Gyms are Reopening, but it’s not Business as Usual: A trainer’s predictions for the industry

A quick Google search for “Fitness Industry Trends 2020” led me to discover a huge gap in fitness industry planning, at least in this strange season.

All prediction reports were made and published at the end of 2019. Granted, this is common practice for trend reporters in all industries. However, I would venture to say that the fitness industry has faced more rapid disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent lockdown mitigation measures than any other, barring travel and tourism.

The impacts of this disruption reverberate through the entire industry, from gyms to thought leaders and educators, to fitness professionals and equipment manufacturers, to employees in every role and level. Fitness is a vital part of health and wellness of any society, and the fitness industry must adapt to remain relevant. To that end, breaking with trend-prediction tradition, I felt a mid-year review was necessary and decided to take it on.

This article, part one in a series, focuses on the way forward for big gyms, from the perspective of a professional personal trainer, fitness coach, group fitness instructor, and business owner.

1 – Ditch the low-cost membership model; nobody wins the “race to the bottom.”

Planet Fitness began driving a “race to the bottom” by offering low-price memberships, and clubs such as 24-Hr Fitness and Gold’s Gym have followed suit. Now that gyms are reopening with stringent capacity controls and sanitation requirements, the $10 memberships will no longer remain a viable road to profitability. The operational expenses incurred by increasing facilities personnel and closing periodically through the day to clean will necessarily increase membership dues.

The low-cost membership model is obviously a numbers-driven game. One of the dirty little secrets of the fitness industry is that unused memberships are what fuel profitability. According to Planet Money, Planet Fitness inks 6,500 memberships per club, but can only accommodate 300 members at any given time. Gold’s and 24-Hour have similar numbers. The Hustle pointed out that approximately 63% of all gym memberships go unused nationwide in 2019 (a year prior to the pandemic).

Extrapolating the actual value of a $10 Planet Fitness monthly membership, with the information cited above, would suggest the actual cost to deliver the membership is $200 per member. Essentially, members that don’t go to the gym are subsidizing those that use their memberships consistently.

Gym closures in spring 2020, and public fears to re-enter gyms will likely continue to disrupt this model. Members with unused memberships will likely cancel. Indeed, Planet Fitness reported a 14.5% decrease in overall revenue in the first quarter of 2020 over Q1 of 2019. Similarly, chapter 11 rumors floating around 24-Hour since 2019 have started taking more weight due to the burden of their COVID reopening protocols. Finally, Gold’s Gym closed 30 clubs nationwide and have officially filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy. While Gold’s and 24-Hour were facing fiscal difficulties pre-pandemic, they were accelerated in spring 2020.

The question, then: How can g