How Many Gyms Survived the Devastation that was 2020?

    Americans want to get back to their gyms, but more than one out of five fitness facilities had already closed permanently by June 2021, and tens of thousands more remain at risk.

    We can all agree that 2020 was an awful year that devastated nearly every industry. The fitness industry was no exception. From early on in the crisis, gyms and fitness facilities were closing at higher rates than almost any other industry, including restaurants and bars.

    Yet, unlike restaurants and live event venues, gyms have not received direct financial relief from Congress. So, with much of the U.S. trying to get their economies going again and more Americans committing to live more active, healthier lifestyles, we wanted to share some crucial information on the devastating impact of the last year on the fitness industry.

    As the Global Health & Fitness Association, we've worked with the 11 largest membership billing companies in the industry-with the help of Rick Caro-to track COVID-19's impact on gyms, consumer trends, closure rates, and reopening data, asking questions like:

    • How many fitness professionals lost their jobs?

    • How many gyms closed because of the pandemic?

    • How many gyms will survive through 2021?

    • How much revenue did the fitness industry lose?

    • Are people returning to gyms?

    • Are gyms safe?

    • Will the fitness industry get financial relief?

    So, here's what our fitness industry research found.

    How many fitness professionals lost their jobs?

    Gym devastation jobs lost 2021 column width

    The sad reality is that 1.5 million fitness professionals lost their jobs due to COVID-19. It's hard enough to learn that 1.5 million gym employees, personal trainers, and operators went from being employed to unemployed almost overnight, but then comes the realization that 47% of jobs in the fitness industry disappeared.

    How many gyms closed because of the pandemic?

    In 2019, there were over 40,000 fitness facilities. As of July 1, 2021, 22% of gyms and studios had permanently closed their doors. Diving a little deeper into that data, we found that in the first six months of 2021 alone, the number of fitness studios that went out of business rose another 8%, reaching a total of 27% of studio closures.

    How many gyms will survive through 2021?

    It's tough to say for sure how many gyms will be fortunate enough to stay in business after this year. Although, one January survey predicts that fewer than 50% of small gyms and fitness studios expect to survive through 2021 without federal support.

    During the height of the pandemic, governments mandated U.S. health clubs, gyms, and studios to close for an average of 2 to 5 months. In worst-case scenarios—such as California—fitness facilities were closed for over nine months before being allowed outdoor-only options or 10% maximum capacity indoors.

    How much revenue did the fitness industry lose?

    Gym devastation revenue lost 2021 column width

    After 10 years of consistent revenue growth, the fitness industry lost $29.2 billion—with a 'B'—in revenue from March 2020 through June 2021. That's a 52% decline from 2019, through no fault of their own. There were simply no viable options for gyms to sustain any revenue while being shut down for multiple months.

    Are people returning to gyms?

    IHRSA has worked with industry partners and global insights firms to track how Americans feel about their fitness routines and gyms throughout the pandemic. Yes, people are starting to return—and want to return—to gyms and studios.

    One survey found 95% of gym-goers missed at least one aspect of going to their gym in person, and 94% of people said they will return to their gym in some capacity after the pandemic.

    In a June 2021 survey of over 2,000 Americans within major U.S. markets and across all U.S. regions, nearly 50% plan to return to their gym membership in the next 6-12 months.

    Are gyms safe?

    Gyms are following safety best practices. IHRSA, along with hundreds of thousands of gyms, health clubs, and studios worldwide, are—and always have been—dedicated to providing safe, secure places for members to achieve their health and wellness goals. Moreover, research throughout the pandemic continued to show time and time again that health clubs posed no additional risk in transmitting COVID than any other public space. Still, even if a member did report testing positive, gyms had safety protocols and contact tracing measures in place to minimize exposure and risk for their other members and staff.

    Fitness facilities even ramped up their cleaning guidelines and safety procedures, and data showed clubs were not guilty of spreading COVID-19. Even doctors have stepped up to promote the positive impact that fitness facilities bring to the public—especially in a time when physical activity can help mitigate the worst of COVID-19 symptoms and cases.

    Will the fitness industry get financial relief?

    The National Health & Fitness Alliance has rallied support from over 100,000 people—from club members to fitness professionals to medical experts, and more—in support of the GYMS Act. This powerful movement has gained 150 bill sponsors in the House of Representatives who support providing the relief our industry desperately needs.

    America's fitness facilities are a vital part of the solution to ensuring the United States never endures another year like 2020. By the end of 2020, one out of five fitness facilities had already closed permanently, and 10s of thousands more remain at risk without the same access to the relief provided to restaurants and venues.

    The industry should not be left behind again.

    Congress needs to provide the same financial relief they gave to similarly impacted industries to ensure that America's fitness facilities survive.

    Author avatar

    Kaitee Anderson Fernandez @NHFAlliance

    Kaitee Anderson Fernandez is Director of Creative Content. She uses her experience as a multimedia journalist to tell the story of IHRSA's advocacy and public policy efforts. Kaitee spends her free time watching sci-fi movies, boxing, or working towards her goal of being able to do five pull-ups (a skill that would come in handy in the event of a sci-fi-like apocalypse).