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Most Americans plan to continue at-home workouts even once gyms fully reopen

August 17, 2020, 3:05 PM UTC

Even as gyms slowly begin to welcome back guests in scattered areas across the country, the at-home, virtual workout session is a new mainstay in personal fitness.

Nine in 10 Americans who exercise regularly say they will continue with at-home workouts even after they feel comfortable returning to a gym in the future, according to a new survey from Beachbody, a Santa Monica–based health and fitness company. The Future of Fitness survey was conducted by Wakefield Research from July 24 through July 29, among 1,000 U.S. adults who said they exercise regularly.

“Whether it be for 10 minutes or a full hour-long routine, there is something very gratifying about discovering the convenience of just rolling out of bed, enjoying a pre-workout drink, and immediately pushing ‘Play’ on a workout of your choice,” says Carl Daikeler, CEO of the Beachbody Co. “Since the start of the pandemic, tens of millions of people have experienced effective, virtual workouts in their own living rooms, and our nutrition and fitness programs have been used more widely as working out at home has become an essential aspect of staying healthy.”

As more Americans have opened up to the idea of working out at home after gyms and fitness centers were forced to shut down amid the outbreak of COVID-19 earlier this year, their perceptions of the experience have changed drastically. An overwhelming majority (90%) described their at-home fitness routines as effective, including a majority (54%) who said their routines have been very or extremely effective. City dwellers, especially, have embraced home workouts the most, with 77% working out three times a week or more, and 66% having found their at-home workouts extremely or very effective.

“The new normal has set in, and many have found a number of positive aspects of working out from home. And for some, things are working better than before,” says Brent Leffel, co–managing partner of Equity38, a private investment firm in the health and wellness space, and executive chairman at TRX Training, a suspension weight training program. “They say it takes two months for a new behavior to become automatic. We are well past that. There’s also been a lot of published research suggesting many consumers will not be returning to gyms when they do reopen.”

Work(out) from home

The onset of COVID-19 rapidly accelerated the workout-from-home trend, which had been building slowly for years, Leffel says. Americans have been forced to figure out how to exercise differently as gyms closed and remote and virtual work set in. Virtual fitness accelerated a decade in a matter of weeks, he continues, and consumers scrambled to secure fitness equipment and accessories for home use while gyms and boutique studios scrambled to deliver streaming content to members.  

“This pandemic has caused a lot of uncertainty around the world. Not knowing when the pandemic will be behind us and when daily activities will be considered safe again weighs heavily on the minds of many,” says Dannah Bollig, founder of the DE Method, an online-based workout program. “Even when things are considered ‘normal,’ there will still be some skepticism and hesitation about jumping right back into daily life as we knew it pre-pandemic.”

The DE Method, described by the company as “the anywhere gym,” is an on-demand subscription service using resistance bands and exercise balls. Bollig, a certified personal trainer and former Division I athlete, created the exercise program with her husband, Brandon, a former professional hockey player for the Calgary Flames and Chicago Blackhawks. The subscription offers access to more than 40 workouts for anyone, anytime, and anywhere—with new content added every Monday. Bollig says her circuit-style training paired with the DE Method, involving a set of five resistance bands, is designed specifically to gain lean muscle but, more important, to be used as a healthy outlet mentally, physically, and emotionally.

Bollig says the program has grown in popularity since its launch in April. “People are resilient and have found ways to stay fit and active during quarantine through at-home workouts,” she says. “The more you work out at home, the more you realize just how feasible, convenient, and easy it is to fit into your daily schedule—let alone the thought that using community gym equipment is not currently safe or appealing. I truly believe at-home workouts are here to stay.”

One of the most obvious benefits to working out at home versus the gym: You don’t actually have to go anywhere. The Beachbody survey found 85% of respondents underscored the convenience and accessibility benefits of working out at home. “The thought of walking down the stairs sounds a lot more appealing than sitting in traffic on the way to the gym,” Bollig says. “These days every minute is accounted for. Another great benefit of an at-home workout is the flexibility it affords. How incredible to be able to complete a workout in the comfort of your own home while your toddler is down for a nap or even between Zoom calls.”

Before COVID, Leffel said he dedicated 90 minutes to “fitness” every day but only about 45 minutes to actually working out. “I would spend approximately 30 to 45 minutes of my ‘fitness’ time every day packing a gym bag, driving back and forth to the gym, parking, and so approximately 45 minutes remained for actually working out,” he explains.

Now, he can roll out of bed, head into his garage, and log into a class via Zoom with London-based trainers and friends all over the country. “We talk a little smack, get an intense workout in with our TRX Suspension Trainers, elastic resistance bands, and kettlebells, and 60 minutes later, I’m having breakfast with my kids,” he says. “And I get to see a bunch of my friends every morning who I wouldn’t otherwise connect with.”

Beachbody has seen approximately 1.36 million sign-ups for its on-demand streaming workout programs since the start of the pandemic, and a 79% increase in the number of workouts being streamed daily on its platform.

“We found that the top benefits of working out at home for Americans who exercise are that it’s more convenient, more private, and less expensive,” Daikeler says. “We are also seeing more people choosing to keep each other motivated and accountable in ‘virtual groups,’ which is a behavior that is not likely to change.”

The new home gym

Despite the economic downturn, consumers have been splurging on large, expensive at-home fitness equipment as they continue to work and workout from home. Hydrow, an at-home rowing startup peddling $2,220 machines, saw sales rise 400% in April compared with January, and as Fortune’s Lucinda Shen reported in June, the company recently raised $25 million in venture capital funding.

Peloton, which already had a cult following for its on-demand and live-streamed classes for its proprietary stationary bike and treadmill well before the pandemic, has seen its membership base and engagement rates soar over the past few months. In April, the company broke its previous record for the most participants in a live class when it introduced its “Live From Home” content series: More than 23,000 people joined the first class, taught by head instructor and vice president of fitness programming Robin Arzón. And Peloton’s All-Access subscribers, paying $39 a month for membership, are averaging 18 workouts per month, up from 13 at this time last year. 

“We’ve always viewed the shift toward fitness from home as a permanent and positive trend, long before this pandemic forced gyms and boutique fitness studios to close,” says Tom Cortese, cofounder, chief operating officer, and head of product at Peloton. “As more people recognize that they can have access to better instructors, better classes, better equipment, and get a better workout without the commute, all at a better value, there is little reason to go back to the gym.”

And even companies not traditionally involved with fitness are picking up on the at-home workout fervor. Bloomberg reported on Aug. 13 that Apple may release a virtual fitness subscription app across its iOS devices in October. The reported service would potentially be part of a broader Apple subscription including Apple TV+, Apple Music, and Apple News.

Certainly, the pandemic and life in quarantine has changed how people exercise, but that doesn’t mean gyms are going away. Fitness was a $34 billion industry in 2019, and an estimated 20% of Americans have a membership to some kind of fitness club, according to the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association (IHRSA). And similar to how consumers can go to restaurants for pickup or delivery but not indoor table service, the social experience just isn’t the same for an at-home workout versus going to the gym.

“The decision to go back to the gym may be more for the gratification of socializing than getting the most efficient workout. But gyms and fitness studios will continue to reopen around the country, and they will continue to play a vital role in Americans’ fitness routines,” Beachbody’s Daikeler says. “What we expect to see is a greater hybrid between physical-gym and digital-exercise routines becoming the new normal within the industry, as an overwhelming majority of consumers have found their at-home workouts to be effective, with nearly half saying they’ve exceeded their expectations.”

And Americans expect gyms will continue to be a vital part of working out, according to the Beachbody survey, with 61% of respondents saying they will eventually feel comfortable heading back to the gym. But more than 63% of Americans who exercise regularly say they will likely prefer a mix of working out in a gym as well as at home in the future.

“Although I do believe it will take some time for individuals to be 100% comfortable returning to the gym, fitness centers that follow all CDC guidelines, including mandatory mask wearing, may have an easier time enticing customers and gym-goers to return to their pre-COVID training style,” Bollig says. “It’s imperative to keep their members safe by constant and thorough cleaning of all equipment, locker rooms, and lobbies.”