The At-Home Fitness Boom

One of the industries that came to an absolute standstill because of the pandemic was the outdoor fitness industry. Gyms, swimming pools and recreational clubs shut down after the first lockdown in March 2020. Even today, they haven’t been able to reach their pre-pandemic footfall. This is despite mandating social distancing norms, usage of masks, etc. 

The At-Home Fitness Boom

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Ironically, the awareness about eating right and working out has also been high since the pandemic. And, the absence of gyms has led to the boom in the adoption of at-home methods of exercising. From buying at-home gym equipment or installing fitness apps to joining yoga and Zumba classes or doing group exercise on zoom calls with friends or family, people have found alternatives to gyms. There is an increased awareness that the route to fitness need not be working out at gyms only. 

Newer Models And Pivots

At-home fitness is also now being looked at as a cost-effective alternative that offers flexibility in terms of time. Additionally, for those who don’t live in cities that have gyms every few kilometers, startups offering online workout tutorials, videos on nutrition, workout and diet trackers, healthy behavior rewards, among other things, are a blessing.  

We also saw many celebrities sharing their at-home fitness regime during the lockdown, which further encouraged millennials to follow suit. “This has been an enigmatic period for the fitness industry in India, even as gyms and other avenues of outdoor fitness were sealed off, the pandemic made the citizens of the country more cognizant about their holistic wellness. India witnessed a huge surge in the download of fitness and health-focused apps, over 3 times the global average,” said Ankur Bansal, co-founder and director, BlackSoil. 

The pandemic made people realize that a lot can be accomplished from the comfort and safety of their own homes as long as they have access to the right tools. This has given rise to a host of new fitness apps and gyms and old ones pivoting to virtual fitness classes. 

For instance, due to the nationwide lockdown last year, Hrithik Roshan-backed Cult.fit pivoted its offerings and introduced many digital fitness and wellness options. It has started opening its centers and gyms as per government norms while also continuing to focus on and scale its digital product. “We have introduced a host of formats and offerings, celebrity master classes, tailored fitness programs, online consultations, etc. that have made us an all-encompassing health and wellness platform both online and offline,” said Naresh Krishnaswamy, growth and marketing head, Cult.fit.

The startup was founded by Mukesh Bansal and Ankit Nagori in 2016. It offers many verticals including Mind.fit for mental fitness, Eat.fit for nutrition, Care.fit for primary care and Sugar.fit for diabetes management and it has also acquired TREAD to offer fitness hardware. According to the startup, more than 2 million people have tried working out from home using cult.fit in the past year with well over 100,000 people doing classes every day on the app. Its user base pre-lockdown in 2020 was near 2.5 lakhs. After the first wave of Covid, it had a user base of 15 lakhs, including free users. 

Similarly, in March 2020 SARVA was present in over 90+ locations across India with a few international spaces offering SARVA Yoga as a service as well, but the physical studio world transformed into a digital studio model within a fortnight!  “We shut down all studios barring a few locations and we started online classes and saw to it that 46% of our membership base became digital,” said Sarvesh Shashi, founder, SARVA. 

The startup claims that from being a 100% physical studio with the brick and mortar business doing exceedingly well year on year, it started from scratch in March 2020 and has over 750,000 installs on the SARVA App. “In fact, going digital made us grow exponentially. We were able to reach out to 97 countries across the globe in a surprisingly short period of time. We were able to complete 4 billion minutes of LIVE classes digitally in the year 2020 itself,” added Shashi. 

People desire flexibility and personalization, which is offered by digital players. For instance, Kalaari Capital-backed Portl offers smart sensors that correct a users’ form in real-time while they perform exercises in front of the mirror. Each individual gets personalized programs that ensure relevant and engaging content from its instructors on-demand and via live classes. The startup claims to have achieved over 200% growth in the past few months.

HealthifyMe, Fittr, GOQii, StepSetGo are some of the other platforms that are leveraging AI and technology to offer virtual fitness and health programs.

Rise Of On-Demand And Hybrid Model

As gyms, pools and recreational clubs open up, fitness experts predict that offline will see fewer takers for now and once the pandemic is far behind us, we will see hybrid and on-demand fitness models.

“At a broader level, fitness consumers desire a Connected and consistent fitness experience regardless of where they work out. This entails a high degree of personalization, variety of workout choices, performance tracking, time flexibility and affordability. All these aspects are critical from a consumer perspective and therefore, even as gyms re-open, these consumer needs must be met,” said Indraneel Gupta, co-founder and CEO, Portl.

Fitness and wellness space presents numerous opportunities now albeit with the integration of offline and online settings. “We expect fitness to continue functioning in a hybrid manner. The last year has proven that online workouts are a great format owing to their convenience, cost-benefit and time-saving elements. For instance, we have recently launched an AI trainer service on our app to cater to the growing demand for tech integration. This product provides smart workout plans to our users based on their individual attributes and preferences that they can use both at gyms and during at-home workouts,” said Cult.fit’s Krishnaswamy.

While digital is booming, people do miss meeting friends at the yoga studios and gyms. Going to these centers also allows people the opportunity to directly interact with trainers which is a crucial part of the experience too. 

Thus, a hybrid model of digital and physical fitness may be adopted by many. There is also more scope of there being a division between the two fitness segments. “Individuals who are into general training and not dependent on weights may shift to digital coaching of Zumba, Yoga and CrossFit. However, individuals who need the personal contact of trainers and direct access to varied fitness equipment in a social environment will still prefer visiting the fitness centers,” sums up Bansal. 

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