How digitization will continue to drive the fitness industry in 2019

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Company fitness, Hyrox in groups or just with a personal trainer: the fitness industry is growing and working on new concepts of fitness training of the future, in which digitalization and the smartphone in particular will play an even more important role. Prof. Dr. Niels Nagel, Head of Office at the German Industry Association for Fitness and Health (DIFG), talks in an interview about the challenges and trends facing the industry in 2019.

Immer mehr Menschen vertrauen auf einen Personal Trainer.
More and more people rely on a personal trainer.

The fitness industry is growing and growing. In 2020, for example, the world's largest fitness platform is to be launched in Oberhausen. "The Mirai "is the name of the project of McFit founder Rainer Schaller, who wants to offer fitness equipment, running tracks or yoga on a 55,000 square meter area.

But the fitness industry is not only working with new concepts of its own, it is also getting new customers who want to be looked after: Companies send their employees to fitness to keep them healthy at work. Senior citizens also want to stay healthy and now rely on fitness studios. Prof. Dr. Niels Nagel, Head of Office at the German Industry Association for Fitness and Health (DIFG), talks about the challenges facing the industry. So about why digitization is also becoming increasingly important in the fitness sector, but also why the next big task is more likely to be solved analog.

Large studios and outdoor fitness How is the fitness industry doing?
Niels Nagel: Based on the growing social relevance of fitness, the industry is growing in all key market segments. This also applies to fitness clubs as the foundation of the fitness industry. Here, we are experiencing a demand-induced differentiation of business models, as we see in the development of new boutique concepts or in new market segments such as outdoor fitness, company fitness or fitness as part of school instruction.

Which market segment stands out in particular?
If I relate the question to which forms of offering have a particularly high relevance for the fitness market, we can determine the following: From the end customer's point of view, it's trends like HIIT (high-intensity interval training), functional training and also group training, in addition to digital aids such as apps, wearables. For fitness clubs, the topic areas that focus on the preventive health market are certainly particularly significant. These include, for example, exercise-oriented health promotion, also in companies.

Der Branchenexperte Prof. Dr. Niels Nagel ist Head of Office des DIFG.
Der Branchenexperte Prof. Dr. Niels Nagel ist Head of Office des DIFG.
Image credit:
Niels Nagel

Company fitness is growing - with the help of gyms

Won't this create an unexpected market opponent for the fitness studios?
No, on the contrary. The fitness studios have reacted in good time. The topic of workplace health promotion, e.g. in the form of company fitness, is currently even regarded in the industry as one of the major growth drivers for attracting new members and reaching new people. There are different approaches there:

  • Offers through which a company has access to a large network of studios. This means that employees can work out just where they are, close to work, home or on a business trip.
  • Or the new trend that this offer is not only limited to fitness training. That is, the aspiration is in the context of perhaps working out in a gym today, going swimming tomorrow, going golfing the day after, or other leisure activities that are integrated into framework agreements.
  • Another trend is for companies to install the equipment on the work site so that employees can work out shortly before they start work or shortly after. With little time investment, they thus have a basic workout.

GDPR as a challenge in 2018

That sounds like good news. But as Head of Office of the DIFG, you are also confronted with worries and needs.
Of course, there are always challenges. On the positive side, challenges can be the driving force for innovation and quality development. First and foremost, one of the main challenges this year was the consideration of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). From the industry's point of view, however, I can say that this challenge was recognized and accepted in good time.

Your industry has a mass of customer data - sensitive terrain.
Yes, it's a lot of data, a lot of places where data is picked up, and it has to be processed carefully in terms of the GDPR and the customers. But the industry has adapted to that. And it is also providing support for fitness providers to help them intensively with concept solutions for the implementation of the GDPR.

Hyrox and the eventization of fitness

A concrete example is causing concern in your industry right now. What does the lurching of the Kettler company mean for the market?
The development at Kettler is not representative of the market. Nevertheless, Kettler is an important brand with high end customer relevance. Therefore, it is basically positive if Kettler returns to a successful course.

So the company's problems don't represent the market?
No, the case stands on its own. The DIFG has been collecting an industry climate index every quarter for years. And this index value shows a positive development for 2018 so far, both within the individual industry partners and in terms of market development.

Where are the big ideas and advancements in fitness in the new year?

  • On the one hand, we are seeing the trend toward eventization of fitness as a fitness sport, such as with the Hyrox project (fitness competition in nine cities in Germany and Austria). Fitness is increasingly being presented to the public through the media.
  • The second is that we are experiencing fitness as a form of culture in which people join together to form groups.
  • In marketing communications, influencers are becoming more important.
  • Politicians are discovering fitness as a medium for implementing the requirements of the Prevention Act. So fitness is being accepted there, too.
  • And we observe an unbroken trend among fitness clubs toward further qualification. Certainly in the course of digitalization, it then comes about that new learning and teaching formats are also formed.
  • A huge trend in this context is digitization itself: Not only wearables and apps, but also training devices are being networked with each other and even across manufacturers.
  • Digitization is not only taking place in the workout itself, but also in fitness landscapes as a whole. The gym is not only digitizing training equipment, but also the wellness systems, lockers, customer recognition systems.

Industry prepared for senior fitness

There is also the growing market of seniors. Has the industry prepared well enough for more seniors in fitness studios?
The growth in senior fitness is the result of broad acceptance of the fitness industry, a focus on quality, and positioning as a health provider with offerings that appeal to the target group. Training and further education institutes also offer advanced training for target groups such as diabetics.

So should the studios be prepared to dose the training correctly for the elderly?
The dose determines the effect of the training. Seniors need an adapted form of care and training. They should first be introduced to training individually and holistically because they are more insecure. The training equipment should be finely gradable and have lower entry resistances. Above all, it is important to have personnel who can solve the social needs of the elderly. These people not only want to exercise, but also socialize and meet like-minded people.

The future lies in the smartphone

Wearables and apps are a big trend. Which app is making a particular impact?
It's true that wearables not only record the training load, but also provide feedback on everyday activities, because these also have health-relevant effects on the human body. In other words, the trend will be to record not only training data, but also general health data. It is important here to link the devices with those that the end customer is already using. In my view, the smartphone is of central importance here.

The second thing is that we will reduce the number and type of sensors in the future. One example is the transformation from chest straps to sensors on the wrist. Wearables with sensors in clothing, in the sole of the sports shoe, will also become more important. And perhaps in the near future we will see the first sensors on the market that are administered orally or implanted under the skin. There are already exciting concepts, such as the contact lens for diabetics that is able to monitor glucose.

Boutique studios as an economic alternative

As you mentioned, the number of personal trainers is also growing. Has the industry really adapted to this?
There are indeed more and more contemporary business concepts that can offer personal trainers a solid economic basis. For example, support concepts that function in such a way that a fitness studio offers basic support and, if desired, a personal trainer can be booked for specific target groups.

And boutique concepts are also interesting for personal trainers: in other words, smaller studios that offer a very high-quality training program for a very specific target group. If you consider that the fees there are between 80 and 130 euros, then this is an extremely interesting concept economically. Both for the trainer and for the industry, and ultimately also for the trainee via the increased benefits and individual support.

Requirement 2019: Health and Fitness Collaboration

At first, you don't think of such a trend when you see the ever larger chains.
There are trainers who want to leave the studios and build their own existence. However, they face the problem of financing or that it is very difficult to rent the premises for large studios. Here, these young start-ups have the opportunity to build these boutique studios. From the trainer's point of view, you can observe that highly individualized offers are in demand.

You said the GDPR was the 2018 requirement. Is there a 2019 challenge for the industry?
I think we face the challenge of picking up on the health trend and marketing fitness very successfully in the secondary health market. Here, after all, we as a fitness industry also see ourselves in cooperative competition with other industries that have discovered the market for themselves. Now it is a matter of successfully cooperating with these partners and payers of prevention - be it health insurance funds, pension insurance or doctors and physiotherapists. So that the fitness market can expand its position in this market of the future.

Boutique studios as an economic alternative

You’ve mentioned that the number of personal trainers is rising. Has the fitness industry properly adjusted to this?
As a matter of fact there is a growing number of modern business concepts, which can provide personal trainers with on a solid financial basis. For example, there are support concepts that work by providing a gym with basic support and can, on top of that, provide certain target groups with a personal trainer upon request.

And the boutique concepts are also interesting for personal trainers, as they feature smaller studios which can offer a very valuable training program for a particular target group. When you consider that a subscription costs between 80 and 130 euros, you begin to realize what an interesting concept boutique studios are. This is true both for the trainer and for the industry, especially considering the increased benefits and individual support offered to customers.

Requirement for 2019: Cooperation in the field of health and fitness

A trend like this is not your first thought when you look at the increasingly large gym chains.
But there are trainers who simply want to develop themselves outside of the studio and carve out their own existence. They also encounter issues when it comes to funding, or otherwise find that it is difficult to rent out a sufficiently large space. These young people determined to enjoy their lives outside of work have the possibility to create boutique studios. From the customers’ point of view, you can see that highly personalized and individual offers are in demand.

You’ve said that the GDPR was the big challenge for 2018. Do you foresee the industry facing a similar challenge in 2019?
I believe that we are facing the challenge of making the most of the health trend and effectively marketing fitness in the second health market. Here we as the fitness industry are now in a cooperative competition with other industries and sectors for which the market has opened up. At this point it’s all about successfully cooperating with these partners and benefactors in the area of prevention, be that health insurance, pension schemes, or doctors and physiotherapists. With this, the fitness market can establish itself in this future market.

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