Why digital fitness programmes can never be more than a supplementary service
During a talk at FIBO@business, Janosch Marx, General Manager and driving force behind fitness MANAGEMENT, and Florian Kündgen, Deputy Managing Director of DSSV e.V., talked about why – in spite of the coronavirus and digitalisation – they believe that the human component will be the difference-maker for the fitness industry in future.
Digitalisation has taken a huge leap forward over the past year, and the fitness industry has not been exempt. This has naturally been driven by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has caused people to move their training inside their own four walls. As a result, video workouts, live streams and other digital training tools have taken the place of trips to the fitness studio for many people. It is a circumstance that has caused a great deal of upheaval in the industry. Both the fitness market and customer behaviour are changing more rapidly today than ever before. At FIBO@business, Janosch Marx and Florian Kündgen discussed the impact of this trend on fitness studios, talked about the advantages of highly qualified professionals providing personal support, and offered insights into how fitness studios can benefit from digitalisation in future.
What is it that makes fitness studio training more effective?
Janosch Marx and Florian Kündgen both agree that the setting offers a significant advantage to those training in fitness studios. “At home, the sofa often exerts a stronger pull than does the training mat.” Marx explains: “We have seen in various studies – including in the field of competitive sports – that the right training environment is an important factor in achieving the right mindset for training. The mental preparation for training that is automatically spurred by the environment makes it possible to train more effectively. This is far less likely at home.” The expert is certain that at home – in an environment where a person also eats, sleeps and relaxes – people will find it more difficult to overcome their inertia. Marx also emphasises the fact that the wealth of equipment offered by the fitness studio helps making training more effective. “Fitness studios offer cardio zones, strength training areas, perhaps even free weights and functional training. These things are rarely to be found in someone’s living room. For experienced trainees, it may be possible to train at home for a certain period of time, perhaps using one’s own bodyweight, dumbbells or barbells. Depending on their goals, however, trainees will soon reach a point where these methods are no longer sufficient.”
The role of the trainer
Florian Kündgen: “In times where fitness studios have been forced to shut down, online videos and live streams are a suitable alternative and represent the best possible way of maintaining contact with members and strengthening these relationships.” Even so, both experts agree that there is simply no alternative to the personal support that is provided by highly qualified professionals in the fitness studio. Janosch Marx explains: “We should never forget that in the fitness industry, we are dealing first and foremost with amateur athletes. And this is a group – this has been shown in various studies – for whom motivation is an essential factor for maintaining training over the long term. The trainer can influence this motivation. And it is currently very difficult for a trainer to play this role while people are at home.” While stating that the trainer can try to motivate people digitally, Florian Kündgen noted that it is not possible to optimally monitor athletes when they do their exercises. “The trainers at our fitness centres are highly trained professionals who are able to actively assist our clients in their training. As a result, the risk of injury is much lower in fitness studios than it is for people training at home.” And that is not all: trainers also serve as trusted figures to whom athletes can turn for answers to their questions and for personalised training plans. This relationship between trainers and the people they train is the key. Kündgen has no doubt: “Trainers, club operators and employees who know the names of their members and maintain close relationships with them are significantly more successful – even during the crisis.”
Training together: encountering other people
Trainers are not the only source of motivation for trainees – their fellow trainees are well! Florian Kündgen uses the example of the many popular yoga, Pilates and Zumba courses and circuit training: “When we train with other people, we are far more motivated to do another repetition or two. Encounters in the studio – not just with trainers and employees, but also with other members – are unbelievably important.” Janosch Marx adds that: “It’s clear that shared enjoyment also plays an important role. We should never forget that fitness studios welcome a wide range of target groups. With the 65-70-year-old target group, for example, people for whom visiting the fitness studio may have been part of their daily routine for decades, seeing people in the studio has an entirely different meaning. That is not something that you can easily replace with an online solution.”
Motivated by online training – it's not for everyone
Janosch Marx is certain: “More than eleven million people in Germany make a habit of visiting a fitness studio regularly. There is simply no way that 11 million people are going to switch from training in a fitness studio to working out at home.” Even so, there is certainly a target group that is open to online offerings. These include trainees who may not place particular value on training with others, but who value flexibility in their fitness routines. Even so, Marx frequently sees problems with motivation in this situation: “People are often motivated for their first online training units because everyone enjoys trying out new things. The key is ensuring that trainees stick with it even after their eighth or ninth unit of training. That is the challenge!”
A parallel digital fitness market
Janosch Marx stresses the fact that when it comes to the digitalisation of the fitness industry, it is essential that a distinction be drawn between the various offerings and solutions. “Online streaming and videos are nothing new. They were here before the coronavirus too. Now these digital offerings are finally finding an audience. Even if studio operators often created their own solutions, the industry has been doing that for years, and now they have finally got the chance to offer these services – and frequently to do so free of charge.” But digitalisation is much more than just this. According to Marx, it also includes administrative processes, membership management, check-in/check-out systems, membership contracts and digital training management using smart devices: “Numerous processes can now be digitalised, freeing trainers to once again focus on their core competence: providing trainees with personal support.” Florian Kündgen notes that digitalisation is also having a far-reaching impact on customer touchpoints: “Social media offer an excellent platform for studio operators to engage in dialogue with their own customers, expand their reach and therefore to acquire new customers as well.” Digital offerings are already an excellent supplement, and they will continue to be so in future – but they will never be able to replace training in the fitness studio.