How virtual fitness democratizes access to in-store fitness

Boutique fitness – which has skyrocketed over the past decade – has consistently come under criticism for catering to a privileged and exclusive population. A Washington post 2018 requested article, “Is Your Spin Class Too Young, Too Thin, And Too White?” Without a doubt, access to the fitness boutique is impacted by economic stratification, but the type of body that is represented and accommodated in such spaces also plays a role in who feels included or accepted.

COVID delivered a precision strike to traditional in-store fitness companies. At the height of gym closures in March 2020, studio management provider Mindbody reported that class bookings had dropped by as much as 85% everywhere. In the United States, the return to in-person studio classes has been spotty, in part due to various state and local restrictions.

In the process, lifestyles that have suddenly become home based have turned traditional fitness regimes upside down. Live streamed classes became the primary means by which most group fitness consumers started accessing fitness classes when COVID hit. At some point in the pandemic, nearly 75% said they had used live classes to train, and more than half said that even when gyms fully reopened, they intended to use live workouts. direct to home as part of their routine, if not the only way they intend to access group fitness.

Consumers recognize the practical benefits of working from home: no commute, safe from illness, less worry about childcare arrangements, access to the best instructors, and being able to train with friends and family Across the country. But more profoundly than that, the move to the virtual widens both access and representation in in-store fitness. In addition to having access to top-notch fitness from the comfort of their own homes, those who experienced virtual fitness first-hand also reported psychological benefits, noticing themselves that they were focusing on how which they to feel and less about how they see compared to others.

Brick-and-mortar studio brands now not only have to worry about competing with the convenience of home fitness, but they can also grapple with a deeper cultural change. The virtual fitness revolution is creating more inclusive spaces for people.


The fitness industry has long sold on “the ideal aesthetic” for decades.. Generally speaking, oppression comes from assuming that everyone has hegemonic beauty ideals and has high uniform fitness goals when they walk into a gym or studio.

And that’s the catch-22 of diversity in fitness: While performance matters and improves self-efficacy, a lot of fitness is aspiration – people want their instructors to be an ideal to aspire to. And in many cases, the tendency of society is to associate “fit” with “skinny”, despite the general understanding in the health industry that being thin doesn’t necessarily make you healthier.


When health advocates discuss barriers to physical activity, they often cite factors like time, motivation, or access to facilities and equipment. But when people overcome all of these obstacles and end up hitting the gym, they can also face mental barriers there.

According to a 2021 Mindbody survey, 56% of Americans feel “gym-bullying,” or fear of training in front of others. In another Mindbody survey of 1,600 in-store fitness consumers conducted in June 2020, of consumers who choose live fitness, around 30% said they prefer it because it allows them to work out without feeling judged or forced to look or perform in a certain way.

As part of a fitness class or gym, some people thrive in social comparison because it makes them work harder. But for others, especially those taking a class for the first time or starting in a new gym or studio, social comparison and self-criticism or negative evaluation can lead to defensive avoidance, which can lead to defensive avoidance. means they might not come back to class if they feel like they don’t fit in with the rest of the class. For these people, virtual fitness can provide respite from the subconscious thoughts that may appear, unsolicited, during a workout.


Making people feel included means they feel seen, but feeling seen and being supported can mean different things. There are many ways for virtual fitness providers to achieve this.

When conducting a course, virtual instructors must strike a balance between encouragement and criticism; verbal cues given by instructors can be inspiring, but they can easily become demoralizing. Instructors should monitor participants’ fitness and provide cues, motivation and humor to ensure not only an effective training but an inclusive experience. Since, in the context of a fitness class, instructors have authority and they must use their authority and platform if not to perpetuate positive ideas, at least not to perpetuate harmful ideas.

The fitness industry faces disruption, but like many disruptors of this decade, virtual fitness has the potential to create a more diverse, inclusive, and equitable future. Rather than conforming to what in-store fitness has become – exclusive, often competitive, and sometimes toxic – virtual fitness can push the needle towards a community for everyone to work their best and find joy, strength and joy. peace along the way.

Amaya is a product manager at band, a virtual fitness company, and has 15 years of experience in marketing and product management.

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