With fundamental changes to how we live and work today, how are fitness classes taking their experiences out of the studio and into the home? And what should they do next?

I’m going to do my best to avoid the ‘c’-word in this article, but as we all know – we’re in strange times. Coronavirus (COVID-19) is forcing us to change our behaviour on a global scale in a way we’ve not had to do before.

One of the most remarkable things for me is how the pandemic is really a global equaliser – whatever your age, location or status – we’re all affected by this in some way.

From a marketing standpoint, brands that have caught my eye the most are those that are truly living a “we’re all in it together” mindset.

Whether you’re an alcohol brand that’s now creating hand sanitiser, a supermarket supporting the vulnerable or a global social media and tech company offering grants to small businesses: these are extraordinary times.

I’m based in London which has seen a boom in boutique premium fitness classes and training over the last 5-10 years. These fitness studios rely on repeated custom either through a monthly membership or pay per class model so it’s easy to walk away – and there’s an abundance of choice.

With that in mind many of them have been able to create communities amongst their members: customers who are proud and, at times, evangelical about sharing their experiences with their friends.

What’s happened in the last few days?

With the recent government guidance it’s become harder for these businesses to operate despite great efforts at maintaining hygiene standards and adapting classes to allow keen customers to continue to turn up and work out. However many of these businesses opted to close this week for safety reasons.

What’s been the response?
To foster the community spirit, fitness classes are still engaging with their customers – and now an even wider audience. The two I use the most –3 Aces CrossFit and Psycle London – are doing this primarily through social media.

Both are inviting their respective members to follow at-home workouts shared on their Instagram profiles. Try a 40 minute Psycle London HIIT & yoga class here (the Instagram Live broadcast had over 2,200 viewers!), or take a look at the 3 Aces bodyweight classes on their profile (through Instagram Stories).

Psycle London’s head of marketing Mark Brennan said, “We’ve been overwhelmed by the support, strength and positivity of our community since we made the sad decision to temporarily close our studios on Monday.”

He added that people haven’t just been consuming the content, they are genuinely grateful: “We’ve had so many messages from our community thanking us for keeping them connected and moving. An Instagram post announcing our live class timetable received 8 times the level of [usual] engagement.”

A friend of mine told me he was genuinely tearful at the end of a live-streamed Barry’s Bootcamp workout after a lot of sweat and the instructor hammering home the message that we are all in this together. It’s also easy to see how those leading the classes are in a tough situation too.

Now what?
As the dust hopefully starts to settle in the next few weeks it begs the question – what next? I see two key areas for these brands to consider:

1. How do you maintain the relationships you’re fostering over social media in this time of isolation? And how do you keep new, virtual customers engaged?

2. How can you innovate to bring in revenue to account for lost sales over this tough time? And how do you make those propositions genuinely useful, rather than just a way to make some quick sales?

The circumstances we all find ourselves in today mean that we are constrained in many ways, but as I’ve heard in many meetings (and is backed up by research): these are the perfect conditions for creativity.

Perhaps the real test for businesses is how to provoke ideas that can be useful to consumers without appearing opportunistic.

James Bates is a London-based fitness marketer.