Revolution or evolution? How technology is diversifying the health and wellness industry

By Teresa Beeley

15th October 2019

A very happy birthday to Peloton – the creators of the super sleek stationary bikes for home fitness – which is celebrating one year in the UK. In case you’re not ‘in the know’ Peloton is a big name in the fitness industry. Founded in 2012, its £1,990 high-tech bikes come equipped with touchscreens that Peloton subscribers – of which there are now around 1.5 million – use to stream classes from the comfort of their own homes.

As a 20-something full-time professional working and renting in central London, I can only dream of owning such a piece of kit. As a frugal fitness amateur, I can merely dip my toes in the waters of the multi-billion-dollar industry with a low-budget monthly gym membership, which I use sporadically.

The latest figures from Statista shows there are roughly 6,700 health and fitness clubs in the UK with approximately 9.7 million members. Of those clubs, close to half are solely fitness clubs, generating a total annual turnover of £1.9 million.

But in recent years the gym has come under siege, thanks to brands like Peloton and Zwift – a virtual at-home training app for running and cycling. Just a few decades ago, exercising at home became the norm thanks to Jane Fonda, who personified home fitness in the 80s. Cindy Crawford followed suit in the 90s, while Davina McCall ruled the market in the 00s. However, today’s hi-tech, interactive at-home workouts are far more comprehensive due to advancements in technology and the trend of self-betterment.

Is this a revolution or evolution, or simply the industry diversifying?

Data from Nielsen shows those between the ages of 23 – 38 years old are the most active group of people on the planet. People at either end of the scale may well be at very different stages of their lives, but they’re united through an obsession with fitness. They are more committed to eating right and exercising than any other generation, with 76 per cent exercising at least once a week.

No longer content with a traditional ‘session’ at the gym, millennials have been a driving force behind a decade-long fitness boom. The explosion of technology and connectivity, coupled with their pay-as-you-go approach to spending, has enabled a generation to take part in premium workouts at their convenience. But are we jumping to conclusions calling this a revolution? Is it simply society evolving and diversifying to utilise the advancements in technology?

At present, millennials and Gen Z account for 69 per cent of all fitness wearables owners in the UK, with one in five worrying about their body image, according to research from the Mental Health Foundation.

With this in mind, brands and individuals within the health and fitness sector are being urged to be mindful of how new technology and initiatives are delivered to consumers, to ensure that they operate responsibly.

Fight or flight

Technology aside, gyms and health clubs are more than just places in which we work out in – they are also important social hubs, especially amongst young people who are drinking less or are tee total. Premium boutique fitness chains, such as Tribe3 and Third Space offer their customers Instagrammable settings, juice bars, spas, breakfast bars and hot desks to accommodate other areas of the lives of their customer—not just their fitness.

What does the future hold?

There is no right or wrong path when it comes to exercise. It should always be adapted to the needs of an individual. It is possible to exercise as effectively on your own at home as you would in a gym, depending on your own motivation – but there are risks. Namely that you can develop wrong techniques or overdo it, resulting in injury (something which I can testify to).

A rise in home workouts certainly doesn’t mean gym chains will close in the foreseeable future. Instead, they’re more likely to extend their existing offering by revamping venues and introducing new workouts. But it’s going to take more than a lick of paint and a beanbag to keep up with changing trends.

It’s essential that fitness brands find what resonates with their audiences, staying abreast of trends and even predicting or pre-empting them. And there are lots of tools and resources that can help with this. Understanding what motivates us to get off the sofa is the place to start.

Collaborative fitness, collaborative brands

Some brands will partner with other brands to utilise their community or tap into a social group in which they want to gain prominence. In many ways, these are often fruitful relationships which benefit both brands as well as their customers. More recently, brands have been collaborating with influencers on paid partnerships to build brand awareness amongst a specific type of person, such as a female millennial working in London.

Cross-collaboration, where learnings and best practice can be shared within the industry, is key. Brands must listen before actively participate in conversations, ensuring they have a share of voice within the market. Because being central to the conversation is the only way a brand can shape the trends to come. And who knows what 2020 may bring. Perhaps it will be the year of yoga – with ‘gin yoga’ and ‘HIIT yoga’ gaining popularity – or even the year of the naked workout. Lycra, be gone.

This article is part of the new series, Making the Headlines. To listen to the first episode of the podcast – featuring Neat Nutrition, Rude Health and Men’s Healthclick here, download and subscribe on your podcast platform of choice or listen below.