Digital Brands Are Going All In On Hybrid Fitness

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When gyms closed in March 2020, legacy fitness brands like Barry’s, Orange Theory, and AARMY—among many others—hustled to enter the digital market to make their offerings available to people at home. Now, as COVID-19 restrictions have loosened and allowed people to return to the gym, digital-first fitness brands that thrived over the past two years are looking to do the reverse and come with you to the gym. In doing so, these tech-savvy brands are betting big on a “hybrid fitness” model that hinges on their integration into physical spaces.

A recent Classpass survey found that, though 75 percent of consumers plan to return to the gym, 65 percent plan to maintain hybrid workouts post-COVID. “People became more comfortable with working out at home, and we’re seeing that really continue as people are experiencing the continued flexibility of working from home,” says Shari Castelli, senior director of industry development at ClassPass. “But we’re also still seeing a huge appetite for that in-person experience with the studios that have reopened." All this, she says, makes it clear that the hybrid model is resonating with people.

And so do the numbers: Peloton, which saw massive growth during the early days of the pandemic, saw its stock dip nearly 30 percent this month. In contrast, Planet Fitness claims its membership levels are almost back to a pre-pandemic peak, and the company saw its stock hit an all-time this month. This shift back to physical spaces signals that the digital-fitness boom—fuelled by a time when heavy breathing in close proximity to others was life or death—is finding equilibrium with gyms and studio fitness. "There have been some definite winners and losers throughout all these shifts," says Mohammed Iqbal, CEO of SweatWorks, which works to develop fitness technology for brands like Equinox, BeachBody, Clmbr, CityRow, AARMY, and Strava. "But the real winner is the consumer."

Digital brands have started to realize that the new hybrid fitness consumer now needs hybrid platforms to meet their needs. MYX Fitness, which launched its connected at-home bikes in 2019, for example, has expanded beyond connected fitness equipment to bring users an on-demand workout app they can use anywhere. “We’re looking at how people can take their account profile with them wherever they go, whether that’s logging in at a gym or going outside on a walk, hike, run, or bike ride,” says Heberto Calves, CEO of MYX. Last year, Apple Fitness+ partnered with the national gym chain Life Time to give members free access to its Watch-enabled offerings. And in November, Les Mills launched Les Mills+, a fitness platform that delivers personalized digital workouts for use at home or in the gym, as well as a "class-finding" function that connects users to live workouts in their local areas. **

Meanwhile, digital-first hardware brands are also finding their way into our gyms and studios. CLMBR, which released its home climbing machine in November, is already at some of the biggest Equinox outposts in the country. And in the future, we can expect to see the equipment everywhere from hotels to large-format gyms to boutique studios. MYX, for example, is eyeing big-box gyms for the next phase of its business, and there have been murmurings that Peloton—which acquired Precor, a major provider of workout machines to gyms and hotels, back in April—will start to pop up in gyms in the near future.

After more than a year of wondering whether or not digital fitness would be the end of gyms, we're happy to report that it doesn't have to be an "either/or" situation. And as more fitness software and hardware brands find integration into physical spaces in 2022, we won't have to sweat the small stuff—like where we're working out—and instead, we can just focus on those burpees.

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