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Health Club Management

Health Club Management


Fitness foresight: Predictions for the fitness sector

Health Club Management’s annual Fitness ForesightTM looks at the key trends, influences and opportunities shaping the health and fitness sector over the coming year – and beyond

By Dr Lauretta Ihonor, Health Club Management Magazine | Published in Health Club Management 2018 issue 2


Augmented reality

Operators have long relied on TV screens and loud music to keep gym-goers entertained and minimise the monotony of their workouts. However, the development of augmented reality (AR) technology is opening up a new realm of possibilities for health clubs. By allowing images to be superimposed onto a person’s field of view, AR technology can enhance reality – adding sights, sounds, sensations and even smells that aren’t really there.

This technology is already being developed for use in the attractions and engineering industries. For example, Disney Research recently unveiled an AR ‘Magic Bench’ prototype that allows users to interact with animated characters, while Google has updated its Glass gadget, utilising AR to display instructions from manuals in the visual fields of mechanics carrying out complex tasks like assembling jet engines.

There’s no reason why this technology could not be extended to gyms and health clubs in the future. Gym-goers may soon be able to feel the wind in their hair as they ride through the Pyrenees or experience the sights and sounds of an African sunset as they row down the Nile.

Augmented reality could allow fitness fans to exercise in exciting locations / PHOTO:
Augmented reality could allow fitness fans to exercise in exciting locations / PHOTO:


Exercise supplements

The remarkable growth of the superfood and health supplement sector over the last decade suggests that consumers are actively looking for new ways to optimise their health. While weight loss and anti-ageing benefits remain the focus of existing supplements, results from recent mouse studies indicate that an exercise pill may be on the horizon.

Indeed, in 2017, scientists from the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California, USA, unearthed a chemical compound that can increase athletic endurance in mice by 70 per cent. Such a solution could be a game changer for the fitness industry, helping people get more from their workouts by being able to exercise harder and for longer without getting tired.

Elsewhere, researchers from Augusta University in Georgia, USA, have discovered another approach to creating an exercise pill. They’ve found that suppressing the production of the protein myostatin in mice increases muscle mass and improves heart health in the same way as regular exercise. The focus is now on replicating these findings in humans, which, when successfully achieved, could set in motion the creation of a pill that provides the cardiovascular and muscle building benefits of a good workout.

But operators need not fear being replaced by such a pill, because myostatin suppression does not provide the full range of benefits associated with physical activity: improving mood, bone health, blood sugar control and fat metabolism.

Pills offering cardiovascular and muscle building benefits are on the horizon / Photo:
Pills offering cardiovascular and muscle building benefits are on the horizon / Photo:


Fascial release

The incorporation of fascia release techniques into fitness classes and recovery sessions is set to grow as the importance of a supple fascial layer becomes better understood. As the thin fascial layer is responsible for the structural integrity of the whole body, when it’s tight and inflexible, body efficiency is compromised – leading to long-term pain, poor posture and limited physical performance.

The beginning of the fascial release trend is already evident in active recovery classes such as New York’s barefoot A.C.C.E.S.S class, Equinox’s myofascial massage prehabilitation class RX, and Breathe London’s Moving Stretch sessions, which all involve fascial release via foam rolling and resistance stretch movements. Watch out for a steady growth in such classes alongside the introduction of foam rollers and other fascial release devices into yoga, pilates and mind-body classes.

Fitness classes will feature fascia release techniques and equipment / PHOTO:
Fitness classes will feature fascia release techniques and equipment / PHOTO:


Sensory deprivation

After falling out of fashion more than 30 years ago, floatation tanks are poised to return to the limelight as sensory deprivation experiences grow in popularity. Studies show that restricted environmental stimulation therapy (sensory deprivation) can positively affect body physiology, lowering cortisol and blood pressure, while increasing wellbeing and reducing blood lactate levels after intense exercise. Unlike their predecessors (predominantly found in spas), we predict the new wave of floatation tanks will be in health clubs and offered as a post-exercise recovery tool and wellbeing service.

Sensory deprivation experiences will not be limited to floatation tanks. Expect a surge in the use of sensory deprivation within fitness classes as exercising for health overtakes exercising for aesthetics.

Based on research findings that suggest that when one sense is lost other senses are sharpened, early adopters are already offering sensory deprivation-focused functional classes. In Gymbox’s new Blackout class, for example, participants are asked to perform functional exercises whilst blindfolded, with the aim of improving their body awareness, reaction time and overall proprioception.

Post-exercise recovery and wellbeing services could feature floatation tanks / PHOTO: FLOATAWAYUK
Post-exercise recovery and wellbeing services could feature floatation tanks / PHOTO: FLOATAWAYUK


Mental fitness

Mindfulness has enjoyed good growth in recent years; however, it’s a practice that’s set to move from ‘nice to have’ to centre stage within fitness facilities, with its focus changing from peace of mind to strength of mind and resilience. This will be driven by the increased presence of the youngest generation, Generation Z, within the fitness sector as they come of age.

Generational analysts report that this health-conscious group considers mindfulness as integral to health and fitness, and as a result, expects to be able to incorporate mindful practices into standard workouts.

Expect to see a rise in physical and digital tools developed specifically for those interested in finetuning the art of mindfulness, as designers and operators strive to meet this need. Mental fitness apps are already growing in popularity, led by the likes of digital content group Lucid Performance. Its training app uses sport psychology principles, rather than traditional meditation, to help users increase focus, self-belief and confidence. It’s a strategy that has proven to be popular, with the California-based company reporting a 35 per cent weekly increase in user numbers following its launch in 2017.

Another area of change will involve the movement of mind gyms – originally developed to enhance work performance – from the office to the gym. Get ready to see people going to the gym to learn mind-sharpening strategies such as neurolinguistic programming.

Physical and digital mindfulness-focused tools will be more prevalent / PHOTO:
Physical and digital mindfulness-focused tools will be more prevalent / PHOTO:


Diversified boutique offers

When boutique studios burst onto the fitness scene a decade ago, most chose to specialise in a single exercise modality. From indoor cycling to pilates studios, niche branding and offerings have defined the boutique sector for years.

But as providers seek to hold onto the communities they have worked hard to cultivate, more will look to offer multiple studio concepts under one roof, ensuring that their fans have no need to go anywhere else to fulfil all of their workout requirements.

A case in point is Soulcycle. The pioneer of the boutique fitness concept recently launched SoulAnnex – a bike-free floor-based concept featuring dance, HIIT and active recovery classes – in New York’s Flatiron District. And in the UK, London-based brand Psycle is leading the way in this area. Despite launching as an indoor cycling studio, the brand has now added independent HIIT, yoga and barre studio concepts to its portfolio. It’s likely to be a matter of time before others in the sector follow suit.

Boutiques will spread their wings to offer multiple studio concepts under one roof
Boutiques will spread their wings to offer multiple studio concepts under one roof


PT Medical Training

As physical activity gains continued recognition as an effective preventive health tool, medical schools are increasingly being called upon to place physical activity training higher on the agenda. As such, it’s likely that the doctors of tomorrow will be armed with the knowledge needed to confidently hand out prescriptions for exercise, rather than just medication.

However, as tackling inactivity and its associated diseases needs both the medical and fitness industries to come together, the medical knowledge of PTs must also grow in the near future.

All PT qualifications, not just advanced specialist ones, could include training on common chronic diseases, such as stroke, hypertension, heart disease and diabetes.

PT education standards and qualifications are currently under reformation, led by CIMSPA, Active IQ and REPs in the UK; and EuropeActive and EREPs across the rest of Europe. As these bodies look to develop standardised, high-quality training pathways, the timing is perfect for the addition of teaching on disease aetiology, treatment and prevention to PT curriculums.

PTs could be trained on managing chronic diseases / PHOTO:
PTs could be trained on managing chronic diseases / PHOTO:


Equipment home delivery service

Fitness equipment manufacturers are remaining firmly focused on developing innovative exercise machines that offer users better results, more convenience and maximum ease of use.

However, as machine iterations continue to increase in number, the savvy at-home exerciser who wants to keep up to speed with the latest fitness technology must overcome a big problem: a lack of space to store lots of bulky pieces of gym equipment.

However, it’s a problem that presents fitness suppliers with the niche market opportunity of home-delivery equipment subscriptions. Fitness consumers can have the equipment they desire for their workout delivered directly to their door, keep it for a couple of hours, days or weeks, and then have it collected or exchanged for a different piece of kit they’d like to try.

Logistical limitations exist, such as machine size and weight, and this means that more portable devices, such as indoor bikes and rowers, are likely to lead the way in this field.

Nevertheless, these limitations present a key opportunity for manufacturers to start prioritising the portability of equipment during the design process.

Portable equipment like running machines will pave the way / PHOTO:
Portable equipment like running machines will pave the way / PHOTO:


Expert exercisers

Technology is transforming the way in which fitness fans exercise by placing elite equipment at the disposal of the average person. Furthermore, professional athletes and their trainers are openly sharing their workout programmes on social media platforms, such as Instagram and Snapchat – enticing mere mortals to try their techniques for themselves.

As such, training like an athlete is fast becoming a desire of gym-goers and we’re seeing a rise in services catering specifically for expert exercisers. From gyms kitted out with high-performance specialist equipment to fitness classes created specifically for those striving to achieve athlete-like fitness levels, it’s a niche, yet growing area of opportunity for the elite end of the industry – one that London-based Metabolic is tapping into. Founded and backed by professional athletes – ex-premier league hockey player Lawrence Hannah and Olympian Denise Lewis – the studio’s workouts have been designed using athletic training principles.

Seasoned gym-goers are increasingly looking for a challenge and it’s not just operators that are responding; equipment suppliers are also tapping into this growing market. Wattbike, the indoor cycle manufacturer best known for preparing cyclists, rowers, rugby players and track and field athletes for world and Olympic success, recently released a home version of its best-selling indoor trainer, giving people at-home access to highly precise data-driven training previously reserved for athletes. As technology continues to grow more sophisticated, such offerings are likely to become more commonplace.

Operators and equipment suppliers are tapping into the growing market for expert exercisers
Operators and equipment suppliers are tapping into the growing market for expert exercisers


In-house injury recovery

With gym penetration rates rising across the UK, Europe and the US, and gym-goers remaining at significant risk of musculoskeletal injuries, operators must start to give attention to the absence of well-defined pathways for treating sports injuries among gym-goers if they are to maximise retention. After all, injured exercisers are more likely to turn away from physical exercise if sprains and strains persist or recur.

Operators are, indeed, well placed to develop and execute the delivery of the convenient and streamlined injury recovery pathways that are currently lacking. Some will develop in-house musculoskeletal recovery teams, with gym members given access to physiotherapists, sports massage therapists, chiropractors and other specialists housed within the gym premises. Other gym operators will choose to serve as tertiary referral centres, establishing databases of approved local musculoskeletal specialists for injured-member referrals.

Spirituality will play a larger role in the mainstream fitness sector / Photo:
Spirituality will play a larger role in the mainstream fitness sector / Photo:


Child-led exercise

As childhood obesity levels continue to rise, finding new and effective ways of getting more children active, more often, will remain a focus for the industry. And with psychologists already drawing attention to the way young children naturally incorporate movement into play, its time for schools, leisure centres and even gyms to take notice.

Allowing children to have more influence on the design of their physical education lessons and sports and fitness classes is necessary if they’re to truly enjoy physical activity and have fun exercising. With that in mind, watch out for a new wave of children’s fitness – designed for children, by children.

Less popular activities, such as cross-country running or compulsory team sports, will give way to fitness sessions based on games, playground classics and imaginative play. It’s a shift that presents opportunities for equipment suppliers, operators and designers alike, as the focus will be split between equipment-free activities – such as tug of war and sack racing – which make use of open studios and functional spaces, and activities that require specialist equipment, such as trampolines and climbing frames.

Making exercise fun is crucial for keeping children active
Making exercise fun is crucial for keeping children active


Leisure centre luxe

Leisure centres are showing no signs of slowing down in their mission to reinvent themselves. Faced with the threat of being made obsolete by the sophisticated, technologically advanced and often more aesthetically pleasing private gym and health club market, public fitness facilities will continue to add more upmarket offerings to their services, while also modernising their designs.

Local authority leisure operators are already venturing into the luxury market, with the addition of premium spa services, such as spa baths, ice features and salt rooms. But that’s just the beginning.

Boutique studios offering cutting-edge fitness classes; high-tech equipment that wirelessly pairs with the latest apps; and shower facilities with amenities to rival premium health clubs will also become increasingly common – taking the humble local leisure centre to new heights.

While staying competitive is expected to remain the primary driving force behind the reinvention of leisure centres, the significant secondary spend opportunities presented by the addition of luxury services will continue to serve as great motivation to operators.

Leisure centre facilities are poised to rival boutique offerings / Photo:
Leisure centre facilities are poised to rival boutique offerings / Photo:


Natural enhancers

As more and more exercisers look to take their fitness pursuits to the next level, the provision of safe and natural ways to maximise performance and workout results will grow in importance.

Operators stand to benefit from this upcoming growth in the popularity of natural performance enhancers as gym-goers often wish to consume them immediately before or after a workout – presenting an ideal on-site retail opportunity.

Look out for an increased presence of F&B products containing natural enhancers, such as beetroot juice – renowned for its ability to boost athletic performance and muscle recovery – and turmeric – which contains the muscle-healing anti-inflammatory substance curcumin.

Adaptogenic herbs, which help improve the body’s response to stress, will also become a fitness supplement of choice, following the scientifically-supported revelation that herbs, such as rhodiola and Siberian ginseng, can help the body to adapt more effectively to intense exercise routines and recovery.

Growing demand for natural performance enhancers provides an ideal retail opportunity / PHOTO:
Growing demand for natural performance enhancers provides an ideal retail opportunity / PHOTO:


Free gyms

The arrival of the low-cost gym sector has played a big role in the recently observed surge in gym memberships, market value and penetration rates in the UK, US and beyond.

It’s a finding that suggests that cost remains a big barrier to the uptake of gym memberships, and it’s one that fitness operators are now seeking to address by simply doing away with membership fees altogether.

Leading the way is German fitness operator McFit. It plans to open The Mirai in 2019 – a gym in which users can train for free. McFit founder Rainer Schaller has said that the brand will bring in revenue through partnerships with industry key players. It has also been suggested that income could be augmented by cleverly using the space, which will sit on a 592,000sq ft (55,000sq m) plot of land in western Germany, to stage industry conferences and showcase fitness equipment.

Expect to see many more operators following suit, based on the success of The Mirai’s free model, with each adopting increasingly creative ways of boosting their revenue.

Free gym membership is the hallmark of The Mirai
Free gym membership is the hallmark of The Mirai


Lauretta Ihonor is editor of Health Club Management. She’s also a qualified medical doctor and a health and nutrition specialist.

Discover the fitness trends and concepts that we predict will shape the health and fitness sector over the coming years – from augmented reality to medical training for PTs.
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