Will Digital Streaming Burst the Boutique Fitness Bubble?

From left: John Foley, Melisse Gelula, Aarti Kapoor, Alexia Brue, and Anna Kaiser. Photo: Tim Gibson
There's nothing quite like the energy at your favorite boutique fitness class when the lights are down low and the endorphins are high. The motivation you feel when you sweat it out in a room with 30 other people working as hard as you are is undeniable. But, real talk: These classes aren't cheap. With prices reaching up to $40 for a 45-minute session, many yogis, cyclists, and HIIT devotees are turning to online streaming services, like Daily Burn and YouTube, to get similar results.

And as for that community aspect? Chances are, Peloton's crazy passionate Facebook followers and Tone It Up's Instagram squad just might be talking to each other more than the people in your average fitness class do. It's enough to not only make you rethink what a fitness community is, but what it means for the industry's future as a whole.

It was something passionately discussed at Well+Good's second Talks event, our monthly IRL chat series. Moderated by Well+Good co-founder Alexia Brue and joined by panelists Peloton co-founder and CEO John Foley, AKT founder and CEO Anna Kaiser, and Aarti Kapoor (AKA the wellness maven of Wall Street) everyone had a lot to say. Bombs were dropped—did you know Foley tried to buy SoulCycle?—and insider predictions were publicized. Intrigued? Watch the Facebook Live video below or keep reading to find out what went down.

How are digital platforms affecting the future of fitness? Scroll down to find out.

It's making the fitness scene even bigger

Think American culture is wellness obsessed now? Foley points out something really interesting: "Fitness wasn't a category that existed in the '60s," he said. "It wasn't until the '70s that jogging became a trend. This is still a young space." Sure, you and your friends may be all about the hot instructor at your bootcamp class, but many, many people still live in towns where there just aren't that many cool classes happening.

"Six years ago, SoulCycle was the hottest [place] around and the classes would sell out in, like, 20 seconds," Foley said. "My wife had to plan her week based around when she got into a class. And I wasn't willing to do that, so I went around feeling like a second-class citizen because I was working out at the gym." It was his "aha" moment: If that many people wanted to book a class, what would happen if it became possible for 500 people to book it? Or even 1,000? And today, that's exactly what happens with Peloton's at-home streaming.

"Boutique fitness is not accessible to everyone financially or geographically," Kapoor, the wellness trend expert said. "[Digital and streaming services] open it up to a larger market."

Kaiser is seeing her streaming dance cardio-and-sculpting workouts with AKT being used as a supplement to going to in-studio classes. "I have a client in Canada who comes to New York for in-class workouts once a month to remember why she got hooked initially. But the rest of the time, she's doing the same workout she loves at home in Canada," she said.

It's changing the definition of fitness communities

Sure, Kayla Itsines and Emily Skye may be based in Australia, but all you have to do is look at their Instagram comments to know they've created a community all over the world. And Tone It Up retreats are largely meet-ups for friends who have encouraged each other and talked online but have never met IRL.

"We wanted to bring a community," Foley said of one of his major goals with Peloton. "You don't want to feel alone in your basement. It's a different type of community, but it's still a community."

Kaiser feels a bit differently. "There's nothing a 2D video will do better energetically or community-wise than a class," she said. To her, the convenience of an at-home workout is one thing. But the energy of an in-studio class isn't something you can replicate in your living room.   

There's room for both to co-exist

Something all three panelists agreed on was that there's still plenty of room for growth for both boutique studios and digital fitness—and that they can complement each other. "Even my wife and I like to leave the house every once in a while and go to a studio class," Foley joked.

As far as what the future holds for digital fitness, both Kapoor and Kaiser see customized workouts as a growing trend. "There are a lot of talented personal trainers who have emerged because there are more people in the industry," Kapoor said, pointing to the popularity of virtual instructors. AKT and Peloton both offer short workouts online so users can piece them together to form a workout that works best for them—in terms of time and intensity, illustrating another way customization is taking shape.

One thing is certain: Digital fitness continues to boom. It's a conversation that's only going to keep getting more interesting.

Special thanks to our partners Peloton, Ballet Beautiful, AKT, SPIbelt, Primal Kitchen, and Xtend Barre who gave amazing goodies for the gift bags.

If you do want to make friends at your next IRL workout, here's how. Finding a date at the gym, on the other hand? That's not so easy.

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