How Might the Future Look for Commercial & Large Gyms?

Jun 26, 2020

By Tim Saye

During the coronavirus lockdown, both the government and the fitness industry encouraged people more than ever to look after their physical health with exercise. 

Estimates suggest that almost a third of people (32.1%) are getting more exercise in lockdown than they were before, with a particular increase in workouts which don't need much equipment.

Many gym-goers are conflicted about returning to their commercial gyms. With many feeling apprehensive about sharing equipment with others and maintaining good hygiene practices, and others eager to get back into the essential normality of a routine. In this article, we'll take a closer look at what the future might look like for commercial gyms.

What Can Gyms Expect?

A day after we published our article on how the future might look for studios and specialist fitness clinics, RunRepeat has published the results of a worldwide gym-member survey they conducted. 

Their study aimed to find out what gym-goers think about heading back to the gyms upon re-opening. They asked 10,824 gym-members across the globe, 46.67% said that they wouldn't. More than a third of all gym members globally have already cancelled or are considering cancelling their memberships (36.57%)

Of course, we can't assume this data can be extrapolated to the whole of the population, but it's a big enough pool not to ignore. If you own or manage a commercial gym, you would probably be wise to brace for a very slow tide in returning members and be ready to think outside the box while setting up your facility for re-opening.

How Did Gyms Across the Globe Adapt?

Take this example from Hong Kong, where gyms re-opened on May 8th. Here, clear plastic dividers are erected between pieces of cardio equipment to stop the spread of the virus. This solution effectively turns individual areas into distinct 'pods', which might prevent the spread of germs through bodily fluids.

In Trinidad and Tobago, gyms are allowed to re-open this week so long they follow the measures the government set out to them in a comprehensive list.

In the UK, Guernsey was the first of the British Isles that was allowed to return to some normality earlier this month. The Guernsey Leisure Centre re-opened on the 4th of June with new rules in place regarding the way their members can enjoy the facilities.

How to Prepare for Re-Opening?

In our previous series, we discussed a few ideas already on how you can prepare your gym for re-opening

A few of the main points you might be expected to introduce by members and staff:

- Gym floor layout upgrade and class capacity limits to meet social distancing guidelines.
- A limited number of members on the gym floor at any one time.
- A strict appointment booking system for group classes.
- The potential of an appointment booking system for gym access in smaller clubs (see the Guernsey Leisure Centre).
- Closing changing rooms and showers.
- Clearly stated cleaning schedule.
- Extra sanitising measures introduced for staff and members.
- Body temperature screening upon entry.
- Updated member disclaimer forms.
- Change in opening hours of 24/7 gyms.
- Effective enforcement of gym member house rules.

While we hope these changes won't last forever, they will likely set back commercial clubs financially for 2020/2021 at least, both in terms of membership fee revenue and personal training rent income. Not having sufficient members in your club will have a knock-on effect on everything else you've been doing that was based on the high number of people entering your gym floor daily. 

Opportunities for Commercial Gyms

Taking care of those members who are committed to returning so they can resume the type of training they need and enjoy should be your starting point. Establishing the base and learning what you do best will help you build on the strength of your facility and then branch out into opportunities that right now might seem unlikely for you. Here we list a few ideas:

Virtual Group Classes:
Since you will have to limit the number of people who can attend group classes in your gym, you can expand into the virtual space if you haven't done it yet. Whether you decide to build the tech behind it alone or you find a business that has already established a segment of the market, it's up to you. 

For example, if you've been running Les Mills classes for your members for some time, they will know them very well and probably want to have access to those classes in future too. You might consider building on that connection to join their Virtual as a partner

Specialised Workshops by Your Specialist PT's:
Exploring the specialities of your trainers may reveal to you that some of them are experts in specific fields. May that be pre/post-natal exercise, lower back pain management, powerlifting, Olympic lifting, nutrition topics or sport-specific training or rehab.

One way of keeping them engaged and committed to your gym is to provide them with opportunities to put their name out there in those specialities. Encourage your team to come up with ideas, create a marketing strategy around them, set a price tag on it, and make sure it works for both of you.

If you have tech set-up for online training, you might as well make these workshops available online too, then turn them into an educational series for re-purposing.

Hybrid and Online Training:
You may be lucky to have a substantial online audience, and you feel you want to capitalise on it but not sure how? Talk to your trainers and find out who has experience in online or hybrid training. 

You only need one trainer to start; then once you have a continuous flow of incoming inquiries, you can train additional team members to follow your system and add them to your coaching team. Of-course, online training becomes easy to offer and scale with PT Distinction.

Outdoor Training:
It may not be an option for all gyms, but if you have great connections with your local council or government, you may be able to cut a deal to use one of the public parks to run exercise classes.

If that's the case, you just need to find one or two trainers in your team who already have experience training people outside. You can re-purpose some of the gym equipment, like kettlebells, slam balls, medicine balls, TRX, resistance bands and even purchase equipment for drills, like cones and ladders.

What Might the Future Look Like for Commercial Gyms?

I wish I had a crystal ball so I could tell you precisely what will happen. But I don't. Based on what's been happening in the past months, here are some educated guesses.

- We may see a market for high end facilities where each member has private space and equipment to train on their own or with a trainer, training pods could become normalised but with this prices will have to rise.

- After social distancing we may see a rise in budget-friendly gyms where the financial investment is more accessible to those who have been hurt by their loss of earnings, however, my feeling is it will take a long time for people to be comfortable with crowded budget gyms.

- We may also see an increase in gyms which offer specialist training, such as powerlifting or Olympic lifting, which is harder to replicate at home without supervision and the proper equipment.

Commercial gyms that can be pro-active in diversifying their offering to include some of the suggested or even other services may be able to bounce back quicker. There will be some that will fold or have to close a number of their branches to keep the business afloat. 

Gold's Gym first announced the permanent closure of 30 company-owned (not franchised) facilities across America, and then a month later filed for bankruptcy protection. Their case shows that nothing is guaranteed and many might follow suit.

The current times will affect commercial gyms in a way that we probably can't fully comprehend just yet. However, with a positive outlook, thinking outside the box and resilience, I'm confident that the gym we all love will stick around and probably come out changed for the better.