Strength Training Flexes its Muscle in Health Clubs in 2023

Health club and gym members are turning to what they’ve missed during the past few years: strength training and other exercises they simply can’t do at home.

The pandemic brought a rise in several key fitness trends, including a sharp rise in online programming and wearables. Each year, the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) forecasts emerging trends. For 2023, we’re seeing a reshaping of sorts.

According to the ACSM’s user data:

  • In 2021, online training was number 1, wearables were number 2.

  • In 2022, wearables were number 1, home exercise gyms were number 2.

  • This year, the top trend to watch is, again, wearables, followed by strength training—number 4 in 2022 and 8 in 2021.

So, why are we seeing a renewed passion for strength training?

It might be, at least, in part, based on a pandemic “hangover” of sorts. When gyms began reopening, many had “the 6 feet rule” in place, so exercising in close quarters was discouraged. To some degree, members may not be ready to work out in close proximity to each other. Generally, strength training requires more floor space for an individual user, giving people the distance they want.

Another issue could well be FOMO—fear of missing out.

“During the pandemic, people did not have the luxury of having their favorite strength training machines and accessories in their home or apartment,” notes Ruben Mejia, executive vice president at SportsArt. “Some had access to a few dumbbells and/or kettlebells, but those exercises got boring really fast, and gains were typically limited.

“As soon as gyms started opening, people flocked to the strength machines to train on muscles they hadn’t been able to since the pandemic. They missed racking the weights and they missed adding variety to their workout.”

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To Ruben’s point, it seems that FOMO on the part of members drove the trends in general. Some programming, such as exercise for weight loss and health and wellness coaching, can easily be delivered online. What people missed were the types of exercise programs that don’t translate well to in-home fitness—many of these have a strength-training component—including:

  • bodyweight training,

  • fitness programs for older adults,

  • functional fitness training, and

  • high-intensity interval training (HIIT).

SportsArt is seeing clubs move fairly quickly to satisfy member demand around strength training’s growing popularity, says Ruben.

“The post-pandemic data is showing that member visits to clubs are 68% lower than they were in 2019, and that’s even with an estimated 30% fewer clubs than that year,” he says. “If the machines that members want to use aren’t always available, it’s only a matter of time before they reconsider their membership and go elsewhere. Clubs want happy members that want to keep going to the gym and stable membership numbers. Meeting member desires is one way to get there.”

In-demand Strength Training Equipment

Ruben is seeing high demand for selectorized strength training equipment, in particular.

“Selectorized equipment is seeing among the highest demand because these are the machines that people are less likely to have in their home,” he says. “With these machines, members can work on isolating specific muscle groups at the gym—in small group training and with trainers—in ways that they can’t at home.”

For SportsArt, dual-function selectorized machines are becoming increasingly popular with its club customers.

“With dual-function machines, you can work on at least two different muscle groups in the same footprint as one machine with a simple adjustment,” he says. “For example, clubs would traditionally put two triceps extension machines next to two biceps curl machines. Now, a club can put four DF205s, our dual function biceps/triceps machines, side by side, and give their members up to four machines of the same type.”

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This solution also fits with what clubs are doing regarding layout. Ruben notes that SportsArt is seeing club customers utilize pre-pandemic spacing without the requirements for social distancing.

While people may never work out as closely together as they once did, clubs still need to accommodate members and the equipment they want, so making footprints as efficient as possible while being mindful of giving members space still matters.

Staying Safe When Strength Training

Beyond equipment, Ruben urges that clubs and members put safety first for strength training.

“When getting back into their strength training regimens, members should always start slowly and work their way back to full strength,” he says. “Members may think that they can immediately bench press close to their personal record or do as many lunges as they used to, but their bodies will tell them otherwise.

“We know that our customers always put members first, but we still always push a message about being cautious and reducing the risk of injury whenever we can. And we know our customers can easily support this with messaging in their clubs, newsletters, and social media posts.”

SportsArt offers a wide range of strength training equipment, including selectorized and plate-loaded machines, free weight and rack, and more. To learn more about all their lines, visit their website.

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Jon Feld

Jon Feld is a contributor to Club Business International.