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Lululemon’s purchase of Mirror proves home gyms are the future of fitness

It’s already mid-July, and I haven’t stepped foot in my local gym since March. In New Jersey, small businesses slowly began to reopen in June for the summer rush, but gyms and other fitness related centers have remained closed. There’s no definitive date they’ll be able to reopen again. As the pandemic continued, people sought out in-home gym solutions as a temporary solution. Now, as lockdowns return in some states and drag on in others, it’s unclear if most people will ever feel comfortable setting foot in a gym again.

Lululemon’s purchase of fitness tech startup Mirror sheds light on the future of the fitness industry. It signals a new paradigm, fueled mainly by fear of getting sick or being exposed to someone who is asymptomatic. It opens the door for home gyms, fitness apps, and other subscription-based fitness services to take precedence. Gyms will never be the same.

Working out around your schedule

Exercising on your time is one aspect that makes these new fitness solutions attractive over the traditional gym experience. It’s tough to force yourself to exercise, and it’s even tougher when you have to juggle workouts with work and commuting. Fitness apps and home gyms eliminate some of the stress. Once people get accustomed to the convenience, they may not want to go back to larger gyms.

This, of course, comes with peace of mind that you won’t be around or exposed to people who may be sick. When you’re exercising from home, chances are you’re probably the only one handling the equipment. At the gym, meanwhile, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people use the restroom without washing their hands. Gyms already had a sullied reputation for cleanliness, and the pandemic only reinforced that problem.

“It was hard enough to go to the gym before a pandemic,” said celebrity fitness instructor Tom Holland. He’s a well-known figure in the home gym space, established as the chief fitness advisor for Nautilus, and featured in many Bowflex commercials.

“The entire model is low price, high volume, so you can’t do it anymore. Not given what we have now,” Holland explains. “I think a significant number of people will be doing more of their workouts at home and getting excited by it. They’re not going to feel guilty not going to the gym.”

His sentiment is shared by many others, including Todd Dagres, chairman and co-founder of Liteboxer. The company recently announced its at-home fitness platform, which gives you a solid boxing workout with minimal equipment.

“It’s pretty clear that the pendulum is not going to swing all the way back. People are discovering the convenience and the benefits of exercising in their homes.”

Stay at home for safety, and then for fun

Working out shouldn’t be a job, which is why these connected experiences and in-home solutions are attractive right now. It helps that they’re not your typical gym workouts.

Mirror has an interesting story to tell with its platform and equipment. It’s essentially a giant smart display that coaches and guides you through workouts. Its high-tech angle offers a novel new way to approach working out. While there’s nothing stopping you from just picking up some weights and going to town, Mirror shows how a high-tech approach can help nudge people toward developing a workout routine.

Liteboxer, meanwhile, is a lot like playing Dance Dance Revolution — but instead of moving your feet in a rhythm-based game, you’re punching targets with your first to the beat of songs. Peloton, meanwhile, offers gamification, letting you compete against others or yourself.

Peloton Bike

Whatever in-home gym solution you end up going with, it’s important to know that these are very different from what most people experience at a typical gym. While some do require subscriptions, which can be costly, there are fitness apps that offer free on-demand content. I’ve been using Bowflex’s SelectTech app the last few months. It’s nothing ornate, but what I appreciate is that it lays out a workout plan tailored to me — as well as videos that show me proper techniques.

Earnings reports show people aren’t going back

Sales of popular in-home equipment reinforce the radical shift toward home fitness. Peloton’s third-quarter revenue grew 66% year over year to $524.6 million, which was greeted by an even more impressive 94% increase to its subscriber base (total of 886,100). While the company has seen strong adoption, they’re still a relatively new player in the in-home gym space.

On the flip side, there’s Bowflex. It’s a long-established name in the premium in-home gym arena. Though the company doesn’t reveal sales figures on individual equipment pieces, Nautilus Inc, its parent company, saw its strongest quarter ever in the last 18 months. Net sales for the first quarter 2020 reached $93.7 million, an 11% increase year over year.

Indeed, this is only a small fraction of the in-home gym market, Still, look at what’s happening with your traditional gyms and fitness centers. They’re taking huge hits. With more than 2,000 locations around the country, Planet Fitness has been adversely affected with a net income decline of 67%, resulting in $10.4 million in the first quarter of 2020.

With so many gyms forced to close down due to the pandemic, the situation has proven to be dire — to the point that two ended up filing for bankruptcy. Earlier this month, 24 Hour Fitness announced that it was filing for Chapter 11. Gold’s Gym filed for bankruptcy in May.

Gyms are in trouble, but some fitness centers will remain

The outlook for many traditional gyms may look grim, but I doubt they’ll completely go away. Instead, it’s specialty fitness memberships that will continue to thrive — even after the pandemic. I’m talking about boutique fitness centers and workouts like barre, pilates, and yoga. Interestingly, Holland shared an analogy that made a lot of sense regarding how shared experiences will become supplemental.

“When Netflix came, they said movie theaters are going to go away. People still love that shared experience and I love going to the movies, but I’m going to do the vast majority of watching content at home,” Holland explains. It made me realize the same thing about workouts that involve shared experiences. As much as some of these live classes are fun, like Peloton, they won’t replace that feeling of exercising or competing as a group. That’s why specialty and boutique fitness centers will thrive.

Holland went on to say, “but that special experience, an analogy would be your love for that Zumba class where you’re going once or twice a week, or if you love that spin instructor, you’re going to go once or twice, maybe three times a week, but you’re going to really start focusing on your health at home.” That’s important to know because this new normal is going to force people to adapt. The majority of workouts and exercises will be done in the home, and these connected home gyms, services, and apps are driving us to get there.

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