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The Fitness Industry’s Pandemic Winners and Losers

Photo: Noam Galai/Getty Images

Six months into the pandemic, I’ve developed a new gymless fitness routine that is, under the circumstances, reasonably robust. My husband and I bought a Peloton bike. I do at-home strength-training workouts with dumbbells, and I’ve tried to get used to jogging with a mask on. I’ve been doing yoga, which has allowed me to tell myself that — while I may have put on a few pounds — I’ve never been more flexible. I’ve grown especially used to exercising with an onscreen instructor who can’t see me, which means I can shout as many obscenities as I like without bothering anyone (a habit that has made it hard for me to adjust to the occasional outdoor group workouts that friends have invited me to).

I’m not alone in all this change. The pandemic is altering how Americans approach fitness in ways that are being felt throughout the economy. Some companies, like gyms and athletic-apparel manufacturers, are struggling. Others, like makers of at-home workout equipment and providers of online fitness services, are thriving. Here are six fitness categories that are taking over — or falling apart — thanks to the pandemic.

Online Fitness ⬆️

Peloton announced it generated $607 million in revenue in the quarter that ended June 30, up 172 percent from the same quarter last year. The company doubled its membership base and also reported that average usage per subscriber doubled — Peloton subscribers (which can be households) completed an average of 24.7 workouts per month, up from 12 in the same period last year. In a bid to attract more members, the company recently cut the price of its base-level bike from $2,245 to $1,895. It’s no surprise that Peloton’s offline competitors are moving into the online space: Barry’s Bootcamp offers at-home classes starting every 15 minutes, gyms like Equinox are streaming classes online, and Lululemon acquired the home-fitness brand Mirror in July for $500 million.

Gyms ⬇️

With Governor Cuomo’s blessing, gyms in New York City have finally reopened, and I returned to mine on September 10 for my first gym workout in six months. It was weird — no showers, no group fitness classes, masks on at all times, reservations required. This also means I paid my gym-membership dues for the first time in six months, a choice many members will pass on given the reduced amenities and the new routines they formed during the shutdown. The pandemic has already pushed three major gym companies — Gold’s Gym, 24 Hour Fitness, and Town Sports International, owner of New York Sports Clubs — into bankruptcy Group-fitness studios are in an even tougher spot, with a business model that seems almost designed to spread respiratory viruses. But one thing going for them is the overall weakness of retail — landlords have reason to work with their nonpaying fitness tenants, because who’s going to take over their spaces if they’re evicted?

Personal Fitness Equipment ⬆️

Dick’s Sporting Goods had a blockbuster quarter ending August 1, with sales 20 percent higher than last year as customers stocked up on goods for working out at home or outdoors—not just fitness equipment like weights but also bicycles, kayaks, and camping gear. In some of these categories, inventory can barely keep up. “The flow of product we have is kind of going out as fast as it’s coming in,” CEO Ed Stack told investors last month. You could get around the dumbbell shortage by shopping on the secondary market, but you had to pay: Dumbbells from Rogue cost about $1.25 per pound if they’re in stock (good luck), but I paid over $2 per pound on eBay this summer.

Bodyweight Workouts ⬆️

Of course, if you can’t find dumbbells at a reasonable price, one option is to work out without them. Barry’s Bootcamp is offering online classes with standard weights, resistance bands, or just bodyweight for at-home customers with different preferences and different setups. Peloton also offers bodyweight strength classes to subscribers. And if you’ve spent time this summer in New York City parks, you’ve probably seen some people hauling their kettlebells with them, while others opt for doing burpees and push-ups in the grass. “I was always a bodyweight/calisthenics kind of person,” said Alex Dropo, a freelance personal trainer who added that he’s had success moving his clients online because their workouts can be done outside a gym. Other benefits of the pandemic for his business: no time spent commuting to meet clients and fewer clients who want to work out at 6 a.m. before going to the office.

Golf ⬆️

Golf is slow and expensive, and participation in the sport has been declining steadily for more than a decade. But this year, you may have trouble getting a tee time. Americans played 20 percent more rounds of golf this July than over the same period last year, according to data from the National Golf Foundation. One club in Minnesota, Golden Valley, reports that it has booked 22,000 rounds of golf so far this year — 4,000 more than it had at this time in 2019. Unlike many sports, golf is adaptable to social distancing. Golf-equipment sales have been another bright spot for Dick’s, which owns the Golf Galaxy retail chain. “A number of young people have come into the game because they’re not playing football or soccer or other sports,” said Stack. Acushnet Holdings, which owns the golf-equipment brand Titleist, reported a sharp drop in sales in April and May but has since seen a rebound, with June sales 25 percent above last year’s levels.

Apparel ⬇️

Many Americans are now wearing sweatpants and gym shorts all day, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ve been buying sports apparel. After all, if you’re exercising at home, is it really that important that you look good while you do it? Adidas reported a North American sales decline of 38 percent in the spring quarter, while Under Armour sales were down 45 percent in North America. And delayed sporting events — like the Euro 2020 soccer tournament and the Tokyo Olympics — have posed even greater challenges for manufacturers. With stores open again, these companies have survived the sales disaster of the spring. But Adidas CFO Harm Ohlmeyer warned investors that reopening alone won’t be enough to reclaim profits — he expects that elevated unemployment will be a drag on sales for as long as it persists. That said, Lululemon has fared better than its competitors so far: Sales in stores fell by half, but online sales rose 155 percent.

*This article appears in the September 14, 2020, issue of New York Magazine. Subscribe Now!

The Fitness Industry’s Pandemic Winners and Losers