Al Fresco Workouts Are a Breath of Fresh Air

Photo: Equinox
All parts of wellness had a shake up this year—how we work out, what we eat, the products we put on our faces, the way we rest—and the reverberations of those changes will be felt into 2021 and beyond. Here's how the innovations born of this year will usher us into the future.

Fresh air, open sky, firm ground: “It just feels good to be outside,” says Julia Healey, director of account management at ClassPass. Necessity may have sent Americans in search of sweat sessions outdoors this year, but thanks to major investment and expansion by some of the fitness industry’s biggest players, this movement has legs that will carry it beyond COVID-19.

Over the past six months, one by one, fitness studios and gyms in select markets moved their operations outside: Barry’s, 305 Fitness, Fhitting Room, SoulCycle, and SLT, among others. And this pivot has proven to be more than a fair-weather solution. Kristin Sudeikis, founder of the New York City-based studio Forward_Space, for one, says she plans to continue the brand’s al fresco dance parties “forever.” And Healey says brands are making significant financial investments in developing open-air spaces that can accommodate more equipment-heavy modalities. Two examples: Equinox opened full-service outdoor locations in New York and Los Angeles this fall (called Equinox+ In the Wild) and Gold’s Gym has plans for a1,400-square-foot covered terrace to open for classes and training sessions in Washington, DC, in early 2021.

SLT founder Amanda Freeman, whose fresh air Megaformer classes will stick around through next year, says the shift outside also presents brands with new expansion opportunities. “I expect to see outdoor workouts continue once the pandemic has ended thanks to the unique experience an outdoor class offers as well as the fact that they’re a cost-effective way for studios to offer their workout in more places,” she says. SLT will be expanding its outdoor offerings next year (though the locations are still TBD), and 305 Fitness and Forward_Space will be launching theirs in cities where they don’t yet have physical locations. Fhitting Room and The Ness are looking to broaden their own open-air offerings through partnerships with hotels, and Orangetheory chief brand officer Kevin Keith foresees outdoor workouts contributing to the brand’s continued growth beyond the pandemic.

"People have been forced to explore, and I think studios are seeing their clients respond well to doing workouts on a beach or in a park,” says Ntiedo Etuk, CEO of Fitgrid, a communication platform for fitness studios and communities. “I see studios...keeping outdoor options open because their clients like that variety." After a year that was dominated by Zoom meetings and “Are you still watching?” messages from Netflix, fresh-air workouts are exactly what our screen-fatigued brains and couch-contorted bodies have been begging for.

Explore the rest of our 2021 Wellness Trends

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