The evolution of digital technologies is profoundly changing the way people live and do business, and in the process, transforming and reshaping the fitness industry.

However, in a sector where the scope and uptake of digital technologies vary wildly, the resulting opportunities and challenges have created an uneven playing field.

This is exacerbated by a growing gap between tech-driven and globally-connected organisations and traditional micro and small businesses, often characterised by low-tech business practices.

Is your organisation making the most of digital?

We’re looking at the most significant challenges to the fitness industry and how digitalisation can overcome them.

Keeping up with the competition

Digital technologies are evolving from being the drivers of efficiency to being fundamental in the growth opportunities for a business. They’re no longer ‘nice-to-haves’; they’re a necessity.

It’s no surprise that digital-first fitness firms are thriving. And on top of that, for many businesses, the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated digital fitness years into the future.

In March 2020 alone, Google searches for “at-home workouts” rose by a massive 500 percent.

If digital isn’t playing a central role in your fitness business, you risk being left behind.

Let’s look at Peloton.

They’ve been perfecting the at-home gym experience for almost 10 years now. With advanced performance metrics, detailed content and even digital-only subscriptions for those who don’t have the bike, they’re continuing to expand their offerings beyond the original product.

Being more digital doesn’t mean the same for every business. And we’re not suggesting that Peloton is your competition. But their clear roadmap for change is an example of why it’s so important to define a digital vision for where to aim your business.

The need for a digital mindset

A wellness mindset has been infiltrating the global consciousness for years. From good food choices, a stronger focus on mental wellbeing to incorporating movement into daily life.

Yet, the digital mindset has been slightly harder to come by. Many organisations are wary of investing in digital, with 44 percent of senior leaders believing their digital transformation efforts have been “a waste of time”, citing poor planning, high costs and lack of organisation-wide involvement as top concerns.

A digitally-agile workforce is imperative for most companies today. And getting there means bringing everyone along.

To support businesses in their digitalisation journey, and overcome common fears around resource, capacity and lack of financial resilience, an achievable roadmap for digital change (which reflects the skills, budgets and capabilities available) will encourage employee buy-in.

Building tomorrow’s fitness workforce

With more fitness facilities relying on digital platforms in the future, investments in the fitness workforce’s digital upskilling will be crucial to innovation in the sector.

Putting a transformation plan into action isn’t easy, but it doesn’t have to be instant. There is no value in having the perfect digital strategy and committing investment if it does not deliver business results.

Prioritising education and growth for your team will demonstrate what the brand stands for and believes in.

It’s about anticipating the right skills for the future, laying the cultural foundation, educating the team, and building a learning and development function that will help to drive returns from digital.

Access to all

Historically, the fitness industry has focused on highly personalised face-to-face interactions, leaving technologies to wait in line.

From high energy sessions offered by cult-like brands such as Soul Cycle, Barry’s Bootcamp, 1Rebel and CrossFit, to dance cardio and hot yoga, it’s always been about the destination, with the sense of community being the main attraction.

But the fitness industry is facing mounting pressure to be inclusive to people of all abilities. And a digital strategy that can enable thriving online or hybrid communities will help with that.

This might include virtual classes catered to those with mobility limitations or lower fitness levels, virtual cues, so they’re accessible to those with visual impairments, and closed captioning for the hearing impaired.

Expanding this accessibility to digital initiatives will also help to reinforce the message that everyone is welcome.

The relationship between consumers and brands

We have a growing type of gym member for which technology plays a crucial role in their fitness journey.

With wearable shipments reaching almost half a billion in 2020, boosted by the development of 5G technology, it’s fair to say that fitness-lovers are unlikely to be happy with a continuing lack of digitalisation in their favourite gyms.

And consumers are vocal about that. Online review platforms and social media make it far easier for them to keep businesses accountable.

Take Equinox, for example. During the pandemic, they made the strategic decision to push forward the launch date of its digital app, Variis, which allowed its current members to access the app and its massive content library for free. During these trying times, it was a great move to help bridge the gap for consumers while access to physical locations wasn’t available.

With both parties adjusting to new challenges, incorporating technology to adapt fitness content, products, customer service and nutritional guidance will be crucial for a successful future.

Prepare for the digital future

Digital technology and business models offer significant commercial opportunities for brands.

But there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. The best way to start for any business is through a comprehensive audit of its digital maturity and effectiveness.

As Digital continues to be rewritten, Rewrite Digital’s audit always considers the latest innovations, opportunities and expectations businesses face.

That’s why we have partnered with ukactive, alongside other contributors, to launch Digital Futures. This insight-driven engagement programme will evaluate the fitness sector’s digital maturity and effectiveness through a sector-wide consultation.

You can complete the survey here (until 8th September 2021), or if you’re interested in learning more about Rewrite’s True Digital Index, get in touch with us.