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Reopened Gyms and Vaccinations Driving Return to In-Person Fitness

People working out with kettle bells at the gym

Getty Images / Ferrantraite

Key Takeaways

  • Digital choices are likely to stick around, but with gyms and boutique classes open again, people are flocking to in-person experiences, a new report notes.
  • Wellness activities like massage and sauna are also popular again.
  • Equipment, accountability, and instructor direction are three top reasons for a return to gym spaces.

The fitness and wellness industry encountered numerous shifts over 2020, with a notable pivot to digital workout options when gyms closed under stay-at-home orders and then had capacity limits afterward. Classes served up over streaming services, digital training, and home gyms became so popular it seemed like that might become the new normal—but a new report from ClassPass indicates that may not be the case.

Looking at trends in over 40,000 gyms, fitness studios, and spas, the report noted that most facilities have been able to reopen and that 93% of survey respondents were fully or partially vaccinated. The combination of these two factors is driving interest back to in-person fitness, which marks a shift from even six months ago when a RunRepeat survey found only 15% of respondents anticipated using the gym as their primary form of exercise.

The recent report notes that the top five reasons people are now getting off their devices and back in shared spaces are:

  • Access to equipment
  • Greater accountability
  • Perception that in-person is better for mental health
  • Preference for instructor direction and encouragement
  • Class-takers feel they push themselves harder than on their own

Trends to Expect

Although predictions in December emphasized a hybrid approach to fitness, with a cautious approach to returning to in-person experiences, the recent survey found there’s more enthusiasm than expected. Here are some trends that could determine what’s next for the rest of the year.

Higher Gym Usage, Especially with Vaccination

The ClassPass report showed that among users who have returned to in-person classes, average usage is 10% higher than before the pandemic.

That’s especially true with classes where vaccination is mandated. The survey showed an uptick in studios that require proof of vaccination and don’t require masks. About 69% of respondents prefer returning to vaccine-mandated classes and 59% prefer to remove their masks in class once vaccinated. However, only 18% plan to frequent only studios with these requirements.

After-Work Class Returns

Most likely because the shift toward going back to workplaces is in full swing, so is the after-work class. Similar to before the pandemic, the 5:30 p.m. class has “made a comeback,” the report states. The second-most-popular time is noon, also in line with pre-pandemic habits.

Yoga Climbs in Popularity

Among the top 10 most-booked classes and appointments, livestream yoga is the only digital class on the list. The surge in interest about yoga during the pandemic has brought new awareness for many new to the practice, the report notes. As a result, in-studio yoga is the second most-popular class type since studios have reopened—strength training takes the top spot—and people new to the ClassPass app are most likely to book a yoga class first.

The top ten most popular class types are:

  • Strength training
  • Yoga
  • Indoor cycling
  • Pilates
  • Barre
  • Boxing
  • Gym time
  • Massage
  • Livestream yoga
  • Running

Outdoors Still Booming

Many trainers and gyms began offering outdoor options when facilities had to close temporarily. According to ClassPass, there was a 917% increase in studios offering outdoor classes since May 2020, and it appears that trend is still going very strong. May 2021 represented the most outdoor reservations booked ever on the app.

Wellness and Self-Care Are Huge

For the first time, massage is on the top 10 wellness and self-care list, the report notes. Also seeing a surge are:

  • Facials
  • Manicures
  • Haircuts
  • Waxing
  • Sauna
  • Cryotherapy

With a return to workplaces and more rules relaxed on mask-wearing, it makes sense that personal grooming would come surging back. But the past year and a half has also been a time of reflection for many people about the value of self-care and wellness, and that’s likely part of what’s driving this as well.

Hybrid Still an Option

Of course, at-home workouts aren’t going anywhere. Apps like Nike Training ClubPeloton DigitalObé Fitness and others make it easy to continue working out at home. You can also make up your own bodyweight workouts or follow plans you find online. 

Much like work, school, and entertainment, the fitness industry has expanded into significant digital strategies in the past year, making it easy to enjoy the best of both in-person and online options.

What This Means For You

If you're ready to get back to in-person gym time, you're not alone. Many are finding that being around other people helps them stay motivated and gives them access to equipment they don't have at home.

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