2019 Fitness Industry Trends Shed Light on 2020 & Beyond

    We asked for your thoughts on 2019 trends in the industry, and you answered. We analyzed the results to look back on the past year and glean insight on what’s to come in 2020.

    Overall, 2019 was a year of abundance for the fitness industry. In May, The IHRSA Global Report found that the global industry revenue totaled $94 billion and, as a result, health clubs are on pace to reach 230 million members by 2030.

    But revenue and membership numbers aren’t where the story ends.

    At the start of each year, we like to take a deeper look at the previous 12 months to take stock of the highs, as well as the lessons learned. This year, we conducted a poll to get our social media followers’ input on our shortlist of top trends.

    These were the options:

    • Embracing fitness tech inside and outside the club
    • Growth of wellness, nutrition, and recovery services
    • Expansion of the studio within a club model
    • Members belonging to multiple clubs and studios
    • Clubs acting as social hubs for their communities
    • Adapting to changing needs and habits of younger generations
    • Clubs filling empty spaces at malls and other retail outlets
    • Increased accessibility and inclusivity for all members
    • Tight labor market affecting staffing at health clubs
    • The legal and legislative tsunami affecting the fitness industry
    Industry news top trends 2019 column

    Some of the results surprised us. For example, “growth of wellness, nutrition, and recovery services” nearly took the top spot, while “adapting to changing needs and habits of younger generations”—a topic we’ve heard a lot of buzz about last year—came in sixth, with just 8% of the vote.

    Based on the poll’s results, as well as our own observations, the IHRSA editorial team got together to take a closer look at the top trends of 2019 and identify what we can learn going into 2020.

    2019 Fitness Industry Trend: Technology as a Member Experience Tool

    It’s no surprise that “Embracing fitness tech inside and outside the club” ranked first in our 2019 trends poll, with 24% of respondents choosing it as the top trend. Over the past 12 months, health clubs and suppliers have invested in a wide variety of technology, from virtual fitness offerings to artificial intelligence-driven solutions.

    Technology 19Cv Trade Show Vr Column

    New technologies keep IHRSA 2019 attendees intrigued.

    Across the industry, the perception of technology is shifting from a standalone silo to a package of member experience tools that should be integrated throughout the business.

    “We’re changing the client experience using technology, but it’s about how we want the experience to be done versus how we want the technology to work,” said Jon Roberts, chief information officer for InShape Health Clubs, at the 2019 Motionsoft Technology Summit.

    Roberts’ sentiment echoed IHRSA 2019 keynote speaker Chris Riddell.

    “This is the era of hyper-experiences,” he said in March. “You have to create exceptional experiences every time. Good is no longer good enough. And the power of the Internet of Things enables us to do this.”

    While gyms don’t necessarily need technology to create exceptional experiences, technology does make creating those experiences easier. And in today’s market, the easiest company to do business with often wins out.

    “The new currency is easy,” Kristian Merritt, director of digital transformation at David Lloyd Leisure, said at Motionsoft. “I don’t use Uber because it’s cheaper—I use it because it’s really easy. Going to the gym is easy, so why are the processes we put around it difficult? That’s been our biggest breakthroughs of the year.”

    2019 Fitness Industry Trend: Wellness & Recovery Programs

    Wellness and recovery programs had a moment in 2019, taking the second spot in our trends poll.

    In fact, Club Business International predicted this trend in an article published at the end of 2018. “Chains such as Crunch, UFC Gyms, and Life Time Fitness have launched their own initiatives, and countless other fitness service providers are following in their footsteps,” Jon Feld wrote. “If there’s a significant new trend emerging in the industry today, recovery may well be it.”

    The 2018 IHRSA Health Club Consumer Report hinted at the growth of wellness and recovery programming, too. The “Operator Recommendations” section suggested “introducing complementary health and fitness-related services, such as chiropractic, physical therapy, athletic training, wellness coaching, etc.”

    The report went on to state, “While some clubs are already embracing this approach, far too many are not. Even leading club companies could improve on generating more revenue from health and fitness-related services, rather than relying on membership dues as the primary source of income.”

    It appears many organizations took this advice to heart.

    “Exercise and diet should absolutely be viewed and dealt with as one—it’s not a ‘one-sided’ coin,” Mark Cuatt, the managing partner at All Sport Health and Fitness, told CBI in October.

    In September, IHRSA joined forces with World Wellness Weekend to promote their third annual event, which was celebrated by 2,356 venues in 98 countries. On World Wellness Weekend, spas, fitness centers, salons, yoga studios, and sports organizations opened their doors to the community, offering fun, free wellness activities. IHRSA clubs around the world took part in the weekend, with offerings that included free club access, complimentary group fitness programming, workshops, fitness events, and health screenings.

    2019 Fitness Industry Trend: Shifting Generations

    While “Adapting to changing needs and habits of younger generations” didn’t receive many votes in our trends poll, this topic was one we heard a lot about from club operators over the course of the year.

    More is being learned each year about generational differences as they relate to our industry. Millennials (born from 1980 to 1999) are now the largest cohort, representing 33% of all health club members, followed by Generation X (born from 1965 to 1979) at 24%, Baby Boomers (born from 1945 to 1964) at 22%, Generation Z (those born after the year 2000) at 14% and the Silent Generation (born before 1945) at 7%, according to The 2019 IHRSA Health Club Consumer Report.

    Industry news 2019 health club member by generation column

    Source: The 2019 IHRSA Health Club Consumer Report

    Older members visited their clubs more often than their younger counterparts. Baby Boomers have been the most active members, visiting their club an average of 131 times over the course of the year (approximately 11 times per month). On the other end of the usage spectrum, individuals from Generation Z only visited between 65 and 78 times over the course of the year.

    In general, different types of facilities appeal to different generations. For example, Generation Z was much more likely to be a member of a nonprofit or a YMCA/YWCA/JCC, with 62% of this generation belonging to one of these facilities. Millennials are more inclined to belong to fitness-only clubs or nonprofits. Collectively, these two segments attract 57% of Millennials. (Interestingly, these two models also have the lowest average price point, possibly a factor in attracting this generation.) Baby Boomers are the most likely to be a member of a fitness-only facility, with 34% being members.

    Fitness activity participation at health clubs varied across generational groups, providing important insights for club operators and fitness directors. For example, while the Z and Millennial generations were inclined to engage in group-based activities, Gen Xers and younger Boomers preferred to utilize cardio and strength training equipment.

    Among Millennials in particular, yoga, HIIT, and running are the three leading forms of activity when their usage level is compared against the industry averages for those activities. Among the younger members of Generation X (age 35 to 44), free weights (dumbbells/hand weights), running, and elliptical machines are the most age-centric, compared to the general population. Younger Baby Boomers (age 55 to 64) favor walking, stationary cycling, and the use of dumbbells and hand weights. For Boomers over the age of 65, and also for the Silent Generation, the only activity they engage in more than the general fitness facility population is aquatic exercise.

    The takeaway of this discussion is the importance of offering activities and equipment that are relevant to the audience being served. Or, if the intent is to serve a diversified population, operators need to understand that their programs and equipment need to be diverse as well.

    2019 Fitness Industry Trend: Clubs in Retail Spaces

    Although “Clubs filling empty spaces at malls and other retail outlets” only garnered 5% in our poll, it’s a trend that’s making an impact. Just walk through your local mall to see why—and notice how the fitness industry is playing a part.

    As retail stores declined in 2019, the industry grabbed hold of a new opportunity: new spaces to make a mark. For instance, JCPenney is embracing the fitness phenomenon and opened a newly reimagined store in Texas that includes Zumba and yoga classes in a studio setting, becoming a one-stop-shop for apparel and the workout experience.

    Studios and other fitness facilities are also filling the spaces left behind by Sears, Toys R Us, among others. Shaun Grove, president of the Club Pilates fitness chain, told USA Today that he expects in 2020, 5% to 10% of their clubs to be located in spaces that once housed retailers. The growth in fitness-oriented storefronts is also forecast to grow, according to GGP, a real estate company. The company said about 75% of its retail space will be signed to fitness-related businesses by the end of 2019.

    And that trend is leading to a new one, in the form of “fitness clusters,” according to The New York Times. Many upscale malls are becoming a destination for boutique studios alongside other wellness brands, the article noted.

    Just a quick Google search for “gym” and “mall” highlights how this trend took hold in 2019, with results showing an Orangetheory Fitness, an LA Fitness, and a Planet Fitness opening locations in typically retail-occupied locations across the U.S.

    2019 Fitness Industry Trend: Staffing in a Tight Labor Market

    Staffing has long been a struggle for health clubs, from onboarding to employee retention. In 2019, the focus shifted to how the tight labor market affected staffing at health clubs.

    This pain point isn’t specific to the fitness industry: The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in the November 2019 jobs report the unemployment rate was 3.5%. The number matched the September figure, which was the lowest since 1969.

    The market is consistently adding jobs. Job gains have been strong, but wage growth has stagnated in 2019. The number of job openings has exceeded the number of unemployed persons for 20 consecutive months.

    Further, the job outlook for the employment of fitness trainers and instructors is projected to grow. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook handbook projects employment of fitness trainers and instructors will grow 13% from 2018 to 2028. This is faster than the average for other occupations.

    The good news stated in the handbook is businesses will recognize the benefits of offering their employees wellness benefits. “As businesses, government, and insurance organizations continue to recognize the benefits of health and fitness programs for their employees, incentives to join gyms or other types of health clubs are expected to increase the need for fitness trainers and instructors,” it stated.

    As the economy continues to grow, unemployment is at record lows; According to CNBC, 60% of employers say it’s more difficult to fill positions in 2019 than it was 2018.

    However, the Jobvite 2019 Job Seeker Nation Survey states that job seekers still find it difficult to land a job. “Despite the booming economy and low employment numbers 45% of job seekers say it’s harder to find a job than last year,” the report says. In addition, there is still a good percentage of part-time workers that would like to find full-time employment. Fifty-nine percent of their survey respondents reported currently work part-time, but most were hoping to find full-time work.

    Industry news stat from Jobvite survey column

    Source: Jobvite 2019 Job Seeker Nation Survey

    The 2019 IHRSA Health Club Employee Compensation and Benefit Report, released in March 2019, summarized “a historically low unemployment rate and better economic growth should lead to increase salaries. Employers will likely experience higher employer turnover as the competition for talent increases.”

    2019 Fitness Industry Trend: Expanding Inclusion

    In 2019, the fitness industry continued moving toward the goal of becoming a universally inclusive sector.

    In May, IHRSA’s partnership with the UNESCO Chair Inclusive Physical Education, Sport, Recreation & Fitness won the American Chamber Ireland /RIA Research Innovation Award for UFIT. The award recognizes an Irish Higher Education Institute or Research Centre with links to a U.S. corporation for excellence in research innovation. In 2019, IHRSA and the UNESCO Chair in Inclusive Fitness, Sport & Recreation, PE proceeded with exploring UFIT as a potential Inter United Nations (UN) Agency collaboration between UNESCO and the World Health Organization (WHO) working in partnership with the UNESCO Chair and IHRSA, as announced by Joe Moore, IHRSA president and CEO during IHRSA 2019 in San Diego.

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    UFIT is a global social change movement that helps health clubs build their capacity to welcome people of all abilities into the club. UFIT and the IHRSA Foundation provide training, support, and resources to help clubs change their culture to one of universal accessibility and inclusivity.

    One such resource, “Creating an Inclusive Fitness Club and Sector” was released in 2019 by the IHRSA Foundation in collaboration with the Global UFIT Team comprising of the UNESCO Chair in partnership with IHRSA.

    Support for UFIT grew in 2019 as eight GymPlus clubs in Ireland joined the UFIT Champion Program, and over 100 clubs became UFIT Supporters and UFIT Recognized clubs.

    2019 Fitness Industry Trend: Multi-club Memberships

    A few years ago, it became clear that members are no longer committed to a single facility but are, instead, leveraging the assets of multiple facilities to pursue their fitness and wellness goals. According to The 2019 IHRSA Health Club Consumer Report, 20% of fitness facility members indicated that they frequent more than one facility. While the industry average was 20%, a member’s likelihood of using more than one facility was highly dependent upon the type of facility they belonged to.

    Fitness-only facilities garnered the greatest commitment from their members, with 75% indicating they use only their primary facility, while 15% have a second membership, and 10% have more than two memberships. On the opposite end of the spectrum are boutique fitness studios, where 35% of members report being loyal to one facility, 44% use a second facility, and 22% engage with more than two facilities. With the exception of fitness-only and YMCA/YWCA/JCC facilities, it appears that at least 37% or more of a typical facility’s members will have two or more facilities they engage with.

    Going forward, club operators will need to ascertain how multiple-facility usage by their members will affect tenure, usage, and internal service monetization, as each of these may be influenced by this trend of using multiple facilities. They are also wise to be open to opportunities for collaboration and cross-marketing with other businesses whose offerings complement their own.

    2019 Fitness Industry Trend: Global Market Growth

    Global markets continue on an upward trend, from club revenue to number of facilities, according to the 2019 IHRSA Global Report. Worldwide, the industry saw membership grow to a “record-high” 183 million users, revenue totaling an estimated $94 billion, and club count exceeding 210,000 facilities in 2018.

    Last year, many clubs and suppliers expanded their global reach and began to claim stake in promising markets. The Timonium, MD-based company PF Growth Partners, LLC, a franchise division of Planet Fitness, signed a deal to help bring a minimum of 35 Planet Fitness clubs to Australia. Management software company TSG, based in New Zealand, appointed a new position of CEO, Asia, to lead growth in the Japanese health and fitness market. Anytime Fitness opened a facility on all seven continents (yes, even Antarctica). Freemotion Fitness, a U.S.-based equipment manufacturer, has been tapping new directors and managers to lead growth in Canada, the U.K., and Latin America.

    If 2019 is any indication, the industry is set to continue to grow in 2020, putting our goal of 230 million members by 2030 on track.

    As the year goes forward, be sure to stay in the know with us as we continue to watch for new trends in an ever-changing landscape. And be sure to join us and your trendsetting peers at IHRSA 2020, March 18-21 in San Diego, CA.

    Several IHRSA staffers contributed to this article, including: Regina Satagaj, vice president of human resources; Kristen Walsh, associate publisher; Marianne Aiello, senior digital content manager; Alexandra Black Larcom, senior manager of health promotion & health policy; and Rachel Valerio, digital content assistant.

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    IHRSA Staff @IHRSA

    This article was a team effort by several IHRSA experts.