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How Covid-19 impacted the ANZ gym industry in 2020

By January 25, 2021News

The global pandemic had a vast affect on so many industries throughout the course of 2020 in both Australia and New Zealand. Gyms in particular felt the brunt of the impact from extensive lockdowns and restrictions.

But as we move into 2021 with currently (at this time of writing) no lockdowns across either of our countries, how did COVID-19 actually impact the gym industry last year? And what, if any, are some of the takeaways to learn from and apply to your businesses this year?

The initial impact on gyms

At the very start of the pandemic when it hit Australian and New Zealand shores in early 2020, no-one knew exactly how it would impact our world. However, we soon learned its affects may last much longer than we could anticipate.

In April, Fitness Australia released a study named the COVID-19 Fitness Industry Impact Report, which investigated the financial, social and economic effects of the pandemic on the fitness industry. An industry that employees around 35,000 people across around 6,400 businesses that turn $3 billion a year.

While the Government’s various levels of relief greatly helped businesses and employees alike, it still took a big toll on the industry with sole operator gyms and large franchised facilities empty for months, and thousands of staff out of work. No-one was left unaffected.

Fitness Australia CEO Barrie Elvish said, “Australians spend more than $8.5 billion every year on fitness and a large portion of this is spend on gym memberships, personal training, fitness classes and bootcamps. The closures, which affected all types of gyms and fitness facilities, and shortly after outdoor bootcamps, meant these businesses had suffered significantly.”

The Fitness Australia report surveyed a broad variety these industry professionals, including sole traders, boutique businesses, multi-site gym facilities and exercise professionals.

Here are some of the statistics found after surveying both exercise professionals and sole traders:

  • 81% lost their job or main source of income
  • 71% didn’t see any clients since gyms closed on 23 March 2020
  • 44% of respondents has lost more than 61% of their income
  • 90% continued to pay up to $5,000 per month for business expenses despite being unable to open or operate
  • Less than 10% of clients had transitioned to virtual platforms or one-on-one training.

And after analysing the survey results from boutique businesses and multi-service facilities, Fitness Australia found that:

  • All businesses had to stand down employees with less than 10% of staff still working
  • 70% of businesses cited a 100% decline in memberships
  • 24% of businesses reported a 61% decline in memberships due to cancellations or suspensions
  • Revenue was down 100% for 50% of gym owners
  • Gym have only been able to generate less than 10% of their usual income through virtual or outdoor one-on-one training.

The on-going toll on gym members

As an industry, we’re all hyper-aware of the financial and employment impact the pandemic has had on gyms. However, there’s also a need to recognise the impact it’s having on your members.

Fitness Australia conducted another survey during September 2020, asking 14,400 gym members from across Australia the effect gyms have on their physical, mental and emotional health.

In the Consumer Impact of Gym Closures – Assessing the Essential Need For Gyms Report, 59% of members indicated that the gym was included in their top 3 most missed activities during lockdowns, surpassing things like socialising and seeing family.

The data shows just how influential your business can be in assisting someone’s happiness, mental health and physical well-being.

Here’s some more interesting findings from the study:

  • There were a number of negative impacts on physical, mental and emotional wellbeing including:
    • Physical weight gain (47%)
    • Muscle loss (43%)
    • A decreased overall sense of wellbeing (40%)
    • Increased stress/anxiety levels (35%)
    • Stamina loss (32%)
    • A decreased sense of connection (25%)
    • Experienced feelings of depression (16%)
  • 1 in 4 experienced a decreased sense of connection as a direct result of gym closures while 16% experienced depression. This throws light on just how important gyms are to support physical, emotional and mental health.
  • Almost 1 in 2 gym members experienced a decrease in the motivation to exercise (48%) during lockdown, which indicates just how important gyms are to help keep people motivated and committed to their fitness goals.
  • A significant decrease in training types, most notably strength/resistance training falling from 79% to 57%, followed by cardio and flexibility training. This decrease would most likely have been due to the lack of equipment people had to replicate their gym workouts at home. However, 77% of people still said that their key fitness goal was building muscle/strength.
  • A significant decline in the frequency of vigorous exercise during the COVID 19 lockdown period, with 83% engaging in this form of exercise at least once a week, compared to 95% pre-lockdown. According to the Department of Health, it’s recommended that adults aged between 18-64 should pursue 1.25-2.5 hours of intense physical activity each week.
  • Prior to the lockdown period 84% of members exercised at least 3 times a week. During lockdown this fell to 61% showing there’s been a significant decrease in exercise during the initial lockdown.
  • An impacted feeling of safety when exercising outdoors, particularly amongst shift workers. 22% of the survey respondents were shift workers who said they were more comfortable exercising in the safety of a gym than outdoors.

Things to learn

Fitness Australia CEO Barrie Elvish, said that getting gym members safely back to training regularly is now a priority for Fitness Australia.

“In addition to the financial benefits of getting gyms back to the ‘new normal’, the essential role exercise plays in our overall health and mental wellbeing cannot be underestimated and it will become more apparent as people start to get back to a regular routine and lifestyle,” My Elvish said.

“Gyms and the broader fitness industry will have a vital role in ensuring the ongoing health and wellbeing of Australians in years to come, not just as we recover from COVID-19.”

So what kind of takeaways can we bring into 2021?

  1. Be there for your members, now more than ever

The Fitness Australia studies show just how much your gym members rely on your facility for motivation to stick to their fitness goals, and to exercise at all. So it’s important to keep fostering and strengthening your relationships with your member base!

  1. Understand there may be more hard times to come

With the Australian Job Keeper grant’s getting cut and ending entirely soon, businesses may enter their true phase of financial struggle since there is no government assistance to rely on. Particularly if we experience any further lockdowns.

  1. Build and strengthen your community

So many people rely on their gym community and relationships to help fulfil their day and support their physical, mental and emotional well-being. Make it a goal of yours to focus on building your online communities, like a club Facebook group, so in the event of any further lockdowns, your members will have somewhere to turn to feel like they’re still connecting with peers and coaches.

  1. Provide classes and services that support mental health

The impact of the pandemic and lockdowns really brought to light the importance of supporting others’ mental health. Think about how you can incorporate classes and services into your gym that aid in supporting mental well-being for your members. This could be classes around meditation and mindfulness, or well-being check-ins with your coaches.