From Tiger King to Chloe Ting: How fitness broke the Internet but not the bank in 2020
by Madison Reynolds
Along with banana bread recipes and “Tiger King” conspiracy theories, Google searches for “home workouts” skyrocketed in 2020 after the arrival of the pandemic. With people no longer able to head to the gym, searches were 350% higher than December 2019. More than 244 million Americans traded in their gym routines for online workout programs to help them beat the “Quarantine 15.” The combination of gym closures and record-breaking unemployment claims made the Internet the perfect medium for staying healthy during lockdown without breaking the bank.
And now, gym owners, trainers, and consumers alike are all wondering whether in-person gyms will ever recover now that Americans are doing Instagram, YouTube, and TikTok workouts in their own homes.
“I think that’s really awesome that it provides that for people who don’t have the ability to get a gym membership, don’t have access to an ocean to swim in or safe roads to run on or bike on or don’t have the proper weights to use,” said triathlete, fitness guru, and neuroscience student Emily Shapiro. She also added that many at-home workout programs have encouraged people to use non-traditional items like water bottles, books, and canned foods as weights instead of expensive, often sold-out gym equipment.
Access to free workouts on social media like YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok that require little-to-no equipment have been a game-changer for fitness enthusiasts lacking access to gyms. While traditional gym owners and trainers face tremendous loss and debt due to Covid closures, the shift online proves hugely profitable for fitness influencers.
YouTube sensation Chloe Ting grew her platform of 2.5 million subscribers to more than 16 million since the first U.S. lockdowns began in March, thanks to her cult favorite “Get Abs in Two Weeks” video program going viral on both YouTube and TikTok. Ting was also nominated for Best Online Entertainment at the 2020 Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts Awards, the Oscars- and BAFTA-adjacent awards show for Australians.
(Above): Chloe Ting’s YouTube Channel
Fitness influencer and personal trainer Nicole Ferrier also benefitted from the shift online, claiming that follower engagement and views on her account have increased. Ferrier also believes she and her clients both benefit from not having to pay for gym fees and equipment rentals due to her fully online-based training programs. “I utilize audio recordings, video recordings, Zoom now,” she said. “There's a lot of technology to stay connected to your clients.”
(Above): Nicole Ferrier Instagram Feed
In addition to at-home workout videos, companies like Peloton and MIRROR have experienced substantial growth in popularity. The value of stock in Peloton, the industry’s premier stationary bike, has increased more than 200 percent since February. Similarly, MIRROR, the full-length mirror and screen that streams over 50 genres of workout classes and offers one-on-one personal training, was acquired for $500 million by athletic wear company Lululemon, increasing over 20 percent since its June 29 acquisition.
A Peloton bike retails for $1,895 and the MIRROR sells for $1,495. Monthly program subscriptions cost $39 per month for each. In case consumers second-guess their financial commitment to a Peloton, the website even has a “Compare Peloton to your fitness costs” calculator, where users can estimate how much they may (or may not) save from owning the stationary bike in lieu of traditional gym fees.
(Above): MIRROR Ad
While these at-home equipment options might be ideal for some, California Fitness Alliance Co-Founder and CEO of In Shape Health Clubs Francesca Schuler argues that it creates a healthcare equity issue, especially during this time of lockdown.
“I don’t serve markets where everyone has huge mansions and makes a ton of money,” she said. “I don’t think people are seeing that the long-term health issues [from keeping gyms closed] are going to be really severe. I honestly think a lot of the people making the decisions can afford a home gym, can afford a Peloton, can afford a digital app. There’s no urgency for them.”
Associate strength coach Ben Udarbe from Allegiate Gym in Redondo Beach commented on the damaging effects of users solely relying on social media for workout regimens. “There is a lot of bad information out there, and social media and technology in general have created this mentality of ‘I want this fast and I want this now,’ and you have to think when you’re going on social media and seeing these 30-day challenges, you have to know it’s not going to be a fast turnaround to get back into shape.” The longtime trainer found himself taking a break from social media since the boom of “FitTok” (fitness TikTok) and the rise of other non-certified fitness personalities. “It’s frustrating… You see a lot of people that are just trying to make a quick buck. They don’t care about the clientele and their health,” he said.
Manuri Ratasinghe, the owner of Redondo Beach yoga studio SoulFitness L.A., also argues that, despite the current culture shift online, in-person studios will always be relevant for the fitness industry. “There’s temperature control, the ground is flat, you have the proper focus and attention to postures… These needs are not able to be met in online classes. I’m a mom, and that was my one hour away from home and my toddler so I can take that time for myself and be a better mom.”
Ratasinghe also predicts that consumers will face online burnout soon, eventually sparking more excitement and anticipation for consumers to return in-person once restrictions on the indoor fitness industry have been lifted. The studio owner says that only a small percentage of her yoga students have been able to maintain their practice at home, the majority settling for unhealthy habits and falling out of routine. “People are tired of being online,” she said. “And it wasn’t doing well for us financially.”
With L.A. entering its third stay-at-home order, the reopening of indoor gyms and fitness studios may not occur until after a vaccine is approved. Studio owner Amber Susa of ALLOMI in Redondo Beach concludes that there is a single question that must be answered in order for the online fitness industry to thrive throughout this pandemic, and beyond: “How can I keep the energy of being together in movement, meditation, mindfulness, and healing and translate that online? We’re figuring that out as we go.”