IHRSA 2023: A Historic Show, an Unforgettable Experience

Records were broken, champagne was popped, and nothing will be the same for the health and fitness industry again.

  • April 05, 2023

Where were you when everything changed?

That’s the question people will ask whenever they refer to IHRSA 2023—it’s the event that brought the health and fitness world together to redefine the industry for years to come.

Don’t call it a comeback. All the familiar features of pre-pandemic IHRSA conventions were there—the energetic crowds on the Trade Show floor; the compelling keynotes; the parade of happy faces reconnecting; the immersive panels and sessions; and the spirited receptions and parties.

But March 20-22 in San Diego was something more. It christened a new IHRSA with a fresh vision, a broader coalition, and a motivated membership ready to change the world in big and small ways. Even the unseasonable rain and chill in San Diego didn’t dampen the enthusiasm.

The numbers back it up, as almost 8,500 attendees representing 82 countries converged in San Diego, with more than 330 exhibitors set up on the Trade Show floor. Those who made the trip experienced several firsts, including a historic CEO Fireside Chat that featured four of the most accomplished leaders in the business (more on that below).

IHRSA President & CEO Liz Clark called it a “redemption” in her President’s Address on Monday morning, March 20. What was once termed a recovery, a restart, or a relaunch has evolved into a laser-focused mission empowered by a fierce commitment to advocacy and service. The industry is ascendant in global relevance, clearly on its way to being permanently established as essential for the health and well-being of consumers worldwide.

IHRSA 2023 FOMO Recap Column Width

IHRSA 2023 Notable Mentions

As someone with first-hand experience at IHRSA 2023, here are a few of my favorite highlights from the event.

The CEO Fireside Chat on Wednesday, March 22, was a fitting climax to the Convention. Moderated by Liz Clark, the panel featured Anthony Geisler, founder & CEO of Xponential Fitness, Bryan Myers, president & CEO of [solidcore], Chris Rondeau, CEO of Planet Fitness, and Mathew Stevens, president & CEO of The Bay Club Company. The freewheeling discussion shed light on how these executives built their different business models into some of the most successful companies in the world and how they stay on top.

IHRSA Board Chair Chris Craytor, CEO of acac Fitness & Wellness Centers, captured the buoyant mood of the event, speaking about the recent successes of IHRSA as it moves beyond the pandemic and rebuilds its war chest to take aggressive action in achieving the industry’s advocacy goals. That includes the PHIT (Personal Health Investment Today) Act’s reintroduction, which has just begun its journey through the legislative process in the U.S. Congress. He noted that other initiatives are in play, indicating that IHRSA is determined to be a difference-maker in global public policy.

Chris also presented two special awards:

  1. The annual IHRSA Advocate of the Year is Gale Landers, founder & CEO of Fitness Formula Clubs and the inaugural chair of the National Health & Fitness Alliance Advisory Council. Gale, who still helms the Council, paid tribute to Liz’s advocacy acumen and spoke of the importance of an activist-focused ROI—return on involvement—in being change agents for the industry.

  2. The first-ever Global Leadership Award, created in honor of former IHRSA Asia-Pacific Director John Holsinger, was given to Greg Oliver, CEO & managing director of Australia-based Fitness & Lifestyle Group and the inaugural chair of the Global Health & Fitness Alliance Advisory Council. Greg, unable to travel to San Diego, spoke in a video message, paying tribute to John and stressing the importance of international advocacy. “We are absolutely essential,” he said, “and I'm not alone in pushing this agenda.”

Several DEI and women’s leadership panels displayed the growing diversity in the industry while stressing that we need to do more. These sessions showed an encouraging and important development in expanding fitness to broader segments of the global population.

The 14th Annual Women’s Leadership Summit, sponsored by Club Automation, drew a large crowd of women—and men—who listened to an impassioned discussion with leaders from across the globe. Representing Latin America was Gigliola Aycardi, Asia-Pacific was Andrea Bell, the Middle East was Shadan Al Sagri, and the U.S. was Heather Ruff. CBI has an in-depth report with these exceptional women executives in the March 2023 issue. Also earning praise was Carol Nalevanko, president of DMB Sports Club, who received the Woman Leader Award in honor of the late Julie Main, who passed from her battle with cancer in 2009.

Keynote speakers inspired and delighted attendees:

  • Robyn Benincasa, sponsored by ABC Fitness Solutions, showed the importance of tenacity and teamwork in her years as an adventure racer.

  • Legendary Navy SEAL Robert O’Neill, sponsored by Keiser Corporation, brought the house down with his presentation that included a white-knuckle recounting of the raid on Osama Bin Laden’s house that ended in Bin Laden’s death. The former Special Forces operative earned raves for his disarming and self-effacing manner while describing his extraordinary life.

  • Fortune 100 consultant, Cassandra Worthy, sponsored by Matrix Fitness, offered tools on how to thrive in a disruptive environment and overcome obstacles to break through barriers.

IHRSA Premium members enjoyed unprecedented privileges at the Convention, including access to a spacious lounge to refresh and relax and admission to the Trade Show floor before opening hours, among other benefits. Tip: Upgrade your membership now so you don’t miss these valuable extras next year!

The 26th Annual Financial Panel, moderated by Rick Caro, brought together four top financial analysts who shed light on current economic forecasts to a packed room of attendees. And, I must say, this is one of the numerous sessions that gathered so many attendees that they were spilling out of the room.

Compared to previous years, IHRSA 2023 also hosted a greater number of studio owners as the association welcomed Boutique Fitness Solutions (BFS) as a partner. BFS hosted BFS @ IHRSA, a well-attended summit on Thursday, March 23, in the San Diego Convention Center. IHRSA also expanded its studio learning track to encourage studio and boutique owners to attend and gain a more significant foothold in the industry.

In another historic first, Liz and the IHRSA Board organized a Strategic Advisory Council, including 20 of the top industry leaders in the world. While not open to the public and not all were able to attend in person, this group held its first meeting in San Diego to discuss a future path forward for the global industry. We will release more information on the initiatives that come out of these meetings in the future. However, from all reports, the first gathering was a rousing success.

These are just some of the more notable highlights from IHRSA 2023. The entire three-day event offered a series of memorable moments, which you can learn more about on ihrsa.org and CBI in the coming weeks.

Suffering from crippling FOMO?

Didn’t make the trip to San Diego? Or maybe you were there but missed some of the key sessions and panels? We’re here to cure your FOMO. Much of the highlights above are available on-demand through the IHRSA app. If you registered for education at IHRSA 2023, you can simply access the app and click “Watch Again” or log in through your browser at ihrsa.org/app.

If you didn’t register, visit ihrsa.org/convention and remedy that now. Then download the app on your preferred platform—Apple or Android—and enjoy the show! The on-demand sessions will be available until April 24.

Keep an eye out for more information on IHRSA 2024 in Los Angeles. After this outcome, we sincerely can’t wait to see what’s in store next year!