By Danielle Braff
(CHICAGO) As soon as the pandemic reared its ugly face, JoAnne Nagjee could be found spinning on her Peloton bike - and she never looked back. She ditched her personal trainer and her gym membership and fell madly in love with her bike that goes nowhere.
“I could never get into the idea of leaving my house to work out again,” says Nagjee, a 40-year-old attorney who lives in Oak Park, Ill.
She’s not alone.
Pre-covid, the health club industry had been booming with record performances worldwide: At least 20% of Americans belonged to at least one gym or boutique fitness studio in 2019, according to a 2019 global report by the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA).
That was before the gyms closed their doors thanks to Covid, with 15% of those gyms stuttering permanently.
It was a quick demise, with 54% of gym goers freezing or canceling their memberships, according to a November study by ClubIntel, a fitness consumer insight firm. Even in September, when more than 87% of gyms reopened in the United States, 60% of the members didn’t return.
What’s a gym to do? Their members were tethered to their Pelotons, they were totally adjusted to exercising at home and they weren’t as open to leaving their houses to enter a gym anymore.
So in response, gyms upped the ante in a desperate attempt to lure their former customers back.
Studio Three, a 10,000 sq ft gym that opened in River North in February 2021, knew they’d have to be exceptional in order to compete. They created a wellness-centric environment complete with a green wall, organic materials and durable, state-of-the-art exercise equipment.
They also added Dyson hairdryers ($400), the complete Romer Skincare system and Kiehl’s Shower products to all locker rooms. The men’s locker room is outfitted with a shave bar which includes Harry’s shaving cream and complimentary razors.
“Luxury amenities like these are all part of Studio Three’s unique approach to boutique fitness, and they further enhance the personalized and community-driven experiences that our members have come to know and love,” says Laura Cieplik, the COO of Studio Three.
Some people, however, need more to convince them to step into a gym again.
Kristin Harris was another Illinois Peloton convert, and the 44-year-old director of health and nutrition services, says she misses the community at her gym, but the convenience and reduced cost of working out at home makes it hard to justify returning.
“Cost would have to go down significantly for me to work a gym back into my routine,” Harris says.
Mary Keiser, a River Forest resident, says she did love the childcare and the sauna at her gym, but she loves her at-home workouts more.
That may be one of the reasons why many gyms are adding an at-home component to their memberships. Planet Fitness, which has 2,086 locations, partnered with iFit, an interactive fitness platform, to create at-home content. It requires a subscription ($5.99), but is open to non-members. About 20% of Planet Fitness’ app users are not members of the in-person gym. Only about 70 percent of Planet Fitness’ gym goers have returned to the gym in person, according to Chris Rondeau, CEO of the gym.
That’s why Reclaimed Fitness, a gym that opened in Palatine in November 2020, is trying a different approach. When they opened, Illinois gyms were restricting their in-person classes, so Reclaimed Fitness took its classes online ($3 per online class or $15 for unlimited online streaming per month). But unlike the Peloton format, which screens classes to a seemingly invisible audience, Reclaimed acts almost like a Zoom fitness class. There is two-way screen sharing, so instructions can speak directly to the participants, correcting their form and encouraging them when they’re tired.
You can’t work out at home without equipment - and if you purchase home gym supplies, you may be tempted to continue exercising at home long after the gyms reopen. So Drew Whitted, the owner of Be Strong Gym in Bloomington, Ill., distributed $40,000 worth of weights, stationary bikes, rowers and mats before shutting his doors during the pandemic. About 80 members of the gym borrowed the equipment, and the gym held virtual sessions for everyone until they reopened again safely. Whitted also offered members a free month to compensate for the in-person closure, though many of the members told him they’d continue paying their fees due to his generosity.