exercise is Medicine." This has been a slow process, but COVID should be a catalyst for more change.

• • •

Recently, Jerry Seinfeld was quoted about New York and its future. It applies so well to clubs. He explained that he read an article on how New York is over because everybody will remote everything. He said, "Guess what... Everyone hates to do this. You know why? There's no energy. Energy, attitude and personality cannot be 'remoted' through even the best fiber optic lines. Real, live, inspiring human energy exists when we coagulate together."

COVID is a "game changer." First, painfully so; it has been bad for people's physical and emotional health in countless ways. Yet, in a post-COVID world, clubs will be more instrumental in more people's lives in helping them to take positive steps in getting the most out of life.

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