The COVID-19 pandemic changed the way we interact with others, the way we work, and yes, the way we work out. The most stark shift in that last category? We traded in-person group fitness classes for at-home workouts hosted digitally. And now that we have some sense of what our collective exercise habits will look like long-term, all signs point to a hybrid fitness model that combines traditional IRL offerings and digital workouts that use the latest fitness software.
What is hybrid fitness?
Even if you haven’t heard the term “hybrid fitness,” there’s a good chance you know what it is. Hybrid fitness refers to businesses that offer services both in-person—say, in your gym or studio—and online. (FYI: You may have also heard the term, “omnichannel fitness.” Same idea.)
“There won’t be one switch that returns everything to the way it was.”
There are two reasons for this shift toward a hybrid fitness model. The first is necessity. We can't plan for one magical day when every facility reopens around the world and everyone runs back to their favorite gym or fitness studio. “There won’t be one switch that returns everything to the way it was,” says Julianne Aerhee Byun, a yoga teacher in Miami. “My hope is that we create a better normal than what we came from.”
The second is a little more voluntary. People got used to working out at home, invested in new equipment and grew to love the convenience. Why get in the car and pack a gym bag when you can sweat right in your living room with an online personal trainer? Especially when you’ve already dedicated money and space to your home gym? (Fitness equipment sales increased 130 percent during the pandemic, according to the NPD Group.)
Patrick Cole, a trainer and gym owner in Germany, offers both online and in-person training and sees the benefits of both. “We work with companies that offer online classes for their employees during the day for a nice break in the afternoon,” he says. “And since we don’t need to travel in between workouts, we can take on more of these clients.”
But many still crave in-person interactions. “People were so excited for their sessions during lockdown,” he says, noting that they showed up rain, shine or blizzard. (Europe still allowed outdoor one-on-one sessions during lockdown.) “Years ago, people never would have worked out in the snow, but there were very few cancelations.” Between businesses wanting to offer more health benefits for their employees and individual clients craving connection, Cole says his client list tripled over the last year.
Will the hybrid fitness model last after the pandemic?
Signs point to yes. Again, people can’t just return the hundreds—maybe thousands—of dollars worth of fitness equipment they already purchased. And with more companies adopting a hybrid model, a mix of working from the office and at home, fitness companies will need to follow suit. “People used to come to the studio before or after work because it was on their way,” says Byun. But now, even those excited to sweat in a studio may find it harder to justify a 30-minute fitness commute when they’ve got everything they need at home. Related: Here's why gym owner Nicole Carlile considers her branded app a form of lockdown insurance.
How to embrace a hybrid fitness model for your business
The basic definition of hybrid fitness may be simple enough, but it gets tricky in practice. How many classes do you offer in-person? When? And what does hybrid fitness look like for a boxing gym? Or a yoga studio? Or a CrossFit box? Do the same rules apply? “Digital is a very powerful tool,” says Bre Williamson, yoga teacher and founder of Mindfully Bre, “but every trainer will have a different strategy to suit their clients.”
Of course, you'll need to build a fitness website if you haven't already. Here are some other ways to run a hybrid fitness business or gym successfully.
Expand your offerings
Brielle Collins, founder of Practice Shraddha in Tel Aviv, uses video to host more narrow wellness seminars that she wouldn’t have considered offering in person, like a recent series on exercising after miscarriage. “There’s more opportunity to serve your community,” she says. Zoom can be an easy place to experiment and see what resonates with your audience. Here are 8 ways to up your Zoom exercise game. If a seminar was successful, consider building a related online program to encourage more commitment from your clients. Here's how to create and sell online programs.
Reconsider rush hour
Cole hosts corporate classes in the afternoon, when people need that mid-day break, and in-person classes in the mornings and evenings. Ask yourself: How did your clients’ schedules change? And are you overlooking a new demographic of clients?
Plan in-person events
Maybe you teach most of your classes online, but you also host an annual yoga retreat, or a weekly run in the park, or an in-person session on form fundamentals. “I think hybrid fitness is the way of the future, but we need to create more ways for our digital community to gather in person,” Byun says. If you're considering outdoor training sessions, read more about how green exercise can improve your workout programs.