AI-powered workout gear, smart equipment, virtual coaches and live streaming are revolutionizing conceptions of home workouts — and making gyms uneasy about the future of workout culture. Over 55M Americans belonged to a gym in 2015, and visits to the gym exceed 6B in 2017, according to executives at three different large, national gyms. Will startups such as Peloton, Tonal, and ClassPass, each of which has recently moved into the home fitness space, disrupt the $28B American gym industry?
NewtonX interviewed a dozen founders and senior executives of the SmartFitness industry including a senior former employee with Map My Fitness by Under Armour, former executives with Peloton and Equinox, and senior employees with Tonal. These interviews yielded qualitative and quantitative insights into the state of home fitness, and what it means for the traditional gym economy.
The insights from this article are sourced from NewtonX surveys, panels, and expert consultations. To gain access to these services visit newtonx.com.
An American Love Story: How Home Fitness and Gyms Developed
While public fitness spaces have existed since 1936 at least, when Jack LaLanne opened one of the first gyms in the U.S., home fitness was the predominant method of exercise until the ‘80’s. Indeed, Jack LaLanne’s TV show, in which he conducted guided exercises that used household items as workout gear (such as a chair or porch), still holds the title of longest lasting TV show with a single host — running from 1953 to 1985.
The 2000’s, however, marked the golden age of gyms, with chains such as Equinox and SoulCycle becoming status symbols, costing well upwards of $200 per month for basic memberships. It became customary for Silicon Valley tech companies to either comp gym memberships or even build their own gyms exclusively for employees. The United States has more fitness centers than any other country in the world, and every year, even in recent years, the number of gyms has continued to climb steadily. Today, there are almost 39,000 fitness clubs throughout the country.
As gyms grew in popularity, home fitness fell out of vogue. Where once, videos by Richard Simmons were considered the standard for exercise, suddenly belonging to the neighborhood gym became the new standard. Consumers wanted variety and options: gym members could take various classes from different instructors in different disciplines, rather than have to do the same VHS workout every day.
Now, however, the climate is shifting once again: live streaming, smart home workout gear, and YouTube/streaming obsessed younger generations have contributed to an ever-growing industry for home fitness.
From Startups to Legacies: How FitTech fueled the growth of the Home Fitness Economy
New, Silicon Valley-based home workout products and streaming services tend to rely heavily on machine learning and analytics to customize workouts to each user. For instance, Tonal, a strength training device powered by electromagnetic resistance technology and machine learning, gives users a five-exercise assessment test, asks them to identify training goals (lose weight, build muscle, etc.), and then its AI pre-selects weights based on the user’s progress and level.
Similarly, Peloton, an exercise bike the streams live cycling classes into users’ homes, enables customers to get the experience of a live class without the mad rush of signing up for a bike or sprinting out of work to make the class on time. Indeed, the number of subscription home workout services has grown significantly this year, according to NewtonX experts, who emphasized that home fitness is now taking customers from the pool of former gym goers. Some gym providers have recognized this shift: ClassPass, which provides access to classes at partner fitness clubs for a flat monthly rate, recently released ClassPass Live, a home streaming service that allows users to tune into to live classes or to participate in recorded classes on their own time.
65% of consumers say they would trust a robot to conduct their workout more than a human. In the age of smart running shoes, live coaching based on data, and machine-learning powered personalized training, this makes sense. After all, a robot may be more precise than a human trainer, and it’s certainly cheaper.
Indeed, the smart fitness wear market is expected to grow 30% every year until 2023, and is currently worth $25B. Not only do professional athletes rely on data-driven coaching and real-time insights, but now consumers can also access smart boxing gloves, shoes, and GPS-powered coaching through free or low-cost apps.
The End of the Traditional American Gym Craze?
The advantage that many of the home fitness systems entering the market right now have is a reliance on sensors, machine learning, and data (in addition to, of course, convenience). Most in-person gyms today still leave fitness programs largely to the discretion of individual trainers, who may or may not be making data-driven decisions.
Gyms will need to upgrade equipment, class booking programs, and individualized training programs, and pricing structures to compete with the convenience and intelligence of disruptive home fitness programs.
That said, the NewtonX experts interviewed for this piece did note that gyms will never go completely out of vogue, even if they do fade somewhat, due to a significant sect of the population that feels unmotivated to exercise without other people present. The gyms that integrate this with the best fitness technology at hand will end up being the ones to survive the at-home fitness trend.