By: Andrea Christianson, achristianson@hamiltonps.com, Anna Eapen, aeapen@hamiltonps.com, and Zoë Ryan, zryan@hamitonps.com

SoulCycle. Orange Theory. Core Power Yoga. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, it seemed like the group and boutique fitness trend was unstoppable. According to the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association, boutique fitness was one of the fastest growing brick-and-mortar exercise categories—membership at boutique studios grew by a staggering 121 percent between 2012 and 2017.

However, when the stay-at-home orders went to effect, people necessarily migrated their workouts from weight rooms to living rooms. The question many are asking is: is this a permanent shift?

Weight Room → Living Room 

Google searches for home workout equipment like resistance bands and kettlebells increased starting the week of March 8, spiking during the week of March 22—at which point more than half the states had mandated shelter-in-place. Companies, like Peloton, specializing in home workout equipment saw similar upticks in Google searches as did YouTube fitness trainers like Chloe Ting.

And those Google searches quickly turned into milestones. Peloton recently hit 1 million subscribers as sales climbed 66% from a year ago to $524.6 million. Similarly, Mirror says purchases of its interactive home fitness device have more than doubled since the start of the pandemic. At the same time, group fitness giants like ClassPass and SoulCycle have quickly transitioned to offering online classes, with mixed success. More than 50% of ClassPass’s digital customers have joined virtual classes, while SoulCycle has transitioned to selling at-home stationary bikes plus subscriptions for streamable classes. Still, about 53% of ClassPass employees were laid off or furloughed, while SoulCycle cut employee pay by 25%.

As states reopen, companies like Equinox and SoulCycle have laid out extensive health and safety measures for when they do allow people back into their gyms and studios. New policies include everything from temperature checks and physical distancing to stringent capacity limitations and modified equipment. In Georgia, one YMCA is even requiring masks. These restrictions, while necessary, also beg the question: will people be willing to venture out for an in-person group class?

Getting Back To The Gym

Polling indicates people want to return to the gym, but there are barriers to actually doing so. Seventy percent of those who worked out at gyms prior to the pandemic report they miss the gym. However, a large majority (67%) of the same group say they aren’t comfortable doing it yet, although certain precautions such as more disinfecting wipes and hand sanitizer would help.

Sentiments and reality may not match however. Infectious disease experts are still counseling that the safest place to get exercise is outside, and new data from South Korea showed significant virus spread from a group Zumba class. With states reopening, returning to the gym and other group fitness classes will essentially come down to personal comfort level. However, this comfort level may change drastically if other countries and U.S. states report similar COVID-19 spread incidents like the one in South Korea.

Regardless, until there is a vaccine, working out in group fitness environments will be far more complicated than before, adding time and stress to an individual’s daily exercise routine. It may be easier for many, especially those who have acquired at-home fitness equipment, to continue working out at home until they know they can return to the gym safely.

Time will tell, but it appears the COVID-19 disruption to group fitness will not be a blip of just a couple of months, but a much longer term reassessment of how people exercise.