Over the last five years, the fitness industry has seen significant change. Boutique fitness, wearables, and online training have dominated. But users aren’t necessarily healthier or fitter than they were before.
“As always, members are seeking support and guidance in an accessible way that is affordable, and that’s where many facilities fall short — they’re not setting people up for success,” says Kevin Elsey, vice president of EXOS’ performance innovation team. “The environment should be evolving, energizing, and enabling users to reach their fullest health and performance potential.”
With that in mind, here are the most important fitness center trends to watch over the next five years. Are you set up to keep pace?
The “gym” will be everywhere.
“Facilities can’t expect members to stay engaged and achieve their goals if they’re only coming in twice a week,” Elsey says. “More fitness centers will have digital platforms that allow members 24/7 access to exercise programming, tools, and content as well as nutrition guidance that they can use wherever they are.”
Trainers will double as health coaches.
“Fitness” doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Mindset, nutrition, movement, and recovery are the four pillars of performance, says Elsey, but most gyms emphasize only the movement part. “If someone’s sleeping or eating better, they’ll move and perform better.” Adding a registered dietitian to the team can give members baseline knowledge of how food can fuel their lives and create a new revenue stream. Additionally, coaches can take on a more multifaceted role.
More trainers will become health coaches, taking on a dual role to work with members who are ready to get fit and/or healthy but also those who haven’t yet made the commitment, says Bob Boone, president and chief executive officer of the Medical Fitness Association. “Coaching helps people prepare and moves them along the scale of readiness to change,” he says. As a result, more employees can use the gym.
Programs will become more personal.
“The more personalized a solution is, the more effective the outcome will be. To that end, when you can provide insight about all the information a member has accumulated from various sources — wearables, movement assessments, or even their calendar — and explain how to use it to personalize their experience, then that data becomes useful,” Elsey says.
Fitness centers will increasingly have systems in place that capture all this information, aggregate it, and provide actionable programs based on it. Added to that data mix will be genomic and biome testing and blood panels.
“When you look at all these things in combination, you unlock their true power to enhance health,” says Craig Friedman, vice president of EXOS’ performance innovation team. “Soon you’ll be able to get these done at the fitness facility.”
Capturing biomechanics will get easier.
As technology advances, we’ll see fitness centers trend toward a greater use of biomechanics capture. Currently, movement screens, which identify mobility and stability restrictions that can impact performance and potentially lead to injuries, can be time-consuming and cumbersome.
“New systems — called markerless biomechanics capture — are using cameras to make gleaning that information easier and more seamless,” Friedman says. “More and more facilities will invest in these types of systems, especially those that are serving a more athletic population.”
Machines will be smarter.
Facility design will incorporate increased open space — indoors and out — to allow for more movement, free weights, functional training, and personal training space, Friedman says.
At the same time, old-school, plate-based weight machines will start to disappear as pneumatic and robotic motorized resistance options make their way to the floor. These machines adapt easily to each user, allow for more lifelike (or performance-oriented) movements than traditional machines do, are more efficient, and provide instant feedback in some cases. “This all plays into that trend toward more personalization,” Friedman adds.
Fitness centers will be integrated into medical facilities.
Medical fitness facilities — workout centers linked to health care providers (80 percent are hospital owned) that focus on prevention, rehab, and managing chronic health issues — are experiencing strong growth, but the model hasn’t quite achieved its full potential yet. The more these facilities can prove, through outcomes, that exercise is good and less expensive medicine, the brighter their future will be. And this applies to your employees, too — many of which struggle to find time to take care of themselves.
“We’re starting to document outcomes now and trying to make sure we have reproducible results across a nationwide network of facilities,” Boone says. “What we’re already seeing is across virtually every chronic disease, exercise, nutrition, and health coaching interventions favorably impact hospital stays, prognoses, treatment response, recovery time, and more.”
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