For obvious reasons, most people who had any sort of fitness routine were forced to change it in 2020. Instead of going to the gym or attending group fitness classes, we set up mats in our living rooms for virtual workouts, went on socially distanced hikes, and frantically scoured the internet for a set of dumbbells.
But it wasn’t just people who had to pivot—the fitness industry as a whole did as well. And it wasn’t just the pandemic, either. From the reinvigorated movement against systemic racism to the mental health impacts of the year’s collective trauma, 2020 left fitness companies with a lot to think about. To find out what’s next for the industry, I talked to Dominique Brown, Director of Marketing at The Class, about her company’s journey throughout 2020 as well as her predictions for the future of health and fitness in 2021.
Largely out of necessity, virtual and at-home fitness blew up in 2020. The concept had been increasing in popularity for years with the introduction of more high-tech, at-home equipment such as Peloton bikes as well as increased work-from-home flexibility. But it got a huge boost last spring when people—even those who were completely convinced they couldn’t work out at home—had no other choice. In fact, health and fitness app downloads increased by 47 percent in Q2 2020. Now, with some lockdowns still in effect, it’s no surprise that only 15 percent of gym members think a gym membership is the best way to achieve their fitness goals in 2021.
The Class had launched its digital studio in October 2019 and was streaming about three classes each day. “But then everything shut down in March, and we completely switched to basically being a digital at-home fitness company overnight,” says Brown. That the company had conveniently launched its live-streaming platform just a few months prior to the start of the pandemic—and that the workout itself requires no equipment—made this pivot much easier than it would have been otherwise. Now, The Class streams about 70 live classes per week and offers over 100 on-demand videos. And since there are so many opportunities to participate virtually, people from around the globe are discovering The Class. Brown says, “It’s a completely different company than a year ago.”
Another major impact of 2020 has been an increased focus on mental health. In September 2020, over 80 percent of people who took an anxiety screen scored with moderate to severe symptoms. Of course, the circumstances and trauma that contributed to this throughout the year have been devastating—but it’s worth acknowledging the fact that more and more people feel comfortable talking openly about mental health issues and even seeking help. And for many, that “help” comes in the form of staying active.
In 2021, the concepts of fitness and wellness will continue to merge. For The Class, which describes itself as “a cathartic workout that restores balance to body and mind,” that’s always been the case. “The Class has been a lifeline for people this year,” says Brown. “Especially since so many of us have quarantined in our homes and are experiencing and feeling so many things that we’re not exactly sure how to process. People have been turning to The Class to shake out everything they’re feeling, as a way to sit with themselves; it’s an outlet for emotional expression, and I think it will continue as we move into 2021. As humans, we always need a place to express ourselves fully.”
Over the summer, with the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement and the reinvigorated global conversations about racial inequity, companies in all industries—not just fitness—needed to take a step back and evaluate whether they were part of the problem or part of the solution. For the fitness industry in particular, though, there was a lot of work to be done. Historically, there has been an omnipresent societal pressure to conform to Eurocentric ideals of beauty—and the message often sent by the industry, albeit implicitly, is that to be fit is to be white and slim. Consequently, those who are not white and slim have not seen themselves represented in fitness by brands, media publications, or even in physical spaces like gyms and classes.
Slowly but surely, this is changing—and the events over the summer have been a major catalyst. After these events, Brown recalls, “We were able to take a hard look at ourselves and the wellness industry as a whole to evaluate how we can create an environment that is more equitable and more inclusive.” As part of a brand refresh, The Class has been revisiting its imagery and marketing materials to make sure everyone feels represented. They also recognize that diversity in hiring is crucial to this mission as well—and Brown is proof of that. She says, “I think I, as a Black woman, represent that The Class as a company is growing and making sure that we’re pulling other voices into the room.” In 2020, it’s clear that The Class grew in more ways than one.