E-fitness: Digital as a New Channel for Local Fitness

Digital Fitness

Last year was a big blow for almost all industries. Especially for local fitness studios, whose core business revolves around people - people who are literally sweating it out together. As gym and studio operators, we struggled in making decisions and asking the questions:

  • "Do we keep it closed, or do we open with a quarter of the capacity? Are we going to survive financially with that?”
  • “Do we pause the membership or continue it by offering online workouts? “
  • “How do we even do online?”
  • “What happens when we go back to normal? Will my members still go back to my physical studio when they enjoyed online workouts too much?”
  • “What happens when we get another lockdown?”

Some have taken the “We'll wait it out until things are back to normal” approach, while others have toughened it out and offered online workouts in whatever form they can. Almost a year later, we're still asking the same questions.

Much worse - some of our members have already bought their Pelotons or have fallen in-love with Bakari from Apple Fitness+. We'll never be able to compete with them, you would say. True, you cannot out-Peloton Peloton, and Apple IS Apple. But, rather than seeing them as competition, we should see these platforms as an inspiration. Hear me out --

In my line of work, foreseeing the future is super important. I'm not talking about having psychic powers or a magic 8 ball to know where the industry is headed. For me, that means looking at the facts, listening to the legends, and observing the trends (checkout ACSM's Top Trends in Fitness). For years, online training has always been lurking on the list, but it never caught fire to reach even the Top 20 - until COVID happened. For 2021, Online Training topped the fitness trends chart for the first time, dethroning the perennial top-notcher Wearable Technology.

To be successful at engaging members from a distance, as you would face-to-face in a physical location - online training has to be more than video streaming and video chat. What made Peloton and Apple Fitness+ great is that they offer more than just a video. And this is where e-fitness will come in for you and your business.

What is E-fitness?

We've heard it before, people have quoted it, we even said it. But its definition is not found in any dictionary. Remember when e-commerce and e-sports were not a word until the boom? E-fitness is defined as any workout or fitness activity done over the internet. It could involve connected hardware like Peloton or Tonal, or video streams like Pop Sugar, an interactive “video game-like” platform similar to Zwift, or metrics + performance services like Strava.

Pre-COVID, the primary fitness studio activities done over the internet have been member management, class bookings and billings.But now, going online for workouts, setting up your Zoom meeting, editing a video for on-demand, and dancing live in front of no one but a camera has become the norm. That is e-fitness, alright.

But, will that be a channel that can help you create a significant and new revenue stream? Not if we continue looking at going online as a temporary solution to COVID problems. Definitely not, if we see e-fitness merely as video streaming for members who can't visit the physical gym.

What does it mean for local fitness?

First things first, e-fitness as a new channel for your business means having a changed mindset about online training:

  • Your online presence will not poach your in-studio members. I get you - why will my member who pays $20 a class go back to my gym if I have online workouts at $20 a month? Same reason why boutiques have been successful all these years - there's just something about the social interaction and "escaping" for an hour or two in your barre or yoga studio. The in-person fitness experience is never the exact same, and truth be told - gyms are not going away. The advantage of adding an online offering is giving your members a choice, while keeping them within your circle of influence.
  • Hybrid is the new normal. Your members have already experienced the convenience of hopping off the bed and joining Coach Sean’s HIIT workout all under 30 minutes. That's even before the kids wake up. While your members will rush back to your doors once you re-open, they will now look for that option to stay at home on Mondays and still not miss a workout from your studio. Industry experts have called hybrid, blended, or “phygital” as the future of fitness.
  • Running online is a win-win situation. Think of E-fitness as strengthening your current relationships while building new ones with people who otherwise won't set foot in your physical location. Fitness influencers are making a killing in enrolling hundreds and thousands of online members from all over the globe. Simply because they have a message to share and a program that's uniquely theirs. And you do too! It's your time to offer that to a world outside your geographical reach.
For online training to work for local fitness, however, there has to be a deeper understanding of the boutique culture and how that can transcend into remote, digital workouts.

Competing in a saturated digital world

Delivering an authentic, personalized fitness experience is the bread and butter of local gyms and boutique studios. Building a community has always been the key driver for our success. This is why going online where there is no physical interaction has been unthinkable for many of us. But this same superpower will be your differentiator, versus thousands of free and paid workout content on the web.

When planning for your e-fitness strategy, you must seriously consider what makes local fitness experience standout:

  1. Members love the engagement and interaction. If you’re running your online workouts as just a video stream say from Vimeo, whether live or on demand, you are already losing precious opportunities to connect to your members.
  2. Customized workout feedback and training are highly valued. This is super hard to do with just a video library on your website for your members to "Netflix" on. Even when using video conferencing tools like Zoom, authentic feedback touch points are still missing. Having live performance metrics is already a big step up. Think of how leaderboards, heart rate metrics, and training zones helped Peloton and Fitness+ engage their users. To take it even further, what if you can monitor that even for on-demand classes, or add in form analysis / movement AI as it becomes more reliable?
  3. Quality of experience is front and center. We are obsessed with member experience. The same obsession has to be carried all the way into online. That could mean better video quality, improved coach audio, more interactivity, and a better digital experience comparable to attending a Peloton, FitOn, or Apple Fitness+ workout. The key to winning is leveraging authentic, personal interactivity.

What's next?

In our attempt to bring our services online, we tried to get a hold of any tech available out there. We have relied on stitched-together solutions (like FitGrid to Zoom) to dictate the kind of experience our members will have in the digital space. We should be focusing on doing it the other way around - bringing the local fitness experience to the online world.

Post-COVID, will members now expect digital workouts to be available as part of their memberships? Life Time has decided to just bundle Apple Fitness+ with its memberships. But, is outsourcing digital to external coaches really the right answer?

E-fitness is the next e-commerce/e-sports boom. And there's a huge space in there for local gyms and boutique studios. My final piece of advice - stay true to the local fitness culture, whether in-studio or online. Find a platform that caters to that, and has the same thrust towards expanding your reach. Bringing boutique to digital is possible even without the big investment, or the headache that comes with manipulating 4-5 platforms to get to the point of “digital” that aligns with your brand. Check-out Tribe! That sounds like a shameless plug, but, IT IS exactly what we do.

E-fitness is the next e-commerce/e-sports boom. And there's a huge space in there for local gyms and boutique studios.


Ranessa is a consultant and advisor to local gyms in SE Asia and is a certified ACE Health Coach, NSCA Personal Trainer, and ACE Senior Fitness Specialist. She leads operations for Tribe - a premier e-fitness platform for local gyms and boutique studios.


Ranessa Santos

Head of Operations
Live. Laugh. Love. (And do yoga!)

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