26 Feb 2024 HCM Handbook

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Health Club Management Handbook - Fitness foresight™


Fitness foresight™

A round-up of the key trends, influences and opportunities shaping the health and fitness sector

Dr Lauretta Ihonor


Augmented reality

Operators have long relied on TV screens and loud music to keep gym-goers entertained and minimise the monotony of their workouts. However, the development of augmented reality (AR) technology opens up new possibilities for health clubs. By allowing images to be superimposed onto a person’s field of view, AR technology can enhance reality – adding sights, sounds, sensations and even smells that aren’t really there. This technology is already being developed for use in the attractions and engineering industries. Disney Research recently unveiled an AR ‘Magic Bench’ prototype that allows users to interact with animated characters, while Google has updated its Glass gadget, utilising AR to display instructions from manuals in the visual fields of mechanics carrying out complex tasks like assembling jet engines. There’s no reason why this technology could not be extended to gyms and health clubs in the future. Gym-goers may soon be able to feel the wind in their hair as they ride through the Pyrenees or experience the sights and sounds of an African sunset as they row down the Nile.

Photo: shutterstock.com

Time to put the pedal to the metal for augmented fitness workouts

Exercise supplements

The remarkable growth of the superfood and health supplement sector over the last decade suggests that consumers are actively looking for new ways to optimise their health. While weight loss and anti-ageing benefits remain the focus of existing supplements, results from recent mouse studies indicate that an exercise pill may be on the horizon.

Indeed, in 2017, scientists from the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California, USA, unearthed a chemical compound that can increase athletic endurance in mice by 70 per cent. Such a solution could be a game changer for the fitness industry, helping people get more from their workouts by being able to exercise harder and for longer without getting tired.

Elsewhere, researchers from Augusta University in Georgia, USA, have discovered another approach to creating an exercise pill. They’ve found that suppressing the production of the protein myostatin in mice increases muscle mass and improves heart health in the same way as regular exercise. The focus is now on replicating these findings in humans, which, when successfully achieved, could set in motion the creation of a pill that provides the cardiovascular and muscle building benefits of a good workout.

But operators need not fear being replaced by such a pill, because myostatin suppression does not provide the full range of benefits associated with physical activity: improving mood, bone health, blood sugar control and fat metabolism.


Photo: shutterstock.com

Pills offering cardiovascular and muscle building benefits are on the horizon

Fascial release

The incorporation of fascia release techniques into fitness classes and recovery sessions is set to grow as the importance of a supple fascial layer becomes better understood. As the thin fascial layer is responsible for the structural integrity of the whole body, when it’s tight and inflexible, body efficiency is compromised – leading to long-term pain, poor posture and limited physical performance.

The beginning of the fascial release trend is already evident in active recovery classes, including New York’s barefoot A.C.C.E.S.S class, Equinox’s myofascial massage prehabilitation class RX, and Breathe London’s Moving Stretch sessions, which all centre around releasing the fascia via foam rolling and resistance stretch movements. Watch out for a steady growth in such classes alongside the introduction of foam rollers and other fascial release devices into yoga, pilates and mind-body classes.


Photo: shutterstock.com

Fitness classes will feature fascia release techniques and equipment

Sensory deprivation

After falling out of fashion more than 30 years ago, floatation tanks are poised to return to the limelight as sensory deprivation experiences grow in popularity. Studies show that restricted environmental stimulation therapy (sensory deprivation) can positively affect body physiology, lowering cortisol and blood pressure, while increasing wellbeing and reducing blood lactate levels after intense exercise. Unlike their predecessors predominantly found in spas, we predict the new wave of floatation tanks will be in health clubs and offered as a post-exercise recovery tool and wellbeing service.

Sensory deprivation experiences will not be limited to floatation tanks. Expect a surge in the use of sensory deprivation within fitness classes as exercising for health overtakes exercising for aesthetics.

Based on research findings that suggest that when one sense is lost other senses are sharpened, early adopters are already offering sensory deprivation-focused functional classes. In Gymbox’s new Blackout class, for example, participants are asked to perform functional exercises whilst blindfolded, with the aim of improving their body awareness, reaction time and proprioception.


Post-exercise recovery and wellbeing services could feature floatation tanks

Mental fitness

Mindfulness has enjoyed good growth in recent years; however, it’s a practice that’s set to move from ‘nice to have’ to centre stage within fitness facilities, and a change of focus from peace of mind to strength of mind and resilience. This will be driven by the increased presence of the youngest generation, generation Z, within the fitness sector as they come of age.

Generational analysts report that this health-conscious group considers mindfulness as integral to health and fitness, and as a result, expects to be able to incorporate mindful practices into standard workouts.
Expect to see a rise in physical and digital mindfulness-focused tools as designers and operators strive to meet this need. Mental fitness apps are already growing in popularity, led by the likes of digital content group Lucid Performance. Its training app uses sport psychology principles, rather than traditional meditation, to help users increase focus, self-belief and confidence. It’s a strategy that has proven to be popular, with the California-based company reporting a 35 per cent weekly increase in user numbers following its launch in 2017.

Another area of change will involve the movement of mind gyms – originally developed as a corporate performance enhancement tool – from the office to the health club. Get ready to see people going to the gym to learn mind-sharpening strategies such as neurolinguistic programming.


Photo: shutterstock.com

Physical and digital mindfulness-focused tools will be more prevalent

Diversified boutique offers

When boutique studios burst onto the fitness scene a decade ago, most chose to specialise in a single exercise modality. From indoor cycling to pilates studios, niche branding and offerings have defined the boutique sector for years.But as providers seek to hold onto the communities they have worked hard to cultivate, more will look to offer multiple studio concepts under one roof, ensuring that their fans have no need to go anywhere else to fulfil their workout requirements.A case in point is Soulcycle. The pioneer of the boutique fitness concept recently launched SoulAnnex – a bike-free floor-based concept featuring dance, HIIT and active recovery classes – in New York’s Flatiron District. And in the UK, London-based brand Psycle is leading the way in this area. Despite launching as an indoor cycling studio, the brand has now added independent HIIT, yoga and barre studio concepts to its portfolio. It’s likely to be a matter of time before others follow suit.

Boutiques will spread their wings to offer multiple studio concepts under one roof

PT Medical training

As physical activity gains continued recognition as an effective preventive health tool, medical schools are increasingly being called upon to place physical activity training higher on the agenda. As such, it’s likely that the doctors of tomorrow will be armed with the knowledge needed to confidently hand out prescriptions for exercise, rather than just medication.

However, as tackling inactivity and its associated diseases needs both the medical and fitness industries to come together, the medical knowledge of PTs must also grow in the near future.

All PT qualifications, not just advanced specialist ones, could include training on common chronic diseases, such as stroke, hypertension and diabetes.

PT education standards and qualifications are currently under reformation, led by CIMSPA, Active IQ and REPs in the UK; and EuropeActive and EREPs across the rest of Europe. As these bodies look to develop standardised, high-quality training pathways, the timing is perfect for the addition of teaching on disease aetiology, treatment and prevention to PT curriculums.


PHOTO: shutterstock.com

PT training to focus on common chronic diseases

Equipment home delivery service

Equipment manufacturers are remaining firmly focused on developing innovative fitness machines that offer users better results, more convenience and maximum ease of use.

However, an increasing number of machine iterations poses a problem for the savvy at-home exerciser who wants to keep up to speed with the latest equipment tech: a lack of unlimited space to store lots of bulky pieces of gym equipment.

However, it’s a problem that presents fitness suppliers with the niche market opportunity of home-delivery equipment subscriptions. Fitness consumers can have the equipment they desire for their workout delivered directly to their door, keep it for a couple of hours, days or weeks, and then have it collected or exchanged for a different piece of equipment kit they desire.

Of course, logistic limitations, such as equipment size and weight exist, and this means that more portable machines, such as indoor bikes and rowers, are likely to lead the way in this field.

Nevertheless, these limitations also present an opportunity for manufacturers to start giving equipment portability higher priority during the equipment design and manufacturing process.


PHOTO: shutterstock.com

Portable equipment like running machines will pave the way

Expert exercisers

Technology is transforming the way in which fitness fans exercise by placing elite equipment at the disposal of the average person. Furthermore, professional athletes and their trainers are openly sharing their workout programmes on social media platforms, such as Instagram and Snapchat – enticing mere mortals to try their techniques for themselves.

As such, training like an athlete is fast becoming a desire of gym goers and we’re seeing a rise in services catering specifically for expert exercisers. From gyms kitted out with high-performance specialist equipment to fitness classes created specifically for those striving to achieve athlete-like fitness levels, it’s a niche, yet growing area of opportunity for the elite end of the industry – one that London-based Metabolic is tapping into. Founded and backed by professional athletes – ex-premier league hockey player Lawrence Hannah and Olympian, Denise Lewis – the studio’s workouts have been designed using athletic training principles.

Indeed, seasoned gym goers are increasingly looking for a challenge and it’s not just operators that are responding; equipment suppliers are also tapping into this growing market. Wattbike, the indoor cycle manufacturer best known for preparing cyclists, rowers, rugby players, and track and field athletes for world and Olympic success, recently released a home version of its best-selling indoor trainer, giving people at-home access to highly precise data-driven training previously reserved for athletes. As technology continues to grow more sophisticated, such offerings are likely to become more commonplace.


Operators and equipment suppliers are tapping into the growing market for expert exercisers

In-house injury recovery

With gym penetration rates rising across the UK, Europe and the US, and gym goers remaining at significant risk of musculoskeletal injuries, operators must start to give attention to the absence of well-defined pathways for treating sports injuries among gym-goers if they are to maximise retention. After all, injured exercisers are more likely to turn away from physical exercise if sprains and strains persist or recur.

Operators are, indeed, well placed to develop and execute the delivery of the convenient and streamlined injury recovery pathways that are currently lacking. Some will develop in-house musculoskeletal recovery teams, with gym members given access to physiotherapists, sports massage therapists, chiropractors and other specialists housed within the gym premises. Other gym operators will choose to serve as tertiary referral centres, establishing databases of approved local musculoskeletal specialists for injured-member referrals.


PHOTO: shutterstock.com

Recovery pathways for sport injuries among gym-goers will become streamlined

Chakra workouts

As more people look to address the non-physical factors that may affect their overall wellbeing, spirituality looks set to make a move into the fitness sector.

It’s thought that just as the fast-paced, convenience-driven lifestyles of today can damage our physical and mental health, modern living is also causing blockages in the body’s natural energy flow – also known as chakras – leading to poor health and low levels of functioning.

The ancient Indian practice of chakra balancing uses techniques, such as breathing, yoga poses and visualisation, to drive energy to the seven chakras of the body – which are said to be linked to the nervous and endocrine systems.

Although chakra balancing has remained firmly in the realm of alternative medicine, expect to see it increasingly combined with fitness concepts as operators build on the current holistic fitness movement.

Leading the way is lifestyle and wellness brand Modern Om. The company’s brand is centred on chakras, from its seven brand colours – each representing a chakra – to its Miami mindfulness festival. The one-day debut in 2017 attracted hundreds to its chakra-balancing meditations and yoga sessions, indicating that fitness and wellness consumers are ready to get in touch with their spiritual side.


PHOTO: shutterstock.com

Spirituality will play a larger role in the mainstream fitness sector

Child-led exercise

As childhood obesity levels continue to rise, finding new and effective ways of getting more children active, more often will remain a focus for the industry. And with psychologists already drawing attention to the way young children naturally incorporate movement into play, its time schools, leisure centres and even gyms started taking notice.

Allowing children to have more influence on the design of the physical education, sports and fitness classes planned for them is necessary if they’re to truly enjoy physical activity and have fun exercising. With that in mind, watch out for a new wave of children’s fitness – designed for children, by children.

Less popular activities, such as cross-country running or forced team sports, will give way to fitness sessions based on games, playground classics and imaginative play. It’s a shift that presents opportunities for equipment suppliers, operators and designers alike, as the focus will be split between equipment-free activities – such as tug of war and sack racing – which make use of open studios and functional spaces, and activities that require specialist equipment, such as trampolines and climbing frames.


PHOTO: shutterstock.com

To tackle child inactivity we must make activities far more engaging

Leisure centre luxe

Leisure centres are showing no signs of slowing down in their mission to reinvent themselves. Faced with the threat of being made obsolete by the sophisticated, technologically advanced, and often more aesthetically pleasing private gym and health club market, public fitness facilities will continue to add more upmarket offerings to their services, while modernising their designs.

Local authority leisure operators are already venturing into the luxury market, with the addition of premium spa services, such as spa baths, ice features and salt rooms. But that’s just the beginning.

Boutique studios offering cutting-edge fitness classes; high-tech equipment that wirelessly pairs with the latest apps; and shower facilities with amenities to rival premium health clubs will also become increasingly common – taking the humble leisure centre to new heights.

While staying competitive is expected to remain the primary driving force behind the reinvention of leisure centres, the significant secondary spend opportunities presented by the addition of luxury services will continue to serve as great motivation to operators.


Leisure centres and boutiques are adding more upmarket offerings

Natural enhancers

As more and more exercisers look to take their fitness pursuits to the next level, the provision of safe and natural ways to maximise performance and workout results will grow in importance.

Operators stand to benefit from this upcoming growth in the popularity of natural performance enhancers as gym-goers look to consume them immediately before or after a workout – presenting an ideal on-site retail opportunity.

Look out an increased presence of F&B products containing natural enhancers, such as beetroot juice – renowned for its ability to boost athletic performance and muscle recovery – and turmeric – which contains the muscle-healing anti-inflammatory substance curcumin.

Adaptogenic herbs, which help improve the body’s response to stress, will also become a fitness supplement of choice, after research has shown that herbs, such as rhodiola and Siberian ginseng, can help the body to adapt more effectively to intense exercise routines and recovery.


PHOTO: shutterstock.com

Growing demand for natural performance enhancers is an ideal retail opportunity

Free gyms

The arrival of the low cost gym sector has been instrumental in the surge in gym memberships, market value and penetration rates seen recently.

It’s a finding that suggests that cost remains a big barrier to the uptake of gym memberships, and it’s one that fitness operators are now seeking to address by simply doing away with membership fees altogether.

Leading the way is German fitness operator McFit. It plans to open The Mirai in 2019 – a gym in which users can train for free. Mcfit founder Rainer Schaller has said that the brand will bring in revenue through partnerships with industry key players. It has also been suggested that income could be augmented by cleverly using the space, which will sit on a 592,000sq ft (55,000sq m) plot of land in western Germany, to stage industry conferences and showcase fitness equipment.

Expect to see more operators follow suit, based on the success of The Mirai’s free model, with each adopting increasingly creative ways of boosting their revenue.


Free gym membership is the hallmark of The Mirai
Fitness Foresight™ archive

• Mental health
• Epigenics
• Virtual design
• Insect diet
• Recovery
• Breathing
• Clean eating
• Non-gym memberships
• Fitness as entertainment
• Artificial intelligence
• Meditation spaces
• Fluid gym floors
• Tailored memberships
• Active commuting
• Group exercise
• Active education

• Invisibles
• DNA testing
• Beacon technology
• Around the clock fitness
• Business with a purpose
• Biomimicry
• Continuous upgrades
• Water scarcity
• Creating experiences
• An end to contracts?
• Haemoglobin testing
• Fitness nights out
• Growth of trampolining
• Consolidation of the sector
• Age-friendly design
• At-home fitness
• Middleman backlash
• Animal movement

• Mental health
• Charitable thinking
• Wellness cities
• Making fitness fun
• Evidence & data
• Cellular health
• Over-nourishment
• Fats & carbs
• Activity tracking
• Virtual offerings
• Loneliness
• Circadian aware
• Hardcore fitness
• Neuroplasticity
• Oil, gas and solar

• Wearable tech
• Mobile biometrics
• Rebranding exercise
• Last impressions
• Wellness tourism
• Pop-up facilities
• Online reviews
• Specialist services
• In-club technology
• Home delivery
• Peak performance


PHOTO: shutterstock.com

Push your boundaries to keep one step ahead

Lauretta Ihonor is a freelance editor, as well as a qualified medical doctor and a health and nutrition specialist.

Originally published in HCM Handbook 2018 edition

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