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How the pandemic has changed the fitness industry

December 2, 2020, 9:45 PM UTC

People have changed how they exercise during the coronavirus pandemic, turning to outdoor activities like biking and running as well as home gym equipment. The shift, some of which is expected to continue long after the pandemic has ended, has created new opportunities for companies that bank on the business of sweat.

“There’s going to be a little bit more of a hybrid approach, I think, going forward,” Under Armour CEO Patrik Frisk said.

Frisk joined Melanie Whelan, managing director of Summit Partners, and Brynn Putnam, CEO of home fitness company Mirror (recently acquired by Lululemon for $500 million), to discuss the business of sweat at Fortune’s Brainstorm Tech virtual conference on Wednesday. The executives said that while some people will return to their gyms, others now prefer alternative ways of keeping fit.

In Mirror’s case, that means working out in front of a smart mirror, a high-tech computer screen that doubles as a regular mirror, for guided workouts. “What’s exciting to us is the sort of cementing of behavioral change that we’re seeing during this period,” Putnam said. “We think there’s an incredible opportunity to really unite the experiences people receive at home with those that they’re seeing at their studios or local gyms for a truly omni experience.”

The coronavirus pandemic has radically changed how people shop. For example, following pandemic shutdowns, people have increasingly relied on delivery services. People have also changed how they commute to avoid being stuck close to others on a train or in a stranger’s car. And they’re looking for convenient ways to exercise outside of crowded gyms. 

But as competition heats up, the fitness companies aiming to capitalize on the shift will have to differentiate their products and create personalized experiences for their customers, Whelan said. If they can do that, the investment from venture capitalists will follow, she added. 

“There’s a lot of capital available in the market,” Whelan said. “I think there will continue to be a space in place for great businesses that connect with their community in a very unique way.”

Under Armour is betting on its connected shoes, or shoes that track workouts and provide coaching along the way, as a big moneymaker. Since the outbreak started, customer interest in its connected shoes has increased dramatically, Frisk said, adding that more than 1 million of its customers’ shoes are now connected to Under Armour’s app, a milestone the company hit during the third quarter. And the company said that running, in terms of participation in the sport, has increased 150% compared with pre-pandemic levels.

“It’s an incredibly important part of our future,” Frisk said of the company’s connected shoes.

Putnam said there’s evidence that many people’s lifestyles have fundamentally changed, and that the length of the pandemic has likely solidified those changes into new habits. 

“Most experts say it takes about 60 days to build a habit,” she said. “Our consumers have now had six, seven, eight, nine months to really begin to live the sweat life at home, and we’re excited to see those behavioral changes stick over time.”

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