Are gyms going the way of movie rental shops and arcades?

Kari Hamra used to go to the gym every day until the government shut down last year. She then switched to daily riding her Peloton stationary bicycle.

Are gyms going the way of movie rental shops and arcades?

She discovered that she didn't miss the gym. She didn't miss the driving, filling water bottles, changing clothing, and most importantly, spending time with her husband and their two sons.

Her gym in Springfield, Missouri is now open. She's slowly making a comeback. She's found a more convenient way to exercise at home, and she is questioning the need for a gym after seeing an increase in COVID-19 cases this summer. She believes that even if there hadn't been a coronavirus epidemic, she would still be a gym rat.

The pandemic has changed the way Americans exercise, and it has also thrown a wrench in the fitness industry. It has helped to accelerate the development of new high-tech home gym equipment and virtual classes.

Thousands of small fitness centers and studios that were forced to close a year ago now are gone for good. Others have had to close their doors due to financial difficulties and have revamped their facilities, added personal training and increased online training.

They must decide if they can withstand the onslaught of apps, expensive bikes and treadmills, or if they will succumb to the lure of video rental shops and arcades.

Peloton, an interactive fitness equipment manufacturer, is betting that the work-from-home trend will continue to grow. Peloton broke ground Monday for its first U.S. facility just outside Toledo, Ohio. It plans to start production in 2023 and hire 2,000 people.

Peloton customers were forced to wait for months because of the surge in demand during the pandemic. Although the company claimed that the backlog had decreased, the company reported that sales rose 141% in the first three month of the year.

John Foley, founder and CEO of the company, believes it's likely that technology-driven home exercise will be dominant just like streaming services have transformed movie viewing. He calls the notion of going to a fitness center "a broken model from yesteryear."

The company plans to bring more of its equipment into hotels, apartments, colleges, and campuses, as well as launch new workouts via its app. Late last year, it acquired Precor, a company with manufacturing and product development sites in the U.S.

Foley stated to The Associated Press that fitness is one of few categories that will be severely disrupted by a new digital experience.

In the beginning months of the pandemic most independent studios and gyms used Zoom to connect with their members for classes and training sessions.

Michael Stack, CEO at Applied Fitness Solutions which operates three gyms in southeast Michigan, said, "Now there's an expect for it."

He said that while small gyms cannot match the visual appeal and production quality of high-tech companies they can counter this with online offerings that offer personal attention and close relationships between staff and members.

Stack stated, "I believe that's how we even the playing fields."

Virtual training is not a common feature in the gyms.

Jeff Sanders, Apex Athletic Health Club CEO in Penfield, New York, stated that "we don't have enough budget to do it at a similar price and of the same quality." "Digital is great but we have seen surveys that show people miss the interaction and being with others."

His company plans to open a third location in Orlando, Florida. It will offer a more intimate experience and be smaller than the previous two. He said that boutique studios are the future.

Sanders stated that the pandemic has altered how the fitness industry views itself. "Everyone is making decisions just for survival."

According to the International Health Racquet & Sportsclub Association, approximately 9,000 of the nation's health clubs have shut down since the outbreak. 1.5 million people lost their jobs as a result.

Because many clubs are still struggling to recover after months of loss revenue and declining memberships, the industry group is lobbying Congress for a $30 billion relief account.

Although there are more closings this year than usual, and they could be in the thousands, without government assistance, Helen Durkin, executive vice president for public policy at the association, stated that the rise of the work-from-home trend will not spell doom to the fitness centers.

She said that there are still plenty of exercise enthusiasts who will do both. According to Peloton, 40% of users have gym memberships.

Digital fitness is here to stay, says Michelle Segar, Director of the University of Michigan's Sport, Health and Activity Research and Policy Center.

"People are integrating technology into their lives. She said that this is the future of society and will only get better.

Virtual training sessions offer the greatest benefits. They allow for more flexibility in sticking to workout routines, and can attract more people to fitness, even those who are unable or unwilling to follow a strict schedule.

She said, "That's why people don’t stick with it."

Cindy Cicchinelli has become a committed Peloton user since she used to go to her Pittsburgh gym for years. She said that the convenience of it is what sold her.

She said, "I can get out of bed and not have to worry about running to the gym." "I don't need to drive an extra half hour for my commute.

According to industry experts, research shows that health clubs are no more likely to spread the virus than public spaces. Dave Karraker, a San Francisco gym owner, believes it will take a while before people feel comfortable entering a large, cramped fitness center.

He said, "They will be thinking about ventilation or air purifiers, and how long ago was that equipment sanitized."

He redesigned MX3 Fitness's small studios and built personal training spaces. He is now looking for another location.

He is not surprised people are returning to the area, even though safety is still a concern.

He said, "They don’t want to be solitary anymore." There are many motivations. We all know that gyms can be a great way to meet new people, especially singles.