Women driving growth in exercise streaming services during isolation
According to Les Mills’ 2019 Global Consumer Fitness Survey, 85 per cent of gym goers were already working out at home as well as at the gym. During unprecedented times where we’re trying to get all of our human connection and entertainment through apps and streaming services, it makes sense that people turn to their devices to work out as well.
The big question for these services, though, is how much of their userbase will stay subscribed after the gyms open back up?
Rachael Newsham, a trainer and program director at Les Mills, thinks a lot of people will stick around after the pandemic.
“Obviously it’s not going to be a 100 per cent hit rate,” she says. “[But] I feel like if people have spent more than 21 days with us, even if they might not come back every day because life’s going to pick back up and carry on, they’re going to come back and visit. They’ll just pick us up and keep it as a complementary thing rather than the be-all and end-all that it is at the moment.”
The most interesting discovery to come out of data from the services is how much the streaming fitness trend is being driven by women, which isn’t what I expected from an app promoted by the god of biceps, or a New Zealand platform famous for weights and combat classes.
While newer platform Centr wasn’t willing to share exact ratios, its rep did say that the fastest growing member cohort across Australia and America was women.
Over the ditch, Les Mills On Demand has a subscriber base that is 92 per cent female across its 100-country market.
Newsham’s theory is that it has more to do with men traditionally seeking solitary weights or team sports, and women focusing more on community.
“I’m not going deny that I have a target market for my Sh’Bam workout, because I know more women are going to do dance fitness than men. But when I’m doing Body Combat, I’m not actually targeting women; I’m speaking to every gender,” she says. “Group fitness has had a cheerleader wrapping for so many years, and guys don’t tend to want to do aerobics; they’ll play sports. But it’s losing that stigma, which I’m so happy about.”
Of course, one of the concerns when taking a workout out of the gym environment is that there is a higher risk of injury for inexperienced users. At the gym, a trainer or more experienced fitness enthusiast might correct your technique if you’re about to hurt yourself; at home, no one can hear your hamstrings scream.
Injury was a big concern for the program directors when Les Mills On Demand was launched in 2018, but Newsham and the rest of the team found some solutions.
“What we try and do is reduce the range of exercises. In a personal training situation, where you can be hands-on with somebody, you can engage in activities that have more risk involved,” she says.
“What we try and do is just reduce the range, so a squat isn’t as deep as some people may go; it’s a little bit shallower. And we don’t use heavy weights in Body Pump, we use light weights and high reps, and that definitely reduces risk of injury. The coaching that we deliver is so considered to make sure that everyone hears what they need to hear to be safe.”
No one knows how the world will be different after the pandemic ends, but if these trends continue, and more people get into new habits, there’s likely to be an exodus away from traditional gyms and towards technology.
Alice is a freelance journalist, producer and presenter.