Lockdown Evolution of the Fitness Industry – by Rita Jairath

From gyms to studios to supplement industry and stores, this articles covers the massive shift in the training methods, vision and future of business in the fitness industry. Read Rita Jairath’s article to understand how the inter-winded fabric of industry is under transition.

Just as the lockdown began, gym owners with equal sense of nervousness and hope, shut down their gyms. Hoping against hope that this would last only a few days. As it turned out to seem a long drawn battle against the COVID-19 virus, the fitness industry shows signs of crumbling and signals of re-emerging with a paradigm change in future, especially if it goes on for too long.

A gym, on the exterior might look like just a big hall of iron equipment. But it is a place of genesis for an entire array of businesses.

Right from the gym equipment manufacturers, the supplement industry, the fitness trainer education sector, the fitness photography, dieticians and nutritionists, the grooming subdivision, the fitness publications and writers, sportswear companies, the ground staff, cleaners, gym accessories, manufacturers, the list is endless, an entire world is affected.

Right from the big gym chains to the neighbourhood gyms, all were forced to just shut down, and because of the unprecedented situation, are morally obliged to pay salaries to the staff. The smaller gym owners however are forced to give unpaid leaves. Are you trying to buy time? But for how long?

It seems like there is an impending unemployment crisis for thousands of trainers and ground staff.

The fitness industry in fact has several industries integrated together. Even when gyms open, there may be fewer members joining and may not renew their memberships. They may insist upon wavering the fees for these months. The revival already seems like a marathon task.

The supplement store owners have loads of supplements lying with them and once the expiry date goes by, they will have to bear huge losses over their investments.

For fitness freaks, people involved in active sports as well as professional sportspersons, this obviously has major repercussions and somehow, they need to figure out a way to keep themselves fit.

Life for everyone has changed upside down. We may have to re-imagine even the routine mundane activities. And this is all the more relevant for the fitness industry.

While the fitness industry was on the verge of booming, it seems now that the digital fitness industry that might undergo a paradigm change.

In the beginning, everyone seemed to promote home workouts and then suddenly now that too looks very redundant and repetitive.

There are limitations in the ways people train at home. And if we will need to stay home for a long time, fitness bloggers will have to find new ways to reach out to their audiences.

This in fact is an opportunity for fitness bloggers and stay homemothers to capitalise on the changing habits of the consumers and focus on health and well-being.

With many people apparently getting bored, and not knowing what to do, this may well be a great time to begin their fitness journey. But since they haven’t been doing it earlier, they would like to get online help and support.

Online training on Whatsapp, Skype and having webinars, zoom meetings, are on the rise and probably the only way to continue. There is a sleep rise in the purchase of pre-recorded exercise classes having exercises and tips with or without equipment.

Youtubers who demonstrate and teach yoga, dance routines, tabata bodyweight exercises have seen a steep rise in their viewership.

This could well be the future of how classes are conducted in future.

Whether it is class batches on zoom or individual classes on skype, there is a massive change in the way we see fitness.

Even dance studios that have had to close down are suffering huge losses in rentals, are now conducting online classes, bringing together dancers from all over the world, closer.

With the influx of new influencers, and people looking for ways to keep fit at home, a new trend has been set forever.

Since safety is cannot be compromised, several sporting events have had to be either postponed or cancelled. The 2020 Tokyo Olympics may now happen in 2021. The UEFA has postponed Euro 2020 for a year.

Not one season of serie A had ever been cancelled since World War II. There have been hundreds of similar headlines for various sporting events across the world. Millions of sports fan across the world have been disappointed.

The sportspersons who had been practising and spending valuable time, energy and money with a passion to succeed, lose enthusiasm and the passion to play as they feel that what they did has been wasted.

With no sports entertainment for the brands that had been sponsoring these events to get visibility and promotions, it is a challenge to keep audiences engaged.

As most sports are still up in the air on when and how to make a return, it is important to prepare for the scenario that matches will return behind closed doors, or with just a limited number of fans attending the event.  Fans who pick up e-sports during this period may continue to follow it once the sport does return, providing brands an opportunity to develop a relationship with the e-sports community.

It is an unprecedented time in sport but this may just be a new opportunity.

However, we know that the sportspersons themselves cannot play digitally. They got to be present physically on the field to practice, get better and improvise andalso get stronger. Recently the Sports Authority of India had voiced its concerns that the lockdown may adversely affect the health of the sportspersons.

For the highly trained athletes used to training two or three times a day these times can be very frustrating. Doctors adviseendurance athletes to detrain methodically. It can otherwise weaken their cardiovascular system and immune system for strength athletes, even technique gets affected.

While these athletes are all highly professional and are well aware of alternatives to keep up home exercises, diet and work on their flexibility and core strength, actual, heavy training with volume load can never be replaced by home workouts. And although they are bound to lose muscle and gain fat to a small extent, they can easily get back especially if the lockdown is not too prolonged.

And since they are used to heavy loads, if the bones are not exposed to regular strength training, bone density reduces, making them susceptible to injury.

It is not just the physical aspect, but a mental one too.For athletes, this is their profession. They can’t work from home, siting with a computer.

Their long term concern and how they had planned to move further, to monetise their gains for sustaining the rest of their lives, even after the athlete shelf-life has passed, has all got a serious set-back.

Losing ability, strength, the practice and flow in technique as well as body composition will get them to a state that they would have to almost start all over again.

Most of the bodybuilders who were getting ready for the upcoming competitions feel that they have lost the money that they had spent in the previous few months. They were half-way in the midst of their preparation. Since bodybuilding is an expensive game, most of them may not be having liquidity of funds. To top it all, they can’t earn it back in these days. Not everyone is tech-savvy to start new classes online. And it is not always that the virtual digital world can substitute for physical presence, especially for hard-core heavy training that an athlete requires. These can only compliment and add to gym and field training.

For example an Olympic weightlifter, cannot do a hundred free squat and substitute for his one rep max with a huge load. A long distance competing runner cannot substitute the track field with a treadmill. These are only stop-gap arrangements.

A regular fitness freak or an office goer who has to be fit and agile may benefit from digital content. Virtual training classes are being offered for a fee on monthly, quarterly or annual basis.It really depends on how long it will take for things to streamline, whether a vaccine will develop in the near future, how safe it will actually be, whether people will be confident enough that they would not lose their lives going to public places, whether the larger population will comply by the guidelines is too uncertain and the timeline is not set. Life may never be the same again.

OLYMPIA

In the bodybuilding world, the International Federation of Bodybuilding holds the Mr. Olympia event at Las Vegas, Nevada, USA. The entire bodybuilding fraternity across the world looks upto this event that has had legendary champions like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Ronnie Coleman compete.

Everyone is passionate about being there and watching their favourite stars in all their glory, while many look forward to their own debut on the Olympia Stage for which they need to compete in IFBB Pro Shows and qualify. But now, while there are concerns about how would the most deserving pros, even qualify if there are no competitions.

Bodybuilding at this level cannot be done with home workouts. The federation may have to look at various possibilities, make provisions and lift guidelines. There are however shows around the end of August, in US and UK, where the competitions would be tough since most of the pro-athletes who want the Olympia qualification will try to compete there, if at all these actually even happen.

Even non-competitors in the bodybuilding industry, the ones who are emerging, judging, providing services and show-promoters would have lost major income and business possibilities respectively. They might all have to look at alternatives and use their creativity.

Whether the Mr. Olympia would go well or not, will depend on the leaders who may change guidelines, make special provision and strive to make it very creative and interesting, if they want people in these dire times to travel and watch the show even if travel restrictions in various countries are lifted.

The economic crisis may not leave people with enough spending power, liquidity and buying capacity to spend on anything that they consider non-essential.

Once we are done with the virus issue, the initial weeks will be crazy and will require a huge push. The same holds for all bodybuilding shows across the world and very much so in India too.

Once the gyms re-open, there will be teething troubles in the new post COVID-19 world. Life will never be the same again, safety being of supreme importance, we will have to make an extremely pro-active endeavour to create awareness in the way we work around in the gyms, following all COVID-19 guidelines with stricter rules about cleaning.

The additional hygiene methods might include, encouraging people to bring their own towels, clean handles of equipment after each use, hospital grade disinfectant rules and an educated staff who is given regular orientation.

There will be people who may not comply and there will be people who will be paranoid and it is certain that business will go down before reviving once again as people begin to understand and come to terms with the reality until a time comes when a sure shot vaccine is developed and the world is able to conquer and be victorious.

Gym equipment manufacturers will have an opportunity for home gym set-ups. The supplement manufacturers may have to redefine hygiene and safety standards.

The virtual world is vast and it has made physical distances irrelevant. And this very fact alone will make us value physical presence and human touch.

Training by ourselves will always be different from when a coach could see the effort, your day to day story even outside the gym, the expressions on your face of victory, joy, disappointment, courage, resilience and the invaluable bond created by the aura of a person.

Life now has another parameter. Life pre-COVID and Life post-COVID.

We hope that we can bring about positive changes and be proud of being human beings, learn, unlearn and relearn what is truly essential and non-essential and value the presence of happiness and life.

About The Author

Dr Rita Jairath

Rita Jairath is an entrepreneur and one of the pioneering athletes in women's bodybuilding in India, she won the pro-card from the International Federation of Bodybuilding. she .... Read More..

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