Around the world, we’re seeing fitness facilities tackle the dual challenges of global warming and spiralling energy costs through sustainable initiatives that range from green energy contracts to solar power installations. Our recent supplement – A Global Crisis?– explored this topic in depth.
Specifically in the area of indoor cycling, we’re seeing growing interest in technology that captures the energy riders put through the pedals, turning it into electricity.
One exciting pilot project is underway at Gold’s Gym Campus Europe in Berlin – an impressive 5,200sq m, CO2- and climate-neutral facility that’s the first gym in Europe to achieve LEED Platinum status. Two years ago, in partnership with the Technical University of Berlin, Gold’s Gym developed cutting-edge technology that it embedded in 150 ‘Boost Bikes’. Not all are currently in use, the quantity scaled back to meet everyday class requirements, but when all 150 are in action, they can generate “enough electricity each month to shave one million men”, says Pierre Geisensetter, head of brand & communications at Gold’s Gym.
In practice, the electricity generated is captured and used within the Gold’s Gym campus, where other trailblazing innovations include 10m-tall trees in the gym’s endurance area that filter out pollutants from the air; extremely hard-wearing floors made from discarded car tyres and cork; a cogeneration unit that runs on biogas; solar panels that harness the sun’s energy; and wall tiles made from recycled computer monitors.
Gold’s Gym isn’t the only operator to be capturing human power from bikes, of course: we’ve previously reported on the commitment of Terra Halein the UK, while numerous clubs around the world are using SportsArt’s ECO-POWR equipment to convert muscle power into electricity.
The Gold’s Gym project is, however, the largest we’ve come across in this space, and it harnesses proprietary technology. The RSG Group is clearly keeping the innovative, boundary-pushing vision of its late founder Rainer Schaller alive, making this initiative one to certainly keep an eye on.
“Being able to see real-time energy production provides a layer of meaningfulness to breaking a sweat”
Meanwhile, a great ECO-POWR example comes from The Imaginarium in Rochester, NY, US – a 836sq m, Net Zero showcase that includes a gym where 21 pieces of equipment generate 5 per cent of the building’s electricity requirements. The remainder comes from 92 solar panels (60 per cent) and two small wind turbines (35 per cent).
The 17 group cycling bikes, two recumbent bikes and two ellipticals have consoles that display Human Watts and Grid Watts: the former the electricity the user is generating, the latter what’s actually going back to the grid – always slightly lower, as ECO-POWR needs some electricity to operate.
Five per cent may not be a huge number, acknowledge The Imaginarium team, but “it’s a very visual and direct way visitors can contribute to our Net Zero energy goal. Being able to see real-time energy production provides a layer of meaningfulness to breaking a sweat and brings a new understanding to how small changes or shifts in everyday activities can be a part of a larger movement.”
“Plastic, and more specifically society’s excessive use of it, is putting our planet under huge pressure,” says Uffe A Olesen, CEO at BODY BIKE International.
“We see garbage islands the size of continents gathering in ocean currents and marine life perishing. Meanwhile, on the land, it’s hard to go anywhere without seeing plastic bags and packaging strewn around the place – a terrible human footprint on the planet.
“It’s an unacceptable situation, but at BODY BIKE we believe that if we all do our small part, we can begin to redress the balance.
“This is just the beginning for us: we’re determined to set new standards for sustainability in fitness equipment”
“We first put our passion into action when we launched BODY BIKE Smart+ OceanIX in 2019: the first piece of commercial gym equipment in the world to be manufactured using recycled plastic fishing nets. It just felt like the right thing to do, and we did it without any compromise in the quality of the product or the ride experience.
“Available in just one distinctive colour – the ocean blue of the recycled nets – OceanIX has proved very popular, accounting for around 20 per cent of our production. Because it isn’t just a piece of gym equipment. It’s part of a cause, and something that appeals to everyone who wants to do their bit for the planet.
“Off the back of this success, we challenged ourselves to expand our sustainable range and turned our attention to land-based waste. The hunt began for recycled ABS – the strong, stable, highly resistant plastic we already use in the manufacture of our bike covers.
“The result is the new BODY BIKE Smart+ Forest Green, officially launched at FIBO in April. Manufactured using 25 per cent recycled ABS, once again we’ve achieved this without any compromise in the ride experience or product quality and durability. It also looks great: I’ve always wanted to do a bike in the deep green of classic cars, and combined with the black metalwork it delivers a very high-class finish.
“And this is just the beginning for us: we’re determined to set new standards for sustainability in fitness equipment. So we will keep exploring. We will keep going further in our search for sustainable materials that also support our quality standards.
“These bikes cost more to manufacture – a fact of working with recycled materials – but we price them the same as our other bikes. We don’t want to put any obstacles in the way of people making sustainable decisions.
“Our goal is now to bring all our existing models of BODY BIKE in line with these new sustainability standards within the next two years, incorporating a minimum of 25 per cent recycled ABS in the manufacture of every model and every one of our 10 case colours. I see this as my personal mission.”
“People talk about organic cotton and clothing made from recycled plastic, but I’m afraid this is greenwashing that avoids the fundamental truth,” says Troels Vest Jensen, CMO at Danish sportswear specialist Fusion. “Textiles are not sustainable, meaning the fashion industry’s biggest problem is over-consumption.”
“Textiles are not sustainable, so it matters how long you use a product. You also shouldn’t produce more than you can sell.”
He continues: “Our approach to sustainability is therefore based on two vital factors. First, it matters how long you use a product. Second, you shouldn’t produce more than you can sell.
“In Denmark, the average organic cotton T-shirt is worn just seven times before it’s discarded, but it takes 1,500 litres of water to create that T-shirt. How is that sustainable? The Danish Consumer Council also found CO2 from production could be reduced by 44 per cent if all clothing were worn twice as much.
“Meanwhile, many retailers pre-order cheap clothes in bulk from China, based on little more than educated guesses as to what consumers might want to purchase by the time the stock arrives months later. They end up with the wrong items, and too many of them, so have to discount to get rid of it all. Some even burn it.
“Fusion does things differently. We’re based in Denmark, manufacture in Lithuania in small batches – we receive new product twice a week – and ship only to countries where we can deliver within two to three days. It means the retailers we work with always have exactly the stock they need to meet current demand: they order one week only what they know will sell the next. There’s no wastage.
“Not only that, but our sportswear isn’t about fashion. It’s about timeless design, comfort, functionality and durability, both in terms of manufacturing quality (for more information, please see Clothing for when it matters) and what we call emotional durability.
“We’re trying to shift people’s thinking around sustainability by encouraging them to feel proud about wearing old clothing. We’re certainly proud when we see our elite athletes competing in five-year-old Fusion sportswear, while our advertising shows people still training in 15-year-old Fusion wear. Our products are that good. They’re built to last. We aren’t interested in bringing out new colours each season to push people to purchase the latest look.
“This is what ‘sustainable’ really means in the world of textiles, and our processes and products are designed to deliver it.”
It’s true that in the US, Mindbody recently reported a 39 per cent drop in cycling class attendance (Jan–July 2022 vs Jan–July 2021). Yet it’s important to note that group cycling wasn’t the only discipline to feel the pinch: yoga was also down 31 per cent, dance 14 per cent, CrossFit 9 per cent. Equally important to note that this is data for a market hit by Flywheel’s demise and SoulCycle’s multiple studio closures.
Meanwhile, other brands are doing well – even in the US. Barry’s is moving ahead with the roll-out of its RIDE x LIFT concept, for example (see trend #7), while Xponential’s CycleBar now has more than 260 studios open and agreements signed to move into Japan, Australia and New Zealand.
And indoor cycling remains the #1 group exercise format in markets like the Netherlands, where concepts such as Holy Ride have been inspired and shaped by customer demand.
So, the fall isn’t universal. Indeed, as Peloton adjusts and restructures for a world in which consumers have a choice about where they exercise, it seems in-person is where it’s at once again.
The key is this: indoor cycling is still very much alive when done well. Whatever their model, fitness facilities must continue to innovate and experiment within their cycle offering to keep it relevant – a go-to workout – in an era in which Experience, with a capital E, is now the customer expectation.
Of course, there’s only so much you can do on a static bike, so experience will lean into the environment, soundtrack, community and vibe you create as much as the programming (which, incidentally, still has scope for innovation – see trends #7 and #10).
As Holy Ride’s Tom Moos told RIDE HIGH earlier this year: “Indoor cycling will become increasingly immersive and experiential. There are still a lot of dark boxes at the moment!”
#2 Boutiques buddy up
Ever since the pandemic wreaked havoc on the fitness sector, many standalone – and especially single-discipline – boutiques have been finding it particularly hard-going.
“Even pre-COVID, businesses in our sector had struggled: there were record attendances at boutique studios, but head office costs made it hard to make money,” the founders of UK-based United Fitness Brands(UFB) told us when we interviewed them in May 2022. “We realised there was an opportunity to drive significant economies of scale by joining forces.”
It therefore comes as little surprise that more and more boutique brands are ‘buddying up’, coming under one roof at head office, in-club, or both.
UFB, for example, has now brought together four boutique operations, primarily at a head office level but also via a number of dual-brand locations in London. Its founders told RIDE HIGH they now hope to create multi-brand studios in smaller cities across the UK.
Elsewhere we’re seeing different takes on buddying up. In the Netherlands, Urban Gym Group (UGG) has brought multiple fitness brands under its umbrella, including boutique brand HIGH STUDIOS. Offering strategic guidance, shared resources and a cluster approach to conquer target cities – notably Amsterdam – with its portfolio of brands, UGG has also grown the reach of HIGH STUDIOS by creating HIGH-branded group exercise studios inside its ClubSportive and Trainmore clubs.
“Ever since the pandemic, many standalone and single-discipline boutiques have found it hard-going”
Then there’s newcomer Drop Fitness (see our chat with founder Jeb Balise in our special cost of living supplement: A Global Crisis?). Drop opened its inaugural site in New Jersey, US, in May 2022, bringing together four existing, third-party, best-in-class boutique brands alongside private training and a gym floor. All available on a ‘pay for what you want, when you want’ basis, Drop pays each boutique brand a revenue share.
“It’s a great way for boutique brands to grow and scale across the country, beyond the big cities where they traditionally operate,” says Balise. “For a boutique to come out to the suburbs on its own would cost so much time, energy and money, all for a 2,000sq ft space. Town planning permissions can sometimes be brutal, and doing it for a 25,000sq ft space is much more efficient.”
Expect to see more of this in 2023 as boutiques battle to weather not only the repercussions of the pandemic, but now also the energy crisis, spiralling inflation and expectations of salary increases.
#3 A sustainable agenda
Environmental sustainability has been on the agenda of most businesses for years now, and we’ve seen some moves in the right direction within the indoor cycling sector. Operators such as the UK’s 1Rebel have been free from single-use plastic for a while now, for example, while Terra Hale markets itself as ‘London’s first eco-friendly fitness destination’, generating electricity from its indoor cycling classes (see our special supplement:A Global Crisis?)
From a supplier perspective, BODY BIKE OceanIX is the eco-warrior’s indoor bike – the first in the world to be manufactured using plastic from recycled fishing nets – and in 2021, BODY BIKE also launched a best-in-class eCargo bike. “It’s a bit of a departure from our usual fitness sector territory, but we have the capacity in our factory and it just feels like the next ‘right thing to do’,” said CEO Uffe A Olesen.
But as the energy crisis ramps up, gas and electricity prices threaten the very existence of our sector and the world accelerates towards a climate crisis, clubs can’t view sustainability as a mere passion project. It has to be embedded at the heart of what we do – and as Terra Hale proves, bikes aren’t just energy-efficient thanks to not needing power. They can also be energy generators. Now is the time to explore this potential.
“Bikes aren’t just energy-efficient thanks to not needing power. They can also be energy generators.”
#4 No digital divide
Over recent years, hybrid models have been the hot topic of the fitness sector. Now the buzzword is ‘omnichannel’.
“As the number of channels proliferates, equal importance must be given to digital and in-person,” advised Paul Bowman, CEO of Wexer, in RIDE HIGH #16. “Every customer will use multiple touchpoints and expect to dive straight in to a familiar experience each time.
“The challenge for clubs is to deliver exactly the same user experience whatever the point of entry.”
While we’re seeing a growing number of third parties creating digital content for both in-club and at-home use, Bowman believes clubs’ own star trainers are key to a consistent experience. It’s why Wexer’s ecosystem now allows clubs to stream self-produced content not only to at-home digital platforms, but also onto the big screen of in-club virtual studios.
“Every club operator should maximise opportunities to put their own stars in front of their customers”
“If you’re looking for an advantage over the big digital players and the global fitness influencers, your team of local rockstars with their loyal member followings is it,” Bowman advises. “Every club operator should be maximising opportunities to put these stars in front of customers, both on-site and at-home. And that means creating digital content fronted by them.”
For a great example, look no further than Thailand’s trailblazing Absolute Group, which was quick off the mark in identifying the dual value of digital content for at-home as well as in-club, launching its Absolute X hybrid studio concept in 2022.
“With this second distribution channel, we’re very happy to continue investing in high-quality digital content,” confirms founder and CEO Ben Karoonkornsakul.
It can be an expensive undertaking, yet members will forgive lower production quality if they’re seeing their favourite instructors on-screen. Expect more branded digital experiences that cost-effectively maximise yield and usage of cycling studios, as well as supporting members at home.
#5 A new reality
In summer 2022, RIDE HIGH spoke to Emma Barry – global fitness authority and renowned group exercise expert – and Les Mills legend Steven Renata about indoor cycling past, present and future.
In our chat, Barry was hugely enthusiastic about the digital innovations coming down the line for group cycling. Some of the topics she touched on might reasonably expect to be a trend in their own right, but in our top 10 we’ve pushed them all together into one digital innovations trend that hints at an exhilarating future for indoor cycling.
We’re talking AR, VR, the metaverse. “Anything that brings digital enhancement into the real world for an extended, mixed reality – especially when it includes a social element of cycling together, remotely,” says Barry.
“We’ve seen the rise and fall of Peloton and friends, but they’ve unquestionably given a huge nod to health and wellness along the way, driving up awareness of fitness and just how good the experience can be, as well as showing us all how ‘sticky’ an online community can be.”
She continues: “Once they get the eyewear down, the bike is the perfect tool for AR and VR. We already wear sunglasses when we’re riding outside, so once the headsets aren’t so large and sweat-inducing, that’s going to be very interesting. We’ll literally be able to be in another world as we cycle.
“AR will be able to transpose all kinds of information and metrics to those who are motivated by data”
“AR will be able to transpose all kinds of information and metrics to those motivated by data: personalised power output, position in the pack, headwind, lighting, direction cues and so on. VR will be able to emulate and enhance existing worlds, such as the great races around the globe: the Ironman World Championship in Kona, the Tour de France, the Red Bull UCI Pump Track World Champs. We’ll be able to achieve unlimited participation and presumably get to sync data to achieve validated comparison.
“Weaving in and out of the metaverse – the meeting place of different realities – will become more seamless and enhanced over the next 20 years as we take our data and avatars with us across the various worlds to achieve our own unique goals.
“Finally, one really cool thing I saw at CES 2020 was Delta Airlines’ unveiling of Parallel Reality, designed to tailor a passenger’s experience using biometrics. We’re talking complete immersion in an opt-in, personalised experience – and it’s now being trialled at Detroit airport.
“Essentially, multiple passengers can look at the same screen but only see their own unique travel data: their flight information and directions to the gate, weather at their final destination, directions to a Sky Club – all in the language of the passenger’s choice.
“It’s not too much of a stretch to see how the fitness data we already cast to screens – heart rate, for example – could be expanded on and personalised in an equally meaningful way.”
While it’s true that not everyone wants to focus on metrics in their workouts – it’s why rhythm cycling has become so popular the world over – nevertheless there are many fitness fans around the world who like to keep track of their progress. And of course, whether you’re an app developer or club operator, this data can be gold dust; used well, it is the source of unparalleled behavioural insights and the basis of a personalised experience.
Yet the question remains: who owns this data? And increasingly the answer is: the individual. If you buy into that – and at RIDE HIGH, we do – then our role as fitness providers must be to help people make sense of their data, giving them the insights and understanding they need to plot their next steps, without overstepping the privacy mark.
This will be a challenge as exercisers increasingly mix and match workout locations and platforms; it will first require a willingness to openly share data across platforms, so the individual can opt into and be presented with one cohesive picture of their efforts.
This is why BODY BIKE has already done away with consoles, instead allowing exercisers to download its app and use their own mobile phone as their console. They then immediately take their data away with them at the end of each workout. It’s also why the BODY BIKE Strava club was created, allowing exercisers to upload their BODY BIKE indoor cycling workouts into their Strava account. They can then share workout data with fellow enthusiasts and access a full record of all their cycling sessions in one place.
We need more of this moving forward, putting members and their progress first by making data sharing easier – especially if we are to avoid tech fatigue as digital solutions continue to proliferate and it becomes harder and harder to access one clear picture.
#7 Fusion workouts
We’ve reported previously on the growth of fusion cycling classes and now, in 2023, this trend looks set to go up another gear, with the likes of Barry’s rolling out RIDE x LIFT.
The class follows Barry’s tried-and-tested formula, whereby members alternate between cardio and strength-based programming. In this case, however, the bike replaces the treadmill of the brand’s signature bootcamp class, making for a more accessible and lower-impact workout.
Why is this trend so interesting? Because it ticks so many boxes: a chance for operators to create something unique for their clubs – a signature, branded experience – and for members to take part in a ‘bang for their buck’ workout that keeps them engaged, gives them a great all-round workout and offers high perceived value for money.
As clubs continue to innovate to keep their cycling workouts fresh, fusion classes will become an increasingly popular tool.
#8 An educational experience
The future of indoor cycling will, we hope, see instructor education become more specialised.
RIDE HIGH recently spoke to Angela Reed-Fox of the Indoor Cycling Institute, who told us: “Many instructors just want to excel at indoor cycling: the discipline is heading into its own space and that’s entirely right.
“I believe it’s outdated to expect instructors to also have a certificate in gym instructing, PT or exercise to music. Cycling shouldn’t be CPD on top of one of those qualifications. Rather, there should be regularly updated, indoor cycling CPD on top of a dedicated, entry-level indoor cycling certificate.”
Hear absolutely hear. For an excellent discussion on how indoor cycling education and qualifications need to evolve to give us the instructor workforce we need for the future, check out our recent panel discussion here.
“Many instructors just want to excel at indoor cycling: the discipline is heading into its own space and that’s entirely right. It shouldn’t be CPD on top of other qualifications”
But what about instructors? For a long time almost disregarded in this respect – expected to simply keep going, churning out class after class after class with little rest – attention is finally turning to helping indoor cycling instructors avoid downtime through illness and injury, and ultimately extend their careers.
In the UK, Susie Millen’s My Vocal Fitness focuses on preserving instructor voices. RIDE HIGH stalwart Noël Nocciolo does similar in the US under the banner of PEP for FitPros.
“As fitness professionals, we learn about almost every muscle in the body,” says Millen. “Rarely, though, are we taught how to use our voice or a microphone effectively. The result: instructors across the planet aren’t vocally ready to teach the volume of classes they’re timetabled to deliver each week. Their voices become unreliable, deteriorating, even lost.”
Meanwhile, power training expert Hunter Allen recently offered RIDE HIGH some incredible insights into the physiological strain placed on cycling instructors’ bodies, in a fascinating feature on the Training Stress Score.
“After six weeks of instructing two cycling classes a day, an instructor’s chronic training load could be 160 – the same as a pro cyclist at the end of the Tour de France,” he explained. Little wonder, then, that injury and illness are so common among frequently timetabled cycle studio stars.
Our view: when it comes to our workforce, it shouldn’t just be about recovery. We need to see a much greater focus on prevention of injury and strain, bringing longevity to instructors’ careers in a healthy and sustainable way.
#10 A broader church
Over the last couple of years, we’ve seen fitness newcomers finally turning to our sector, their newfound appreciation of our value born from the pandemic. In turn, a more diverse global member base is gathering – one that spans a broad range of fitness levels, experiences and expectations.
On the one hand, says global fitness authority Emma Barry, there are now more people enjoying ‘The Sport of Fitness’ – being fit for fit’s sake and finding a favourite exercise genre, rather than training to be fit for a sport.
Yet at the same time, we’re also in an era when – still jaded by the pandemic – many are exercising for reasons that are as much mental, emotional and even spiritual as they are physical. “People are looking for entertainment, they’re looking for release, and most of all, at this time in history, they’re looking for joy and hope,” confirms Barry.
This diversity in the member base holds an important lesson for indoor cycling instructors and providers, as Tash Marshall Bean explained in a recent interview with RIDE HIGH: “With the pandemic bringing a wave of new people into fitness, it’s more important than ever that we take classes back to basics.
“I’m currently seeing far too many instructors making the choreography too complicated for their riders and leaving people behind. Every single participant must feel successful, and instructors must (re)learn how to integrate new riders with well-versed riders to achieve this.”
“The more generic the experience, the less likely you are to really engage someone. We need targeted classes.”
Even better, said Louise Ager in the same panel discussion, would be a return to “diversity in class styles to support a broader audience in indoor cycling”.
She added: “The more generic the experience, the less likely you are to really engage someone. We need targeted classes that have a purpose and an intentional audience: classes for beginners, for overweight people, for seniors, for endurance enthusiasts, for those short of time, for fans of different music genres.”
This conscious targeting is exactly what House of Workouts has done with the launch of its new SclptCycle programme.
One thing is for sure: moving forward the indoor cycling sector must work to ensure its product delivers strongly to an increasingly diverse audience.
Around the world, news headlines spotlight a spiralling cost of living crisis, with inflation rampant, the cost of energy and food rocketing, businesses closing in the face of unmanageable bills and consumer disposable income heavily squeezed.
With the war in Ukraine on its doorstep and a traditionally heavy reliance on Russian gas, Europe feels especially embattled; in the fitness sector, trade associations are firing warning signals about existential threats to business.
The challenges aren’t limited to Europe, however, although not every country is feeling the same pinch: we spoke to a health club operator in Saudi Arabia who told us the cost of living crisis was “not something they were experiencing”.
So, how is our sector faring in different parts of the globe? We speak to operators across Europe, Asia-Pacific, Africa and the Americas to understand the region-by-region challenges facing our sector at the moment, and the strategies that might be deployed to navigate them.
When you have two group exercise legends in one room, well, it would have been rude not to have popped them in front of the camera to hear their recollections of the last 25 years of indoor cycling.
Clear your diary for the next seven and a half minutes and watch as Emma Barry and Steven Renata share not only their memories and anecdotes, but also their predictions for what happens next in the world of indoor cycling.
We’re talking metaverse, data, the sport of fitness and the quest for joy.That’s quite some leap forward from the stories they share of wheeling bikes in and out of a multi-purpose aerobics studio.
Oh, and thanks to Steven for the shout-out for RIDE HIGH, now officially “the world’s biggest cycle club”. Love it!
“this video is what it’s all about. This is what sets indoor cycling apart. This is why the world needs to ride.”
– So says Uffe A Olesen, CEO of BODY BIKE International. Click on the link below to soak in the vibe of the event and see why he’s still buzzing in its aftermath…
Let’s jump straight to the punchline, shall we?
Amid what’s being dubbed a global “live revival” – fitness fans flocking back to gyms and health clubs post-lockdown, seeking greater motivation and social connection after months of solitary home workouts – indoor cycling is enjoying its own revival.
From fifth most popular group exercise format in 2018, indoor cycling has leapt up the ranks to claim second place in 2021, favoured by 30 per cent of group exercise participants and sitting just behind HIIT (31 per cent). Note, too, that these figures are global; in the US, UK and China, indoor cycling is the #1 class format.
These are just some of the stats from the Les Mills 2021 Global Fitness Report, published in September and sharing insights from 12,157 consumers across five continents.
“Those who do cycle classes attend their club more frequently than non-class gym members: 4 versus 3.5 times a week”
Creating good habits
Indoor cycling being on the global group exercise podium was, of course, already music to the ears of all of us at RIDE HIGH – but we didn’t want to stop there. Instead, we asked the Les Mills team to dig a little deeper into the data to see what else they could tell us about indoor cycling.
What really grabbed our attention was the fact that indoor cycle class users have ‘better’ behaviours compared to other gym-goers. The differences might be small, yet cycling consistently comes out on top.
Those who do cycle classes attend their club more frequently than non-class gym members (4 times a week versus 3.5 times a week). They also have slightly longer gym tenure (3 years) than those who do other class formats (2.8 years), or who don’t take part in classes at all (2.7 years).
Cycle class participants also do very slightly more classes a week (3.4, including but not necessarily exclusively cycling) than those who don’t cycle at all (3.3 classes a week).
In terms of all-round exercise habits, indoor cyclists also exercise more frequently than participants of other class types (4.9 versus 4.7 times a week on average, with these figures including all forms of in- and out-of-club exercise).
It’s also great that cycling extends all of this to males as well as females, with men more likely to take part in indoor cycling than other types of class: 52 per cent of cycle participants are male, versus an average 44 per cent across other class types.
“Lockdown has spawned a new generation of fitness fans: 27 per cent of regular exercisers describe themselves as absolute beginners”
Priorities have also changed over the last three years, although this isn’t unique to indoor cyclists.
Back in 2018, the top three things class participants looked for across the board were quality of instructor, time of day and type of class. Now, although quality of instructor is still the #1 priority, music comes second – up from sixth place in 2018 – followed by quality of equipment, up from 10th place.
The latter two priorities are particularly marked among indoor cyclists, who are more likely to look for quality music than those doing other classes (27 versus 23 per cent) and quality equipment (25 versus 21 per cent).
This has major implications for operators, who must acknowledge they are now catering for members seeking a quality experience, not simply a convenient workout.
Another interesting equipment-related finding is this: that in spite of the far larger price tag, a stationary bike is the third most popular piece of home fitness equipment, after dumbbells at #1 and yoga mats at #2.
Let’s now set all of this against the backdrop painted by the Les Mills report – one in which the pandemic has changed fitness habits potentially forever, with key trends emerging that will shape workouts in the years to come.
The pandemic has prompted consumers to prioritise their health, presenting fitness providers with growth opportunities as clubs return to full capacity.
Among Les Mills survey respondents, 50 per cent say they are now focusing more on their wellbeing than pre-COVID. An impressive 82 per cent say they regularly exercise, or plan to do so soon, and 75 per cent of this group do gym-type activities. Club visits per member are also up 10 per cent in markets where restrictions are no longer in place.
Lockdown has also spawned a new generation of fitness fans who have taken tentative first steps into fitness and are now deciding what comes next, with 27 per cent of regular exercisers describing themselves as ‘absolute beginners’.
Opportunities abound for operators who can appeal to these groups and understand the unique barriers they face: although 81 per cent of beginners are interested in group activities, 66 per cent say they currently prefer to exercise alone, suggesting a confidence chasm that needs to be bridged before beginners feel fully comfortable.
“Indoor cyclists are significantly more likely to look for quality music and quality equipment than those doing other types of class ”
Instructors and club teams have a key role to play in ensuring beginners feel welcome, while helping them find their intrinsic motivation to exercise that will be key to their long-term adherence.
After a year of enforced home workouts, appetite for live fitness experiences in groups is soaring: two-thirds of gym members (67 per cent) say they prefer working out in groups, 85 per cent say they’re interested in trying live classes in their facility, and live fitness classes are the single most popular gym-type activity (29 per cent of members).
Meanwhile, at the time of the Les Mills research, class attendance had reached 119 per cent of pre-COVID levels in markets where capacity restrictions had lifted, with live classes in club nearly twice as popular as livestream classes at home (favoured by 44 versus 23 per cent of members respectively).
The human touch
With consumer desire for social connection driving the live revival, it’s perhaps inevitable that clubs’ own people have a vital role to play. As noted previously, rockstar instructors are the single most important factor for gym-goers when choosing a live class: 28 per cent of all participants name this as a priority. Rockstars are also key to driving referrals.
Having great people is also particularly important for winning new members: 30 per cent of prospects say ‘a good atmosphere’ is key when choosing a gym to join – pushing ‘the facilities’ into fourth place – while 59 per cent say the staff are a key factor.
After the rapid digitalisation of fitness during lockdown, it will come as no surprise that omnichannel fitness – a blend of in-gym and digital home workouts – is tipped to gain traction as we emerge from the pandemic: 59 per cent of exercisers say they now favour a 60:40 split between gym and home workouts.
Far from being simple stop-gaps to tide the industry over during the COVID pandemic, livestream and on-demand have become vital additions to clubs’ long-term digital offerings, with 80 per cent of members planning to continue using them post-pandemic.
“Class attendance has reached 119 per cent of pre-COVID levels in markets where capacity restrictions have lifted”
Live fitness experiences may remain the pinnacle – 62 per cent still do more than half their workouts at the gym – but the digital fitness boom and the growth of home-working mean today’s fitness consumers demand a connected fitness experience that offers convenience and enables them to maintain a more active lifestyle. The evidence? A whopping 84 per cent of gym members also work out at home, and digital fitness users exercise 22 per cent more frequently than live-only exercisers.
Seamlessly linking live and digital will be key to clubs’ success moving forward.
Quality as a USP
In a world of endless quantity – especially online, with the likes of YouTube chock-full of free-to-use, often pretty average fitness content – it’s never been more vital to focus on quality. Operators need to provide world-class content, both in and out of club, to keep members engaged and willing to pay.
With this in mind, it’s important to understand member preferences, and Les Mills found 86 per cent of group exercisers prefer branded classes. Meanwhile 62 per cent say the quality of the music, instructors, equipment and choreography are key to deciding which classes they attend.
Also note that 58 per cent of members say they would likely cancel their membership if their gym took away their favourite class.
Employers are increasingly coming to recognise the benefits of an active workforce – and their responsibility to support this – while employees are gravitating towards companies that care. This creates lucrative opportunities for omnichannel fitness providers to proffer their services and reach new audiences.
For clubs, the ability to demonstrate the scientifically proven impact of their workouts will be key to winning in the workplace wellness market, where ROI carries great weight among decision-makers.
Download your complimentary copy of the Les Mills 2021 Global Fitness Report here.
If I think about the group cycling classes I’ve done, from rhythm to immersive to traditional ‘fitness cycling’, I struggle to think of (m)any where recovery was a real focus. There’s usually a token stretch track at the end. There are always some tracks where we pedal harder than others. But cycling concepts that have actively focused on recovery? Not really – and I started to wonder why.
We know the recovery time between workouts is key to extracting maximum gains from those workouts. Elite athletes have known that for years, and it’s presumably part of Peloton’s rationale in relaunching Peloton Yoga earlier this year. But what about recovery as an integral part of the workout experience?
Baking recovery in
What sparked my thinking was reading about a new initiative from London-based boutique operator Digme Fitness, which partnered with Hyperice during lockdown to offer at-home recovery programmes for its members. Getting in touch for this feature, I discovered this concept was now expanding in-club, with a dedicated ‘Recovery Space powered by Hyperice’ launched at its Moorgate studio last month. More on that in just a moment.
And what about during class? My thoughts moved on to Victus Soul, another London-based boutique whose founders I interviewed when the studio opened a few years back. Here, a full five to seven minutes of every HIIT class is spent on active recovery, with members educated around the importance of this. We’ve brought co-founder Paul Trendell in to share his insights as part of this RIDE HIGH discussion.
So, I started wondering, are other cycling operators missing a trick in not building more recovery into their class schedules, both from a physical and a mental health perspective? And certainly post-COVID – with many people’s fitness levels having taken a hit – might baking recovery into the programming itself make cycling more of an achievable re-entry point to regular exercise?
Our chats with experts from across the sector make for interesting reading…
A dedicated recovery space
Geoff Bamber – CEO, Digme Fitness
“In 2020, we witnessed an increased interest in 360° wellbeing, with our members starting to look at improving all aspects of health – not just exercise but also nutrition, sleep, stress and mindfulness. In the process, they became even savvier about their workouts and the tools needed to maximise and improve their performance. Recovery is, of course, a key part of that.
“Our digital fitness director Dan Little sums it up perfectly when he says: ‘We so often neglect the need for recovery, yet it provides us with the biggest advantages when approached correctly. I would actually go as far as to say that you don’t need to train more. You need to recover more and maximise your lifestyle with purpose and confidence through recovery training.’
“We therefore partnered with Hyperice – a brand that’s safely brought technology previously reserved for elite athletes to the mass market – to launch a new ‘Recover with Hyperice’ concept to our Digme at Home offering during lockdown. This was introduced in December 2020 as a series of on-demand videos focusing on activation, maintenance and recovery.
“Using the Hyperice Hypervolt percussion gun – which we sell through the Digme Shop – and led by Digme instructors Dan, Ben, Kate and Chloe, the guided sessions range from four to 24 minutes.
“We had thousands of members taking part in Digme at Home classes throughout lockdown, so our ‘Recover – Powered by Hyperice’ sessions were designed to complement these, each targeting different muscle groups so members could choose the most suitable one based on their activity.
“The launch went incredibly well – we sold out of the products in the first week – so we’ve now brought recovery into our studios, too. Our members want to be able to work out more frequently, avoid injury and maximise their performance. Our focus on recovery supports this.
A new recovery space
“Last month, we launched a new Recovery Space in our Moorgate studio – a first for London. It’s an open space with two Digme-branded lazy boy recliner chairs, each with their own Hyperice Normatec system. This uses dynamic air compression to deliver a restorative leg massage, bespoke to the user’s needs, that’s been shown to increase circulation and improve recovery rates.
“We also provide noise-cancelling Urbanista headphones so members can zone out and enjoy their recovery session in peace.
“Our members want to be able to work out more frequently, avoid injury and maximise their performance. Our focus on recovery supports this.”
“With a retail price of £1,195, the Normatec product isn’t as affordable for members to purchase for home use, but recovery is so important to our members that we wanted to make it available in-studio. We’ve initially launched with a 25-minute session that costs one class credit (£22 for a single credit; reduced rates for credit packs) and are creating content – in collaboration with the Hyperice team – to educate our members on the benefits of recovery for their training.
“In our other studios, we’ve introduced Hyperice Recovery Towers: two Hyperice Hypervolt percussion guns, two Hyperice Hypersphere vibrating massage balls and two Hyperice Vyper vibrating fitness rollers. Members can use these for free between scheduled classes, with our on-demand recovery sessions still available to follow through the Digme app.”
Recovery for health
Odile Philipson – Group cycling instructor & Vinyasa Yoga teacher
“We cannot live at 100mph permanently. We cannot push our bodies (and brains) all the time without repercussions. For every action, there’s a reaction.
“I start with that principle and I ask myself: ‘When I make the class do X working zone, what effect does that create in their bodies? What do they need to be able to continue in an optimum manner after that zone?’
“Active recovery phases do that job, giving enough time to recover without cooling down too much. Post-training recovery, even a post-cycle yoga class, completes the reset of body and mind.
“It’s why I use recovery zones at various stages of each class, giving members the tools to achieve the training and feel great at the end.
Integral to the programme
“To integrate active recovery within an indoor cycling class, it helps to understand aerobic vs anaerobic training zones and how the body handles each. It also helps, as an instructor, to remember that members’ bodies will respond differently from yours. I encourage everyone to listen to and respect their bodies, accept there will be good and bad days, and recognise when to push and when not.
“I always instruct extra recovery time for beginners, too: ‘If you need to take a break, here’s a good place for it. If you want to stay with me for a more active recovery, continue at ‘X’ RPM.’
“How I choose the active recovery length depends on the effort theme of the class: pyramid training, endurance training, Russian steps, neuromuscular intervals, a mix of endurance/ hills/ sprints… All require different active recovery lengths.
“Cycling studios are high-energy places where egos wind themselves up into a tizz of competitiveness”
“For example, if we’ve just done a pyramid section and I know there’s another coming, I’ll make the class take a four- to five-minute recovery. Without this, they won’t be at their optimum – in terms of heart rate, lactic acid or rate of perceived exertion – to give their best effort in the second pyramid. They’ll find it too hard, give up on the effort and not have that happy feeling of achievement at the end.
A need for education
“It can be a hard message to promote, though, because group cycling studios are high-energy places where egos and minds wind themselves up into a tizz of competitiveness. I do my best to guide everyone through the correct zones in a controlled manner, but not everyone will listen.
“Indeed, before I’d built up trust among my regulars, I could feel the energy in the room change when I made participants take a longer mid-class break than they were used to. Two minutes into the recovery, I could almost see a ‘this is boring’ thought bubble above some of their heads, and they’d start pedalling too hard again.
“Equally, though, I could also see the discrete nods of agreement from triathletes and road cyclists, as they already appreciated the importance of active recovery – of reining in your ego for long-term health and fitness.
“During longer recoveries, I therefore explain the ‘why’ – I call it ‘the science bit’ – and remind members of what’s coming in the next working phase. When we’re halfway through that work and I remind them of the long recovery, they understand why we did it!
“Ultimately, recovery is part of training. It makes you stronger, keeps you safe from injury and protects your immune system. All the top athletes and coaches know this. We have to adapt it for recreational indoor cyclists, but the science and logic stands whoever you are.
“Recovery is an almost invisible investment. It requires education, a leap of faith and a long-term vision”
“In fact, recovery is arguably even more important for the amateur than for the professional. A professional can be supported with regular massage, coaching, monitoring for anomalous physical response, training programmes with integrated recovery which may include enforced rest. Amateurs’ bodies and minds are dealing with a job, potentially sub-optimal nutrition, stress and fatigue from other areas. They come to class to forget their troubles, get fit and finish up feeling good about themselves. Recovery in the right places will help them achieve that.
“So, I do hope the future culture of cycling won’t just be about who has the highest Watt output or the fastest sprint RPM.
“Recovery is an almost invisible investment, though. It requires education, a leap of faith and a long-term vision.”
Fusing mental & physical health
Veronika Becker – Area station manager, FIRE Fitness
“Recovery is so important after any HIIT session, ensuring you stretch out the muscles that have become compacted during the workout, but it’s especially important after a cycling class. Sitting on a bike, you’re in a forward lean with your hip flexors doing most of the hard work. If you also work at a desk, you’ll be in a similar position for most of the day, making it even more important to stretch.
“But not everyone realises this, or wants to do a pure recovery class, which is why we created RIDE YOGA – a class that focuses first on your cardio, with 30 minutes of heart-pumping sprints and climbs on a bike, then 15 minutes of FIRE Yoga.
“The way we see it: not everyone will use up a class credit for a recovery class, but if they do RIDE YOGA, they at least get 15 minutes of it.
Yoga for all
“In RIDE YOGA, there’s an element of recovery between songs during the ride, but really this 30 minutes is about pushing yourself. It’s only in the final 15 minutes that we celebrate the wins, cool down and stretch. That’s enough to reduce lactic acid and soreness, eliminate toxins, keep muscles flexible, increase blood flow and focus on yourself.
“Our trainers decide which yoga movements to do based on the intensity of the ride and how much yoga experience participants have. We generally focus on simpler moves, though, as the class attracts lots of people who don’t normally ‘do’ yoga.
“Not everyone will use up a class credit for a recovery class, but if they do RIDE YOGA, they at least get 15 minutes”
“The moves also vary by time of day. In the morning, a smooth, easy flow lengthens and resets the body after RIDE, bringing energy and balance to start the day. In the evening, we opt for something a lot more restorative; the ride uses up whatever energy we have left from the day, then we go to the mat to ease physical and mental tension, helping us start the next day feeling fresh.
“We use recovery-orientated vocabulary throughout the 15 minutes and don’t make it too spiritual; the words you choose as a trainer are so important in creating the right mental images. Most trainers set a topic for the day and focus on that, with a few mindful reminders, and we find fans enjoy the educational element.
“For some of the men in particular, it’s their only yoga for the week, but the stretching means they aren’t sore the next day and are ready to train again. They get more out of every workout and report fewer injuries.
Mental meets physical
“And this is so important to understand: if you do the same exercises repeatedly, you end up with imbalances in your body that increase the risk of over-use injuries. That’s bad news for members, whose workout routines take a hit, and bad news for operators, because it can create negativity towards your programmes.
“Since lockdown, fitness enthusiasts are looking to combine their physical and mental wellbeing in one class”
“It’s why we take recovery very seriously and continuously educate our fans, and we’re finding interest in recovery classes is rising.
“As a result, I recently created a class called REGENERATE, which is completely focused around stretching, fascia release and core strength for stability. We use foam rollers, balls and yoga movements, and are about to take it to the next level by introducing Hyperice massage guns and Hypersphere massage balls. We run these classes at the weekend and are over the moon with how they’ve been received to date. Once people realise how good it makes them feel, they usually come back for more.
“Another interesting trend is the growing number of people who, since lockdown, have recognised the deep connect between physical and mental health. We’ve experienced a rise in fitness enthusiasts looking for ways to combine their physical and mental wellbeing in one class, rather than as two separate activities. If you, as an operator, can offer a hybrid class that embraces both mental and physical, I believe you’ll be able to satisfy a market you may not have attracted before.”
Do HIIT responsibly – Paul Trendell, co-founder, Victus Soul
“When we first came up with the Victus Soul concept – combining running, boxing, HIIT and recovery – the idea that people would spend up to seven minutes on recovery at the end of a HIIT class was unheard of. The norm was a couple of minutes of cool-down.
“We deliberately set out to do things differently, with the final five to seven minutes of every Victus Soul class dedicated to active recovery built around a primal movement flow.
“Why? Because proper recovery is crucial for continual improvement. That’s as true for indoor cycling as it is any other form of high-intensity exercise.
“Active recovery reduces the build-up of lactic acid and minimises post-exercise stiffness, helps alleviate fatigue, promotes blood flow to joints and muscles and allows some recovery time for the mind, too.
“But it does require education. At the beginning, many people dismissed the idea of spending so long on recovery and would leave before the end of class. Very few people do so now, though. They’ve come to appreciate that, given the appropriate rate and type of recovery, higher training volumes and intensities are ultimately achievable without the detrimental effects of over-training. They’re able to do more sessions.
“We’re so convinced of the value of active recovery that we almost see it as ‘doing HIIT responsibly’.”
Missing a trick? – Richard Earney, national director of programming, Midtown Athletic Clubs
“Whether you’re a die-hard spinner or a weekend warrior, all the HIIT- and HISS-style classes on gyms’ timetables – coupled with a modern lifestyle that sees us hunched over a computer by day and binge-watching Netflix by night – means it’s vitally important to build some recovery and regeneration into our lives.
“Of course, HIIT and HISS has its place. It works. But too much of a good thing isn’t always a good thing.
“What’s needed is a shift in both mindset and programming, with every operator thinking about how to bake recovery and regeneration into their offering – and how to educate members along the way.
“At Midtown, we’ve built out two signature programmes: ReGen and StretchRX.
“For ReGen, think 60 minutes of myofascial release and trigger point work with foam rollers, tennis and lacrosse balls in our Samadhi (mind-body) studio. The lights are low, the room is warm, instrumental jazz plays in the background. It’s an experience: painful, but rewarding. It’s strategically placed on our group programming schedule and we’re seeing members – myself included – go out of their way to attend, building this class into their weekly routine.
“Meanwhile, the methodology of the StretchRX programme involves 30 minutes’ stretching and mobilisation using recovery and percussion tools. Carried out on massage tables in stretching and recovery areas around the club, this is a paid session delivered by a StretchRX coach.”
Know your audience – Jon Johnston, Reiver founder + UK distributor, BODY BIKE
“I suspect most gym-goers have a maximum of three or four workout days a week, which may make recovery less of a priority in their minds. However, doing nothing isn’t always the best recovery tool, and operators may be missing a trick – particularly for beginners and older adults – if they aren’t including some easier, recovery-focused (or simply steady state aerobic) cycling sessions on their timetables. A great option for a more sociable class, this is also an opportunity to educate on important but often overlooked aspects such as cadence, technique, mobility – and, of course, recovery.
“Structuring recovery into the programming is also vital for experienced, regular exercisers, albeit the format may differ. For example, the concept of polarised training – making easy sessions easy and the hard sessions properly hard – is gaining popularity in ‘serious cycling’ and has been shown to be very effective in steering riders away from a middle zone where levels of fatigue increase and improvement plateaus.
“Goal-orientated workout periodisation isn’t something clubs and studios have really got on top of yet, though. Periodisation is all about dividing a training season into smaller, more manageable phases, structuring training – including when to increase or decrease workload – to bring an individual to peak performance at the right time and manage performance across a long period.
“At the heart of this is avoiding overtraining – and with it the risks of injury, burnout and reduced workout motivation – making it as relevant to gyms as to serious cyclists. This is something the gym industry needs to get much better at, with more structure in the programming from week to week and much more focus on individual goals, fitness levels, motivation and time available to train.”
Amir Behforooz GX manager, Abu Dhabi Country Club – Les Mills presenter – Reebok ambassador
Adhere to the protocols to build trust. We have 3m spacing between our bikes, and 30 minutes between each class to clean thoroughly. We’ve increased our cleaning routine from three to 12 times a day and everyone is visibly involved – even the boss.
Consider additional measures too. Our members must wear gloves during class, and masks to enter and exit the studio. They can take their masks off while they cycle if they choose, or else keep them on and just take their workout gently.
We give all our instructors a free COVID test every month, which has given members a huge confidence boost.
Connect with your community on social media. Share videos of everything you’re doing to keep them safe. Do live Q&A sessions and don’t try to hide anything. Be honest and open.
Tell your instructors not to push people too hard in class. Many will be less fit after lockdown and most will be feeling stressed. Encourage members to take it at their own pace and just enjoy it. Our job is to make it fun and social for them.
Linked to this, my motto at the moment is ‘no more army’. You might usually enforce a ‘no mobiles in class’ rule, or turn people away if they arrive late. Drop all that for now. Relax. Make the studio as welcoming as possible. If there’s an empty bike and someone wants to come in even just for the last five minutes, I’m OK with that.
We don’t do testimonials – it could so easily backfire if a member caught COVID – but our members tag us in lots of posts and stories themselves, which helps spread confidence. Importantly, we ask members to never post photos of anyone without a mask.
I’ve instructed our trainers to choose their music very wisely, so it’s all upbeat and super-happy – the sort of music that doesn’t make you think at all, but just makes you feel good. Members want to come to the studio and leave all their cares and stresses at the door.
Don’t force instructorsto come back if theyaren’t ready. You want whoever’s on-stageto exude confidence,not fear.
Engage your superstar instructors to create a vibe that draws people in, but don’t force them to come back if they aren’t ready. You want whoever’s on-stage to exude confidence, not fear, so your members feel safe. I currently have a reduced pool of instructors as a result of this policy, but we’ve focused on energising and upskilling this group and it’s creating the right mindset in the studio.
Keep paying your instructors as well as you always did, even if your finances are stretched. Happy instructors = happy members.
Live stream every day, and take it seriously with a well-executed timetable. COVID isn’t going away any time soon, plus I’ve found members return to the club having tried new things and wanting to know more.
In-club, don’t be tempted to launch new programmes to entice people back; now is not the time to risk anything new. Instead, improve and maintain what you have already. Key to this is helping instructors understand it isn’t just about how they coach, but the way they are with members before and after class. It’s about building connection and trust, so I’ve made it compulsory for our instructors to stay at least 30 minutes after every class. They stay on their bike for social distancing, but members can then chat and ask any questions they like.
Have fall-back plans in place – a regular online timetable, for example, and small group outdoor classes – to keep members in their routines if the worst happens.
For us, getting customers back into most studio locations will depend mostly on getting them back to offices. Our customers generally fit into the low-risk categories anyway and were happy to come back to studios near them between lockdowns. In fact, our most residential location traded better whenever we were allowed to open in 2020 than it did pre-COVID.
Education around, and execution of, strong COVID safety protocols – as well as the sharing of undeniable, positive stats – should be enough for people to come back to your studios if there’s one near them. I’d also suggest it wouldn’t hurt to push out content showing people are visiting your studios.
But it’s also about positioning your studios as places to safely be around people – something so many arecraving – while also being good for physical and mental health.
WE’VE MADE A BOOM CYCLE CLASS SOMETHING TO DO AFTER DARK, FOR THAT FEELING OF GOING OUT
Show how you’re making up for the things everyone’s been missing during lockdown. We’ve reworked our schedules to make a Boom Cycle class something to do after dark, for example – an even more authentic than usual nightclub theme with the great tunes they miss and the ability to see other people at a special, later-than-usual time. It gives our community that feeling of going out, where otherwise they’d be sitting at home in their PJs, going to bed early because there’s nothing to do but watch box sets.
Of course, cycling has the advantage that the equipment can be spaced. In our studios, there’s also nobody facing anyone else head-on except the instructor, and they have a screen in front of them. Combined with a powerful air exchange system, it means we can deliver a great social experience very safely.
Social distancing will likely take some time to phase out, so we’re getting creative outside of class too, in our community-building social events. We ran candle-making workshops when we were allowed to open in 2020, for example, with everyone seated at their own workstation to which they could order beverages.
The final thing we’re doing to future-proof our business, which I appreciate not everyone will be able to do, is creating economies of scale and driving new business through a collaborative venture.
For a while we won’t be able to pack our classes as full as we used to, but we’ve just done a deal to create United Fitness Brands – founded by myself, my partner and the founder of KOBOX, Joe Cohen – to accelerate growth and drive economies of scale for our brands, and the other brands we’re looking to acquire into the group.
The identities of all UFB brands will stay separate and, from a consumer perspective, will run just as they always have to preserve hard-earned brand loyalty. However, there’ll be one head office team to drive efficiencies, while cross-pollination will be enhanced by building a Boom Cycle studio in the Kings Road KOBOX location and a KOBOX studio in the Waterloo Boom Cycle location. This will help us sweat those assets in a more efficient way, and will also give each community a view of, access to and endorsement of the other brand.
Finally, how about your instructors? Will they come back to you? This will partly depend on whether you supported them through the pandemic; all our instructors were fully employed, so they could all be on furlough. However, no matter what, nothing beats the feeling of being on the instructor bike in a live class. Digital classes will never take the place of that.
Overall, I’d say customers and instructors are craving that live class feeling. That social escapism and collective effervesce. I don’t think we need to change too much other than to be open!
Doyle Armstrong UK business manager, Intelligent Cycling – Head coach, Newark Cycle Coaching
It’s time for operators to take a really critical look at their practices and provisions, to weigh up how they will attract customers back from the safety, comfort and convenience of their home set-up. What you used to do may not be enough to get members back. Be prepared to flex and change.
Cleanliness and hygiene has to be a top priority, with a very obvious extra (and continued) effort. Make sure your ventilation is up to scratch – nobody will appreciate the lingering smell of sweat – and space your sessions to allow for a proper clean between rides, possibly employing specialist cleaning staff to ensure procedures are followed with care. Always a welcome sight even pre-pandemic, members will certainly now notice where proper cleaning is – and isn’t – in place.
Give real consideration to bike spacing within the studio, too. I truly hope that selling as many bikes as possible, for a shoulder-to-shoulder experience, will be a thing of the past – a positive long-term consequence of COVID. Considered studio design goes hand-in-hand with quality of the experience; every indoor cycle manufacturer or software provider should be advising on bike numbers, placement and orientation to guarantee the best possible experience for every rider, including their ability to engage audio-visually.
And let’s talk about experience! Exposure to world-class instruction over a variety of digital platforms throughout the pandemic has made gym-goers more discerning. If you’re simply packing old-school bikes into a room and leaving non-specialist instructors to deliver an on-the-spot session to generic music – with no consideration of your space, the programming or the experience you’re providing – you’re going to find things tough.
The discerning gym-goer has spent lockdown running, riding and working out in a clean, well-appointed space at home, at whatever time they choose. They’ve ridden Zoom sessions, tried Peloton’s app, taken up Les Mills On-Demand’s free trial offer, dabbled with Zwift, taken FTP tests, and picked the brains of a variety of online ‘experts’ to unpick their data and move forward meaningfully. They’ll be looking for at least that, and more besides, when they come back through your doors.
So, what does that ‘more’ look like? What do you offer that they can’t get riding their Peloton at home or Zwift-racing friends from the local cycling club?
The answer should be a high-quality experience that starts at the front door. Think going to the cinema, with all the trimmings, versus watching a film on Netflix at home. Greet them with a smile and by name. Start on time, shout them out, have great light, great sound, great atmosphere, great instructors, great bikes, great air con. Give them the sense of community they’ve been missing. These are just a few things you’ll need to get right.
I hope selling as many bikes as possible, for a shoulder-TO-shoulder experience, will be a thing of the past.
Members’ online experiences over the past year will mean higher expectations around your digital experiences, too, so be ready to introduce more flexibility in terms of time, type and location of workout. Help members to continue the digital fitness journey they’ve been forced to embark on.
Offer a diverse selection of indoor cycling styles in-club, including virtual on-demand throughout the day, and enable app-based connectivity to in-club displays and third-party apps like Strava and Garmin. Live stream classes for those who haven’t been able to make it in, but who still want to ride with their favourite instructors from the comfort of their own homes. Negotiate a members’ price for bike purchases with manufacturers, so they can enjoy the same commercial quality bikes at home as in the gym. Get a foot-hold in your members’ at-home experiences.
Tracy Minnoch Nuku Co-founder, FIRE Fitness -Founder, Sexy Ageing podcast
Hear from Tracy on the power of…
#1Reminding people of the feeling that initially drew them to you
#2Diving into the themes of adversity, strength and togetherness
#3Avoiding surprises through clear communication
#4Running countdowns and establishing engagement levels upfront
#5Harnessing tech for team participation challenges
#6Turning social distancing into a positive via hybrid classes
#7Supporting instructors to transition back to in-person
Sarah Morelli Director, Athleticum – Presenter – Distributor, Spinning UK & Ireland
Indoor cycling has never been a more exciting space, with the pandemic – and its stay-at-home rules – pushing growth to new heights via the virtual world. Many have purchased home bikes; instructors and operators have invested in new solutions to survive financially. Manufacturers have also got creative, with the expanded home Spin® solutions – now available through retailer Costco in the UK – a great example.
Set against this backdrop of changed dynamics and changed member expectations, how will clubs and studio re-engage customers in-house?
My answer to the question ‘will members return?’ is a bold ‘yes’ – but they will do so with expectations of increased flexibility. Operators must not to fall into the same old schedules they once offered.
Demand for onlinewill still be there.Every club and studioneeds to be camera,action, ready!
Demand for online will still be there, with a year of home fitness forging new habits in your members, so you need to be offering hybrid in-person/online membership options. Every club and studio now needs to be camera, action, ready!
Clubs and studios also need a strong commitment to specificity of programming. That means a range of bespoke classes, designed with specific groups in mind, being made available both online and in-person. These are more easily targeted and delivered with low overheads online, but even in-club, operators must remember that one size does not fit all. Programming must be specific to the fitness needs of the members.
Matching instructors to your members is also a prerequisite. There are many fantastic qualified instructors over the age of 50 out there! Like attracts like. Does your instructor base look like your member base?
In-club, a heavier focus on community will be key. Instructors walking in and pressing ‘play’ on an un-planned or off-the-shelf class won’t instil a sense of social gathering, offer a reason to ride or provide a deeper sense of ‘in this together’ – all of which is certainly achieved by the better online providers.
Additionally, operators’ in-club schedules will have to reflect an understanding that people are, in some cases, fearful. They may not be as fit, they may be Long COVID sufferers, their mental health may have suffered during lockdown. Asking questions of your re-engagement plan is essential. Will your programming include social programmes alongside fitness? Will it include periodised training plans to help members kick-start as if new to fitness? Will your marketing invite active attendance? Who are your member champions who will help you engage others?
Then ask questions about your instructors, too. How will you re-engage staff and instructors, with additional training to refresh and upskill? How will you attract the best instructors in the market, willing to offer both in-house and virtual workouts?
A final observation on technology. There is of course some exciting and fairly inexpensive technology that can ignite rides both in-studio and online, but even digitally, remember that keeping it simple is often best. More than anything, it’s about keeping your eye on the needs of the member, with simple individual metrics – watts, heart rate, kilojoules – and programmes of classes that allow them to see progression. This is true whether they’re training live in the studio or at home with you.
When you hear the term AI (artificial intelligence), what does it conjure up in your mind?
Do you imagine it to be something futuristic: technology that will one day power world-dominating robots, self-driving cars and so on?
You certainly wouldn’t be alone in this view, but to pigeonhole AI as something for the future is to miss out on the very real opportunities it presents to gym and studio operators today.
AI is, after all, a significant force in our lives already: from deciding what we need to see in our news feed, to suggesting an artist we may want to play, to giving us to-the-minute arrival times in navigation apps, it touches us in myriad different ways every day. Its role and reach will continue to grow, but we are – all of us – already reaping its benefits in the shape of enhanced, more personalised experiences throughout our daily lives.
So, what does this mean in a fitness context?
When you look at the new entrants to our sector, whether they be existing tech players like Apple or the likes of Peloton, you can be assured of this: AI is at the heart of their product development, customer experience and business operations.
It can, and should, be at the heart of yours too.
The data already exists in your business to improve your offering in a multitude of ways
Let AI do the heavy lifting The starting point is data, but don’t allow this statement to set alarm bells ringing.
You may have been told that AI isn’t something our sector will be able to take advantage of due to shortcomings in operators’ data. This is, however, fundamentally untrue: I can say with confidence that the data already exists in your business to improve and refine your offering in a multitude of ways.
Indeed, from our conversations with more than 100 club operators around the world in the last 18 months, without exception the data they needed to transform their businesses – from personalisation of the member journey, to increased secondary spend, to better targeted products and services – was already there.
You would be amazed at what can be done with incomplete datasets, too: it’s now entirely possible to clean and enhance them, filling gaps and making them fit for purpose.
By then applying today’s powerful AI and machine learning tools to this customer data, you’ll unveil a level of insight that, in many cases,makes it blindingly obvious where improvements can be made and opportunities taken.
Let’s take a look at some specific examples of how this can be used to transform your indoor cycling offering.
Schedule for retention How do you currently design your class timetable? Most likely it’s based on a combination of peak times, typical attendance levels and instructor availability. And that makes sense – these are important variables. But they aren’t the only variables; you’re unlikely to maximise member satisfaction if you schedule based on these factors alone.
For example, did you know that even a consistently well-attended class might nevertheless be a cause of member attrition? This was the surprise learning for one of our clients, who found that its always-full HIIT classes were a common factor among members leaving the club. On closer inspection, the HIIT classes were attracting lots of new members, lured by the promise of quick results but then quickly put off when the workout was too hard for them.
AI works through millions of scenarios to create an optimised timetable for member retention
And that’s just one example; your typical timetable will be full of such considerations, as well as other far less obvious ones. In short, there are so many variables at play that optimal scheduling isn’t a task a human can undertake.
Instead, plug your member data and your class schedule into an AI platform and it will work through millions of possible scenarios to create an optimised timetable for the satisfaction and retention of your members. Here’s how it works. • Your AI sees member and class attendance and the schedules you have in place. • It also understands the drivers behind your member retention performance in quite literally a million different ways. • You ask your AI to optimise your class timetable for member retention. • Your AI will take into account every variable and generate new timetables. • With each variation, it will provide you with the expected retention improvement from implementation, allowing you to optimise the schedules for member satisfaction.
The changes might not be dramatic: minor tweaks in start time, dropping from three to two classes on a Saturday morning, flipping from two classes on a Monday to four on a Friday. The point is, the AI will have looked at every single permutation – assessing the impact of each possible variation on the retention of every single one of your members – to arrive at the optimal schedule.
Of course, even this AI-generated timetable won’t tick every box for every member: you will still have people complaining about changes that don’t suit them. The key is not to be swayed by the vocal few. Powered by AI, you can move ahead confident in the knowledge that your timetable is the best possible fit for the majority of your membership.
Incidentally, AI will also be able to tell you which of your members are likely to feel aggrieved at the schedule changes, allowing your GM to put in a few pre-emptive calls to let them know what’s happening, apologise for any inconvenience and offer them a free smoothie next time they’re at the club.
Understand instructor performance Instructor performance is another significant factor in member retention, and once again AI can provide you with actionable insight. Our system always models to the individual member, before scaling up to a statistically significant level to see where specific factors – a particular instructor, for example – are contributing to retention or attrition. By looking at what all the members have in common, we can identify human issues with a high degree of accuracy.
ONE CUSTOMER GREW NON-DUES REVENUE BY 43 PER CENT IN THE SPACE OF JUST SIX MONTHS
It allows single-site operators to compare the performance of the various instructors delivering the same class format, or a multi-site operator to understand why the same class might be driving very different retention levels at different clubs.
And the issues might not be where you expect: we’ve witnessed one personal training example where the club’s highest performing PT in revenue terms was in fact contributing to member attrition, while a lower-performing PT in revenue terms was driving retention. Armed with this understanding, you can take the appropriate actions, whether that’s staff training to plug skill gaps or changing your instructor line-up.
Maximise class sales At face value, the following example is primarily of value to boutique operators and/or those who sell pay-as-you-go class packages. Even if that isn’t you, though, do keep reading, because the use case is sufficiently flexible to encompass many different areas, from the sale of class packs to personal training to discounted multi-packs of massages or smoothies.
Say you offer your cycling classes for purchase as individual sessions, or in packs of five or 10. Your AI can first identify the individuals from your database who will purchase from you. It can then segment them further into those most likely to purchase each of the particular packs.
Andrew would buy a five-pack, but he’s just as likely to purchase a 10-pack, so serve him that offer. Cathy, meanwhile, is highly unlikely to want anything but a single session, so don’t scare her off with a five-pack offer. Bank the one-session sale.
Add automation and you have AI working 24 hours a day, seven days a week to find customers who would be receptive to an offer, before serving them with the correct one in a piece of communication that at the very least is relevant to their age and gender, and delivered in the optimal engagement format for them. It ensures you aren’t leaving any potential revenue on the table, and it’s all achieved with no human intervention.
The potential is massive: one customer adopted this approach for non-dues revenue among its membership and grew it by 43 per cent in the space of just six months.
Attract high-value customers A similar approach can shape the way you target and talk to prospects, too.
Once your AI has built up a picture of your ideal customer – the customer who will buy a 10-pack of classes every month, who recommends their friends, who has a juice on most visits, but above all who stays with you the longest, with the highest lifetime value – it also knows the factors that underpin this: everything from their age to the classes they do to the source through which they first came to you.
YOUR COST OF ACQUISITION WILL BE REDUCED, YOUR CONVERSION RATE HIGHER, AND YOUR CONVERSION COST LOWER
And this is invaluable in your marketing efforts. Let’s take Facebook advertising as an example. Your AI will use the above insights to create what Facebook calls a custom audience. In turn, this ensures your ad is served only to those who look very similar to your best customers, helping you attract high-value customers. Your cost of acquisition is reduced, too, because you only pay Facebook for a very specific type of person; in our experience, you might get fewer clicks, but your conversion rate will be higher – and your conversion cost lower.
Maximise yield per member The potential here is perhaps best explained by putting the spotlight on a client of ours – an Australian operator that, by running an upsell campaign underpinned by AI, recorded its best ever result: an impressive A$35,000 of additional revenue generated in just three weeks.
With different memberships available at the club – a standard fitness membership, but also studio memberships that included premium classes – the campaign focused on those in its fitness membership who took part in classes such as yoga, where the premium membership would offer strength in depth. There were other variables too: recipients were selected by AI based on length of membership, frequency, likes, age profile, risk profile and so on. They were then presented with a personalised offer in an email that – worded and designed in such a way that made them feel the club genuinely knew them and what they wanted – enjoyed an incredible 85 per cent open rate. Around 60 per cent of those contacted went on to make some sort of upgrade, with A$35,000 the instant result.
ASK YOUR AI TO CREATE AN AVATAR OF YOUR CYCLING AVATAR OF YOUR CYCLING AND FIND OTHERS WHO MATCH THAT PROFILE
It’s easy to see how this approach could be used to maximise secondary spend, too. Imagine a scenario in which AI has segmented your indoor cycling enthusiasts to give you such a deep understanding of who they are that selling cycling apparel, post-workout nutrition, even cycling-based PT or outdoor cycling days becomes almost effortless, because you’re offering them exactly what they want. You can even present different commercial offers based on different probability of purchase, which again AI can tell you.
Create new cycling fans This same approach can be used to attract new people to indoor cycling. Ask your AI to create an avatar of your cycling class participants. Who are they really – not just their age or gender but their other interests in the club, their length of time as a member, the sales channel through which they joined you in the first place; there will be factors in common that might surprise you.
Armed with this knowledge, your AI can then search your entire database to find other members who haven’t taken part in your group cycling classes thus far, but who – based on historical behaviours among your membership – are likely to give it a try if given a compelling nudge. All you need to do is work out what to say to them, and input appropriate imagery for each profile, then let AI do the rest. Cue more members finding new passions that will further bond them to your club.
Hold on to your members And all of this is before we even start on AI’s ability to very accurately tell you, from one day to the next and wherever they are in their contract with you, each of your members’ likelihood of staying with you at their next opportunity to make that choice.
Rather than trying to win members back round at the point of leaving – an almost impossible task – it allows you to predict and get ahead of the risk, developing personalised, proactive strategies and interventions. And the impact? Our clients are improving member retention in as little as 30 days.
Put simply, AI is no futuristic tool. All of these opportunities exist now. It comes down to what action you choose to take.
About the author Ian Mullane is founder and CEO of Keepme. ai, the AI-based platform which provides next-generation sales and marketing for fitness operators, driving revenues by tur-bo-charging member acquisition, retention and re-engagement. Ian will be speaking at this year’s European Health & Fitness Forum, which takes place on 3 November 2021. In the meantime, read more about AI in Ian’s thought-provoking white paper, available for free download now: The Fitness Future: Rules of Engagement
Lee Smith: Distributor, BODY BIKE + Les Mills – Australia
Doyle Armstrong: International master trainer, Team ICG
Emma Barry: Global fitness authority
Brian O’Rourke: Fitness technologist & futurist
David Minton: Director, TLDC – UK
Hear from our experts on…
New workout habits and patterns
A shifting at-home / in-club balance
Experience with a capital E
Out-of-club shaping in-club offerings
Bespoke, signature programming
Virtual / in-person blends
AI, AR, VR, GAFA
The changing shape of the club market
A new breed of cycling instructor
The onus on the operator
Esports and gamification
An expanded definition of hybrid
Partner, North Castle Partners – US
It’s hard not to start with the home product. I wouldn’t say the future of indoor cycling is primarily home-based, but at-home will play a major role.
With connected fitness, at-home indoor cycling is a far better experience than it used to be. On top of that, hybrid working routines – part-time in the office, part-time from home – are with us for the long term. On the days when you don’t have to leave the house for any other reason, I believe you’re more likely to opt for a home workout over the gym.
However, people still crave human interaction and the energy of exercising together; towards the back end of 2021 and into 2022, we’ll see a significant return of members to gyms. So I do think indoor cycling will continue in many clubs, particularly at the higher end of the scale – the likes of Equinox and Lifetime Fitness.
The number of classes on offer in the US mid-market will fall dramatically, though, simply because there won’t be as many clubs. Many of these brands went bankrupt during the pandemic and estates will now be slashed.
Wallmart has ordered an astonishing number of bikes. we’re selling them as fast as we can make them
Meanwhile, although some low-cost operators offer classes, they tend not to offer as many.
Ultimately, I don’t think things will ever return to what they were pre-pandemic. At-home will continue to steal from clubs’ share of total indoor cycling rides as people do at least some of their workouts from home. As a result, while there’s certainly a future for double-digit numbers of bikes in a studio space, I can see more classes being offered virtually, especially in the value segment.
The other big question relates to studio demand. The boutiques and franchises were growing rapidly pre-pandemic, but there will be a lot less of them – urban and suburban – as we come out of this crisis. For studios that were marginal before, if there’s a clear path to shutting them, they will shut. Flywheel has already gone and it will be interesting to see what other brands do with their estates. It may be even worse in the UK, where rents are higher.
Meanwhile, you have the likes of Peloton, Nordic Track and Echelon serving the home market at different price points: Echelon now has a US$500 connected bike which we’re selling to the mass market through retail channels. I’m not saying everyone can afford that, but it does bring us into the Christmas present price bracket for many. Wallmart has ordered an astonishing number of bikes for Q4 and, provided sales go as it expects, it will do the same for Q1. We’re selling the bikes as fast as we can make them.
The home market has gone crazy in Australia and New Zealand and people are putting good money into it. They’re buying the same commercial brands for their homes as they use in-club, so their remote experience feels the same as in-person classes.
So, the hybrid model is here to stay, but I see it being turned on its head, with at-home influencing in-club. Take A STATE OF RIDE (fondly known as ASOR) founder Matty Clarke. He currently offers live streamed, interactive classes every Friday night, as well as Tuesdays mid-morning to give people in other parts of the world a night-time experience, and is building a strong network of fans. Instructors can already license his programmes, but the long-term will likely see his content on studio big screens for a true rock concert experience in-club.
I also think clubs’ programming will be shaped by home workout behaviours. Online provides great usage data: we know what people are choosing to do and it’s shorter, mix and match workouts. I foresee clubs offering more fusion classes: cycling and HIIT, cycling and yoga, cycling and boxing.
clubs must maximise the virtual experience. why leave members to their own devices and just hope they enjoy it?
Experience is key to the future of indoor cycling; Les Mills has already shown this with its immersive TRIP classes. Matty does similar using music: the workout is just a by-product of being there. What you go for is the vibe and the community he builds through his multi-media approach, with personal shout-outs, real-time engagement during broadcasts and follow-ups on social media.
In fact, I think music will become ever-more focal in indoor cycling, with musicians specially commissioned to create brilliant tracks. When you’re on a bike, you aren’t moving around the room. You have people’s attention and the music really matters.
People will return to gyms: in October, a Mindbody report found 71 per cent of Australians are keen to do so. I think we’ll see more virtual classes, though, even at boutiques. One high-end boutique we’re working with in Perth, WA, is planning a 10m x 3m LED screen. It will be an incredible backdrop for live classes and will ensure the off-peak experience is also excellent: a life-sized, world-leading instructor on-screen, with all other premium touchpoints across the studio exactly the same.
Some virtual classes will also be hosted by a team member, and this is key as more classes become virtual: clubs must do more to maximise the virtual experience. Why leave members to their own devices and just hope they enjoy it? Have a team member in there to make sure they do, easing people in, energising the room, leading by example…
Another trend in-club: fewer, but higher spec, bikes in studios. This process was sparked by social distancing, but even as restrictions ease, studios are choosing to keep fewer bikes for busier, buzzing classes. We’re fully behind this. We’d rather sell people the right number of the right bikes, which generally means more tech-enabled models.
Speaking of tech, a final point: I see complementary technology becoming even smarter. If you could have a tech-free indoor cycling bike at home but still get all your data – as Zwift has done for road bikes – it would make a high-quality home set-up even more affordable.
International master trainer, Team ICG / Former ICG programme director EMEA
Indoor cycling has already changed dramatically over the last five years: the introduction of power training as standard and the advent of interactive digital systems have changed the game forever. Gone are the days of riding a few rickety bikes in a spare room in the building with a cheap disco light for entertainment (if you were lucky). Now we have fully immersive cinema screens, high specification sound, digitised synchronised lighting and plethora of programmes appealing to every type of customer.
The issue with the explosion of formats within the sector has been two-fold. Firstly, the majority of basic indoor cycling certifications simply don’t cover the underpinning knowledge now required to deliver a large portion of the available programming. Secondly, operators themselves have struggled to define what programmes they should offer, often opting for a ‘use-it-all-at-once’ tactic which comes across as messy and disorganised, doing nothing to push the quality of the sector forward.
I firmly believe the future of indoor cycling is in the hands of the operators. Manufacturers have already shown their ability to drive the sector forward at speed: education, power training, connected interactive solutions, product-based programming, deeply immersive video solutions, app connectivity… Those responsible for actually delivering the experiences now need to step up and catch up.
Operators must define their programmes to suit their members, concisely package them, deliver them well and develop their team for excellence: proper auditioning, frequent CPD, setting a higher bar in terms of the qualifications they will accept.
The next five years will see operators take greater and greater accountability and responsibility for their own programmes and their successes. Large chain operators have already begun to remove pre-choreographed, off-the-shelf offerings in favour of bespoke in-house programmes reflective of their members and their values.
As operators continue to look more deeply at their indoor cycling offering, hopefully their feedback will also be the much-needed catalyst that prompts education providers to update their indoor cycling qualifications, bringing them in-line with the demands of today’s programming.
Exposed to the world’s great coaches via online platforms, consumer expectations are rising fast
I also expect operators to begin looking hard at how they can capitalise on the growing at-home market currently being cornered by Peloton. Once operators have clearly defined their programmes, I’d expect to see agreements being struck with manufacturers to provide customers with appropriate hardware (matching that used in-club) so they can experience interactive programmes at home on the days or times they can’t make it to class.
From a manufacturer perspective, I expect further enhancements of the digital offering: greater features, simpler connectivity, a stronger focus on the development of operator-specific in-house programming that reflects the full capabilities of the available systems.
Finally, a word on the instructors themselves. Exposed to the world’s great coaches via online platforms, consumer expectations are rising fast. People are now looking for high quality, knowledgeable instructors with a clear passion for indoor cycling, music and movement. Perhaps the next few years will see the demise of the journeyman ‘fitness’ instructor who teaches indoor cycling on the side, and the advent of the expert indoor cycling coach who delivers unforgettable experiences both in-club and online.
In-club, in-studio environments will see some interesting evolutions in 2021 and beyond, as digital cycling experiences continue to advance.
Bikes will incorporate more experiental features to coincide with the visual and audio riding experience
Larger, cheaper video screens and video laser projection systems will become more commonplace, facilitating the delivery of ever-more customised immersive cycling experiences at a price tag more clubs can afford. Think Les Mills TRIP, but even more customisable. All four walls, and even the floors in some environments, will make the ride even more dramatic and fun. More info here and here.
AI platforms will drive content production – not only visuals but also music. The result: further customisation of ride experiences which evolve and improve based on direct data feedback from riders. This personalisation of group riding experiences will be an exceptional differentiator for certain operators, and new AI tools will make this even more accessible. Indeed, some AI platforms already do this sort of thing. For an exciting glimpse of the AI future, this article is well worth a read.
Gamification of the experience will become more interesting and engaging for members. The projection of data on-screen, the creation of virtual cycling games, in-ear feedback from new high-end earbuds that can integrate ambient sound (Apple’s products are already doing this), augmented reality or mixed reality glasses providing interactions and feedback… All of this will become part of more immersive, fun experiences.
Bikes will incorporate more experiential features, including tactile feedback in the handlebars, vibration, and automated climb/descent functions to coincide with the visual and audio riding experience. These features will be customisable based on the ride and the rider’s profile.
The ability to take the in-studio/in-club ride experience home will grow as streaming and VR technology such as the Oculus Quest 2 – out now – are more widely adopted. This platform, and those like it, will become the norm as the size of the technology continues to shrink and the power of its processing continues to expand. Remote participation in live, in-studio classes will become incredibly realistic thanks to VR, while AI-created playlists and rides will mean members can take their experiences anywhere if bricks and mortar brands want them to. Members could also be offered pure digital, gamified experiences, which will become even more engaging as AR (augmented reality) really begins to make its mark – the next huge platform according to the likes of Google, Apple and Facebook via Oculus.
AR cycling experiences will become significant for at-home use in the next five years
All of which brings us to the out-of-club environment, where new ‘ODAVAD’ (on-demand anywhere virtual anytime digital fitness) cycling experiences for the home and on-the-go market will emerge in the next five years.
AR experiences for cycling – or indeed any fitness programme – will become significant for at-home use in the next five years. In fact, this type of technology is already here and available on the Oculus Quest 2 platform. Supernatural, for example, offers a variety of programmes that are gamified and great fun, led by coaches and shot in beautiful environments. The cost? Just US$19 a month, or as low as US$15 per month with a year’s subscription. Anyone who questions the viability of such fitness experiences will truly change their minds after just one use of this platform.
The ability to enjoy pure digital experiences on a bike at home – either solo or alongside others in a live virtual experience, with gamification components and more – are going to be more prevalent. Such experiences are already out there through the likes of Zwift and Rouvy, with the latter offering real cycling courses (think Tour de France) and the option to compete in live streamed events.
No matter how you spin it, 2021 will be a great year for cyclists: the year of hybrid, technology-enabled fitness.
My favourite example over the past few months: leave home on my Brompton bike, cycle via the park and cycle super-highways to H2 Victoria, walk up to the roof for an outdoor spinning class with workout data sent to my app. Then pick up Brompton and cycle home, Apple Watch provides more data.
For others, hybrid means a home bike to complement in-club classes, with Peloton leading the way: 3.1 million subscribers by the end of June 2020, workouts up 75 per cent since January, Q2 20 revenue up 172 per cent year-on-year, a 355 per cent increase in market cap. A COVID winner, it must nevertheless keep pedalling to maintain growth and stay one step ahead of the growing range of cheaper players, from Apex to Echelon. My view: Peloton will have to move into health and wellness programming, plus smart watches or monitors so it can offer even more feedback. The more expensive Bike+ gives an indication that even more hardware (and software) is in development.
studios still hold a trump card: an emotional and intelligent connection to the consumer
Because competition will only increase, with the legacy fitness equipment suppliers now playing catch-up: Technogym’s collaboration with 1Rebel in London and Revolution in Milan; BODY BIKE’s on-demand partnership with Wexer and new SWITCH bike; the Les Mills Virtual bike. Expect more in this vein.
Boutique operators are getting in on the act, too, in a COVID-inspired but now longer-term hybrid strategy. FIRST:MOVES has launched its own bike, accompanied by a range of live and on-demand classes direct from its London studio. Digme has an option to rent or buy a Keiser bike and ride in live classes via its new app. Psycle offers an at-home service and will sell you a Stages bike, plus additional workouts for barre, strength and yoga. And, of course, the SoulCycle home bike launched just as COVID hit.
Finally, the home cycling picture wouldn’t be complete without a nod to esports and gamification, where Zwift commands a dominant position: 2.5 million accounts across 190 countries, a growth rate of over 200 per cent per month during lockdown, US$450m in new funding. As the main sponsor of the Tour de France on ITV4, it hosted a virtual Tour that saw pro cyclists compete. In December, it hosted the platform for the inaugural UCI Cycling Esports World Championships. Zwift, and esports more broadly, will continue to grow.
Yet all that said, boutiques and cool indoor cycling studios hold a trump card: an emotional and intelligent connection to the consumer. Peloton has the best combination of hardware and software I’ve tried so far, the UCI Esports Everest Challenge was fantastic, BODY BIKE on-demand’s Ride the World Valley of Fire Challenge – yes! But ultimately the setting, music, gangster instructors and connection with the grupetto will keep drawing me back to the studio. The future is hybrid, not digital-only.
COVID-19 has shaken the events industry to its core, decimating many key players and turning traditional business models on their heads.
We hosted six virtual events and one hybrid event in 2020: a live, in-person conference in Singapore in front of 200 executives, broadcast simultaneously online. Across these seven events, we served 10,000+ registered attendees from 50+ countries. Through COVID, our audiences grew from our traditional in-person conferences of 250–1,500 people to, now leveraging virtual, 2,000–3,000 delegates per event.
Like virtual fitness, virtual events are here to stay, but this isn’t a game everyone can or should play. Physical events will return – they already have in Asia-Pacific – but only a few event organisers have commercially viable virtual strategies and the teams to execute these.
webinars should be thrown on the fire, as should freemium events. get it right and people will pay for it.
Virtual event tech is in hot demand, but most platforms currently do not fully support the needs of event organisers: they have poor functionality and analytics, with sub-optimal networking tools and archaic features, especially around virtual expos. Event organisers in 2020 often picked the wrong platform, did little research/testing, misled partners and delivered sub-par events.
Webinars should be thrown on the fire, as should freemium events. Our sponsors and delegates are now conditioned to pay for high-quality virtual events and the flight to quality is real. They expect incredible content in a variety of formats and without technical difficulties. Content must be easily accessible, delivered through an intuitive and engaging platform and, post-event, immediately available on-demand.
Virtual delegates crave interaction, connectivity and fun – a true experience. They do not want a vast multi-day event with multiple streams (who wants 60+ hours of content?), nor do they want sell-side-heavy agendas.
Get it right and people will pay for it, so why offer it for free?
Through trial and error, we’ve found a formula that works. Content (and its delivery) is king. We’ve enjoyed success because we invested heavily, trained our staff, switched our business model and worked with our partners every step of the way, through good and bad.
So, what will 2021 hold for fitness event organisers?
The future is not virtual. It’s hybrid.
We need multiple content channels, more effective networking tools and more engaging virtual expo floors.
We must consider the amalgamation of various platforms and apps to deliver the overall benefits our attendees and sponsors expect.
We must produce shorter, sharper, aesthetically pleasing content that can be amplified quickly and exponentially post-event, ideally not behind a guarded paywall.
We have to understand how suppliers and sponsors now analyse ROI on events – i.e. the metrics and analytics of delegate profiles, lead generation, number of connections – and change our value proposition to meet these.
We need to deliver meeting connections directly through email/WhatsApp/Zoom, not through event apps which have poor engagement records.
Like clubs, we need to re-map our customer journeys for attendees online and in-person. Make it fun, make it engaging, make it purposeful.
Finally, we need to regain the trust and confidence of our sponsors that we can deliver on our (marketing and business development) commitments to them, irrespective of virtual or hybrid formats.
We believe a hybrid model for trade events allows us to deliver more value to more people across the world, and ultimately make more businesses and consumers happier and healthier. We must continue to invest and innovate to take advantage of the opportunities this new hybrid world offers us.
David Stalker President, EuropeActive
I don’t want them to go back to how they were. There, I said it. We have been forced to adapt. With that comes the opportunity to start over and do better. Yes, we’ve had teething problems as hosts and attendees, but excellence comes with experience.
How the future of trade shows is shaped depends entirely on whether we – as individuals, representatives, businesses and an industry – are willing to embrace positive change, to in turn bring about an evolutionary shift in what we can achieve.
Stepping backwards on our discovery of how to reach more people would be a serious missed opportunity
Among operators, the focus is now on omnichannel approaches and digital initiatives, sewing together bricks and mortar and virtual fitness experiences to benefit members. Why wouldn’t we apply the same incredible value-add for delegates of conferences and trade shows? There isn’t any shortage of technology to make these experiences incredible, and digital events such as the 2020 European Health and Fitness Forum (EHFF) and FIT Summit have proven how fast we can adapt.
Hybrid events will save businesses money, as there’s less of an outlay for travel. On the business side, you can also reach a greater number of people, while as a customer, you can pick what you want to see at a time that suits you. And provided event organisers are flexible enough to adapt efficiently and smoothly, there’s also less of a chance that big exhibitors will cancel completely due to the unseen.
we are well-versed in creating a safe environment. i don’t believe it would be any different at a trade show than in a gym.
Looking forward, as a partner of FIBO, EuropeActive has the opportunity to embrace two of its overarching priorities for the year ahead: digital and community. Whether that’s streaming online with others in attendance on-location, or dedicated green-screen presentations, stepping backwards on our discovery of how to reach more people would be a serious missed opportunity.
Having physical and digital running in tandem will mean that opportunities for networking and product experiences are still very much available for suppliers, even if numbers are restricted and physical distancing measures in place. Many suppliers already have fantastic scheduling for demonstrations, so these experiences can still be offered even if the attendees aren’t physically there in the same numbers.
I have no fear when it comes to the safety of showing off new product innovations. Despite closures worldwide, our sector has exceeded expectations under constant scrutiny, particularly on sanitisation standards. We are well-versed in creating a safe environment for anyone who comes through our doors, and I don’t believe it would be any different at a trade show than in a gym.
the only change is that we’re now forced to start focusing on how we act online instead of solely in-person
Flexibility is key to unlocking the next chapter in our great fitness and physical activity sector. The return on investment for events has not changed, but the way we measure that spend has. The better you make your digital experience – whether event or exhibitor – the better your engagement is going to be, and the better your leads will serve your business. When has that been different?
The only change is that now we’re forced to start focusing on how we act online instead of solely in-person. The leaders that don’t embrace these changes will get left behind, so let’s learn how to do it right and expand the market like never before.
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