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Why Gyms Should Be Worried

At-home fitness is coming for their clients, directly where they already live and for a lot cheaper.


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Is there a gympocalypse in the works akin to the one happening in retail? Perhaps that’s a little dramatic, but what’s clear is that more players than ever, from Peloton to ClassPass, are causing upheaval in the classic gym space thanks to new fitness streaming models.

First and foremost is that at-home workout behemoth Peloton. Last week, the company announced a new $550 million funding round, putting its valuation at a swole $4.15 billion. The company is expected to pursue an IPO early in 2019.

Peloton got its start selling stationary bikes that cost almost $2,000, and then requiring $39 monthly class streaming packages on top of that. Members can take “live” classes along with instructors who teach in New York City, or stream from a selection of hundreds of recorded classes on their own time. A similar program is launching this fall for treadmills; the company will sell its treadmill for $4,000.

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But Peloton also quietly launched an app in June called Peloton Digital, which costs less than $20 monthly and doesn’t require a big equipment purchase. It streams up to 20 live classes per day in a variety of modalities including strength training. The classes are video based, except for some outdoor running classes that are audio-only.

This seems to be a clear play for Aaptiv, the self-described “Netflix of fitness,” which landed $22 million in funding in June, putting its valuation at more than $200 million. Investors include Amazon, Disney, and Warner Music Group. Aaptiv offers audio-guided classes only (no video) and costs $14.99 monthly.

Then there’s ClassPass, which has dealt with customer complaints as its model has changed over the years, with increasing prices and a perceived decreasing availability of popular classes at local gyms. While it originally existed to take advantage of the uber-popular (and uber-expensive) boutique fitness studio trend, it, too, has had to pivot away from brick-and-mortar workouts. It just launched its own proprietary live and streaming classes called ClassPass Live in March. It costs $15 per month.

Finally, Scooter Braun, the producer and star-maker behind Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande and more, just announced a partnership with Rumble (Equinox Fitness is an investor), the boxing gym that’s popular with celebrities and which has locations in New York City and LA. They plan to launch an at-home fitness project called At-Home 360 to stream classes and also sell branded equipment.

A post shared by Rumble Boxing (@rumble_boxing) on

At-home streaming is obviously not new. Boutique fitness studios, which now charge $40 per class in some markets and were once traditional gyms’ biggest competitors, now find themselves having to secure alternate revenue streams to reach customers outside of the cities where their physical studios are located. Tracy Anderson, Gwyneth Paltrow’s favorite trainer, has been streaming classes for a few years, for example. Les Mills, a gym program that is licensed to gyms nationwide, has been streaming since 2015. There are tons of other examples.

Physical cycling studios are now finding themselves having to compete with Peloton. Late in 2017, FlyWheel, which has 43 physical locations throughout the country, launched FLY Anywhere, an at-home program complete with a bike to purchase, slightly cheaper than Peloton’s.

In a stark contrast to Peloton’s recent announcement, SoulCycle, which has twice as many studios as FlyWheel, abandoned its IPO plans in May, citing “market conditions.” But in July, the company, which is owned by Equinox Fitness, announced it’s launching a “media division” to create content, as well as a talent agency for fitness influencers. The company has been mum thus far about exactly what type of content it will produce, but it would be surprising if it didn’t include streaming workouts, given its talent base.

This is all just the next version of at-home workouts that have been around since Jane Fonda pioneered them via VHS tapes in the ’80s. That progressed to DVDs from Cindy Crawford and Elle Macpherson, then to the Tae Bo hype of the ’90s. Finally, we got YouTube fitness content. But this new generation of live-streaming differs in some important ways that should make traditional gyms very nervous.

Live-streaming, or even rewatching live classes that have been recorded, offers an experience that’s actually really similar to the experience of being there live. The unscripted constant chatter and encouragement of a teacher and the presence of other people on bikes or mats working out in the background gives a sense of connection and community. That’s what draws so many people to group fitness classes in the first place. Many need the motivation and camaraderie.

Then there’s the variety. Macpherson was inspirational and all, but you can do the same canned workout only so many times. With tens of thousands of classes all taught by different teachers to choose from on any given day, there’s little room for boredom to set in. Users are also not bound to traditional gym schedules.

Finally, there’s the sense of competition that’s built in, another thing that’s motivational about being in a live class for some people. Peloton has a leaderboard to compare yourself to other riders, and it provides every stat you can imagine if you’re only competing against your own psyche. Flywheel offers this at its studios and has also carried it over to its at-home version. ClassPass sells a special heart rate monitor that allows users to track their metrics via a leaderboard too, similar to what OrangeTheory does in its brick-and-mortar gyms.

What this all means is much less need for anyone to leave their homes to work out, which should make traditional gyms very, very nervous. Some have already figured this out. Gold’s Gym offers streaming audio workouts à la Aaptiv. Crunch also offers class live streams. Both cost $9.99 monthly.

Traditional gyms should theoretically have a leg up on the startups because they have the talent and programming part done. More gyms need to figure out the tech part, because if they don’t go virtual soon, they could wind up just like that NordicTrack your aunt has gathering dust in her basement.