Health club chains are pedaling hard to woo pandemic-weary consumers back to the gym.
But some of the largest companies are taking different paths as the industry waits to see whether COVID-19 infection rates recede enough to make consumers feel safe to resume communal workouts.
Discount chains YouFit and Planet Fitness are expanding into personal fitness, wellness and nutritional counseling. Full-service chain LA Fitness is rebranding some of its locations and offering bare-bones plans to compete with discount chains’ low membership rates.
The moves follow a harrowing couple of years for the fitness industry. Quarantine orders intended to halt or slow progression of COVID-19 in spring 2020 forced closure of nearly all gyms across the country. In some states, they stayed closed for nine months. Gyms in Florida were allowed to reopen after just two months but they faced capacity restrictions and consumers’ reluctance to expose themselves to potential infection.
Efforts to get back to normal last year were hampered by an infection surge that hit the nation over the summer, pushing numerous gym chains, including YouFit, Gold’s Gym, and 24 Hour Fitness, into restructuring their debts through bankruptcy.
Vaccinations buoyed membership rates in early summer, but they receded again as the Delta variant raged across the nation in August and September. Since the pandemic began, about 22% of all U.S. gyms have closed permanently, according to industry figures.
Now, as infection and hospitalization rates fall once again with no known new variant waiting in the wings, gym owners are betting that consumers are ready to get back into shape. But they also know the old days are gone for good.
A “hybrid approach” to fitness training is here to stay, says Sami Smith, spokeswoman for the 8,000-member International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association. “Many facilities are prepared or preparing to offer virtual or on-demand services for the long-term,” she said in an email.
YouFit embraces wellness
They include YouFit Health Clubs, which plans on Oct. 25 to change its name to YouFit Gyms and roll out a $20 million renovation of its 80 U.S. locations.