Fitness centers and gyms see a resurgence in membership as mask regulations go down

CLEVELAND, Ohio — In mid-March of last year, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine ordered gyms and fitness to close their doors as part of the statewide effort to combat the spread of the coronavirus. Two months later, the state relented and allowed the businesses to reopen with a host of restrictions limiting capacity and mandating masks for customers.

Nationwide restrictions on indoor fitness led to a rush for at-home workout equipment. Free-weights, dumbbells, high-end stationary bikes became hot-ticket items for anyone looking to maintain their good health and to stave off the boredom of the collective COVID-19 lockdown.

With DeWine lifting most restrictions and the average home suddenly packed with exercise equipment, would customers return to the gym?

Ed King owns King’s Gym in Bedford Heights and said that 2020 posed a significant challenge for his small family-owned business, which is why he was happy to see that when he reopened in May, customers were eager to workout somewhere other than their homes.

“This increase was a surprise to us because we believed the public would still be a little apprehensive about venturing out,” said King, whose family has owned the family-friendly gym since 1987. “Since reopening, we have done extremely well. We are also family-owned, so our customers seem to be more loyal and dedicated.”

Wall Street is also giving some indication that people are growing more comfortable with working out in public.

Planet Fitness, one of the most prominent publicly-traded fitness franchises, saw its stock plummet 30 points from a then-high of about $87.52 in late-May 2020 as states across the country rolled out a patchwork of different edicts related to gyms. The company’s stock price began its gradual recovery as governors allowed limited, distanced and masked workouts. The stock last closed at $76.73 per share.

CEO Chris Rondeau told investors in a March 6 earnings call that all signs point to people feeling more comfortable returning to the gym. He cited a recent poll by the American Psychological Association that showed more than 60 percent of American adults experienced some sort of weight change in the pandemic and that good health is a significant deterrent to COVID-19.

“We’re in the fitness business, but we are also about providing a supportive community to our members, and this is what people are seeking right now, connection with others,” he said in the call. “The membership and usage trends that we are experiencing make me optimistic for the long-term growth, and I truly believe we are on the verge of a fitness boom.”

Amy Williams, a spokeswoman for Life Time Fitness, said she believes members are ready to return to something resembling their pre-coronavirus lives. The result: a significant traffic increase at their Deerfield Township location. Williams said the company continues to work closely with an epidemiologist and industrial hygienist to enhance its cleaning, spacing, and air filtration protocols.

“Members are ready to get back to their routines and are expressing how thankful they are to have Life Time in their lives,” said said. “We’ll continue to focus on cleaning, as it has always been a priority, and provide members and our team members with a safe environment.”

Joe Purton, the owner of CycleBar Beachwood, echoed Williams, saying membership is at an all-time high for the indoor cycling center, and he suspects the increase might have something to do with people searching for a sense of community.

“Our focus is on community and not just a workout, and we made efforts during the pandemic to preserve and nurture that community,” Purton said. “Seeing our Cycle Family in person once again is fantastic, and we couldn’t be more grateful to the riders who’ve stuck with us and the new ones who see the benefits of indoor cycling.”

Evan Daiber, owner of 2 Tone Boxing Club in Beachwood, said that while the pandemic caused a slight dip in numbers, they held steady despite struggles early in the pandemic. Daiber said the fitness center did have to shut down temporarily for a month, but since reopening, they have seen a significant increase in membership.

Between the end of March and the beginning of April 2020, 2 Tone went from 150 to 100 members. By August, they jumped back up to 150. As of June 2021, they are hovering between 250-350 members.

“Since reopening, it’s definitely a night-and-day difference,” Daiber said.

Daiber said he knows most of his members on a first-name basis, and the community atmosphere is why the loyal members come back.

“We offer something more than just a gym. It’s more of a community,” Daiber said. “We’re very positive. We think it’s going to be a great summer.”

Josh Leve, founder and CEO of the Fitness Business Association, a trade organization for fitness centers, said his industry weathered other battles against at-home fitness. He said there’s room for growth in both sectors.

“First of all, after more than a year of working out at home, in front of computers and televisions, seeking out new equipment online, and doing their best to stay motivated with family, work, and other factors, Americans are unequivocally ready for more social interaction,” Leve said.

Leve noted that while in-home fitness saw a surge in popularity during the pandemic, he doesn’t anticipate it hurting traditional club, studio, or gym but acts as a compliment.

“Remember, it’s not the first rodeo for in-home fitness. That sector of the industry dates back to a Jane Fonda VHS tape, Tae Bo, etc.,” he said. “There’s always a shiny new toy.”

Leve said after reopening, many of its members in the state of Texas have also seen quite the resurgence.

“We have many members in the state of Texas, and when they reopened, 100% saw their clients come back nearly to pre-pandemic levels from the start,” Leve said.

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