Let’s talk numbers. More than 45 percent of consumers intend to make virtual fitness a part of their weekly routine going forward. Since March 2020, 85 percent of Mindbody consumers now attend livestreaming classes weekly versus 7 percent in 2019. Virtual sessions allow athletes to explore a range of experiences, avoid a commute to the gym and customize their fitness schedule.
This is a massive opportunity, but it may require a seismic shift in how you think about your business. In a hybrid world, fitness brands that build high-quality virtual experiences for their communities will retain members and grow faster than their competition.
A recent Mindbody survey showed 40 percent of consumers are booking virtual workouts with studios they had never physically visited before, which means a large segment of the market will be reachable through first-time remote experiences. Taking digital seriously will give you a concrete advantage: reaching consumers where they make buying decisions.
The question is: Are you confident that your digital workout experiences stand out against the competition? That competition is only growing, and it includes digitally native brands such as Apple Fitness+ and Peloton.
It’s not easy to deliver a digital fitness experience that lives up to modern consumer expectations, but the pandemic accelerated virtual fitness adoption, which means a recent explosion in tools and best practices that will quickly improve your offerings.
There are some high-level questions to answer right away. Are you offering live or pre-recorded on-demand workouts to your community—or both? What software will you use to livestream classes and provide on-demand content? What software or platform will keep your community engaged—with you and with each other?
We’ve seen thousands of virtual workouts—livestreamed and pre-recorded—from fitness brands all over the world. They included a lot of innovative approaches to differentiating a virtual workout experience—including a lot that you should probably avoid.
Only a small percentage of virtual workout options are doing more than the status quo—simply running classes that were previously in-person on a platform such as Zoom or Facebook Live. Rapidly growing brands recognize the remote experience is nothing like an in-person one. Virtual workout sessions deserve to be designed in ways that take advantage of what makes them unique. It’s not too late to upgrade your digital strategy while your competitors are exploring similar options.
The right toolkit for virtual fitness is an important foundation. Best-of-breed streaming platforms, a metrics solution for accountability and a social layer connecting members are three areas to consider. These areas have benefited from the recent innovation explosion, so now is the time to review your technology choices.
Here are eight areas of virtual workout experiences to consider:
- Offer multi-platform access to athletes, and broadcast to more than one streaming platform at once to meet them where they are.
- Choose a broadcast location that reflects your brand. Consider backscreens or wall art that reinforces your mission or mantras.
- Be deliberate about choosing video streaming platforms. This area has seen great innovation in the past two years.
- Leverage breakout rooms to motivate small groups to compete with one another.
- Optimize how you share music. Pipe it directly to athletes for an immersive workout.
- Explore AI-powered tools that help with workout metrics, form correction and post-workout summaries.
- Invest in better cameras and stage lighting for a high-quality production.
- Consider a two-coach approach to virtual training, allowing one coach to focus entirely on attendees, social engagement and targeted instruction.
The brands that thrive in tomorrow’s increasingly hybridized world will be those that leverage modern tools to craft better remote experiences. Going the extra mile will strengthen your communities and enhance the virtual experience you deliver, leading to a strong, growing business.
Clint Gehde is the co-founder and head coach at Exer, a fitness AI startup building tools to empower coaches and practitioners. The Exer Studio app adds leaderboards and motion scoring to virtual fitness workouts using athletes’ laptop or smartphone camera—no extra hardware needed. For more information, email [email protected]