Coming into the early 2000s, the sector was laser-focused on performance-driven goals and agendas. Six packs were all the rage, achieving a PB was the weekly goal and challenges became more extreme as we pushed ourselves through barriers to be better, faster, stronger.
But something has changed. Mohammed Iqbal, SweatWorks CEO, explains.
This month it was our pleasure to attend Connected Health and Fitness Summit in LA where we were introduced to the 2023 finalists of the Innovation Showcase. Coming out of this shortlist, conversations turned to a compass shift felt throughout the industry from fitness to wellness.
Welcome to Othership
A really great demonstration of this shift is Othership, one of the eight showcased businesses making waves right now. Set within a modern-day bathhouse, with 50 or so open-minded people in a semi-naked state, participants undertake breathwork and socialize in a huge sauna, plunge into ice baths, and immerse in curated soundscapes with healing essential oils. Othership isn’t about getting ripped, it’s about forming community and enjoying free-flowing rituals that nurture inner wellbeing and happiness. 20 years ago, nothing even close to this would have been exhibited at a fitness summit. Yet, through its in-person experiences and breathwork app, Othership speaks to a pervasive desire to explore the connection between mental, even spiritual wellbeing, and general wellness. Among its values are body positivity and trauma awareness.
Coming out of a global pandemic it’s no surprise that we seek solutions that address how we feel and which improve our quality of life in ways we hadn’t considered before. The pandemic really made people value how important that is because companionship, community, getting a hug… everything was taken away. Before the pandemic, we took all of those things for granted. Post-pandemic, we are moving forward through trauma, we are seeking out the things we were forced to lose.
We’re asking the deeper questions
Our focus has shifted from excelling, to being kind to ourselves. Not pushing, but nurturing. Instead of ‘how do I get a six pack’, we ask the deeper questions – ‘how can I feel better?’ ‘how can I improve my quality of life?’, ‘how can I feel more connected to myself and to other people?
The likes of Othership and Pause, another finalist with wellbeing as its center, are changing the shape of the sector and undoubtedly, fitness organizations will benefit from considering and implementing services that cater to this way of thinking. We’ve started to see more of a focus on recovery in mainstream gyms such as Planet Fitness and Crunch Fitness, which now have dedicated recovery stations and hydro massage chairs. Lifetime Fitness has over the last year released a meditation class and it is the fastest growing class at Lifetime, compared to a Body Pump class pre-pandemic.
But does this mean that wellbeing will take over completely from fitness over time? Well, it isn’t a case of wellness vs fitness. As a sector, we’re learning and growing with our customers needs and with what research is telling us is beneficial. I don’t believe that wellbeing will be a primary focus for the fitness industry forever. A wellbeing focus is right for now, but it’s human nature to seek excellence, and to do that, you need to push yourself to your limits. Into the future, wellness will be a part of the mix, but culturally, fitness will prevail.