Gyms and leisure centres have undoubtedly been amongst some of the hardest hit businesses in the COVID-19 pandemic. Lockdowns, isolation, and shielding have meant that once busy gym floors, swimming pools, and sports courts have been quieter at best and empty at worst.
This has posed serious financial challenges for several leisure providers, but a whole new set of challenges are likely to arise as lockdowns lift. Coronavirus has led to shifts in behaviours and routines in all areas of life, from the way we work to the way to work out.
Members might be nervous about returning to their local gym or leisure centre, many have enjoyed their new outside or home workouts, and others may simply be thinking about an alternative leisure provider. Leisure operators are under immense pressure to provide improved services that not only encourage members back through their doors, but that are also cost-effective, compliant with new COVID-19 guidelines and cater to changed consumer habits.
An effective way to reduce the risk of member churn and to protect your bottom line is to offer virtual workouts. In fact, it’s likely that virtual workouts will play a significant part in the future of leisure.
But how do you go about setting up a virtual offering?
We recently published an in-depth guide to making virtual workouts a reality, designed to help businesses explore new ways in which they can provide virtual fitness services to their members.
In this article we’ll take a deep dive into the technology that will help support your virtual workout offering.
First of all, decide which services you’re offering
Since you’ve identified the need for a virtual offering of some kind, the first step is to decide exactly what services you’re going to offer.
The services you could offer might include:
- Virtual group classes via an online video conferencing solution such as Zoom
- One-on-one sessions with members who prefer to work out on their own time
- Videos with handy tips, such as nutrition advice, cooking classes, guided meditation or relaxation session or workouts based on specific objectives e.g. weight loss or mindfulness
- Pre-recorded workouts on demand for members to work out with you when their schedule allows
- Blended fitness model, such as in-person workouts along with selected online services like workout plans or video chat sessions
Once you’ve decided exactly what content you want to deliver to your members, there are 4 key technology considerations you’ll need to make:
Tip 1: The right streaming platform for your members
It’s important to understand how your members will access these virtual services. There are a huge number of platforms that you might use to deliver virtual workouts, each with advantages and disadvantages.
Let’s explore some of the main ones:
- Can invite members to attend your workout directly, e.g. by sending an email with a link
- Built for virtual interactions of several people so trainers can video chat with many clients at once
- Can mute participants meaning less background noise and greater focus
- Easy to use
- A basic plan on Zoom is free, but most gyms will want to sign up for a Pro or Business account before hosting live sessions online which can be expensive
- Lots of admin involved e.g. setting up classes, sending out links without automation, etc
- Can’t delete any inappropriate comments from attendees
- Zoombombing (an uninvited person crashing and disrupting your workout) can be a risk
- HD video (1080p) is not standard – it usually supports 720p for the speaker
- Users need to download an app to use
- Members can mute their audio or turn their video off during the class, which could make it difficult for your instructors to communicate with members and check they’re following the exercises correctly
Facebook & Instagram Live
- Facebook has 2.7 billion users worldwide and Instagram has 1 billion, meaning there’s a huge potential audience
- Most people are very familiar with how to use Facebook or Instagram and more comfortable with social media than other platforms
- Quick and easy to set up
- Members can easily access the workout as they just need to log onto their account and then go to your private group or your page
- Completely free
- Filming live means that you don’t have to spend time filming, editing, and distributing the video
- Technical issues such as glitches that can cause lagging, blurry videos, warped sounds, or slow streaming can happen and this can make you lose viewers
- Going live means a higher likelihood of making a mistake or something going wrong
- Hard to restrict viewership to members only as anyone can view live videos
- Can’t control who comments and comments show up in real time
- YouTube has over 2 billion users worldwide, so there’s a large potential audience for your virtual workouts
- You probably already have a YouTube channel for hosting video content you and your team create, meaning there’s little to no set up involved
- Potential to go viral
- YouTube videos are very easy to share which increases the chances of more shares across social networking platforms
- Accessible on a wide range of devices
- Ability to track video performance with YouTube analytics
- Hosting your videos on YouTube means you’re sending your audience to a third party site (YouTube) instead of funnelling traffic to your own website or app
- YouTube puts related videos and ads with your videos and you have no control over what these videos are. These related videos could detract the attention away from your brand and encourage users to click away from your video
- Potential for negative comments and ‘trolls’ if you choose to leave comments on
- Lots of other content that might be similar – hard to cut through the noise
- Challenging to restrict your content for member use only
- Members can’t be distracted by other brands and adverts, so all traffic belongs to you
- Can disallow comments
- Can create a ‘gated’, members-only area that members are given a password to
- Gives you the power to layout and set up the workout videos however you want
- Preserve copyright over your videos
- Can sometimes lead to slow video playback
- Harder to get organic views so you will need to market them more effectively
- Less convenient for members
- Convenient for members as they can access the app 24/7 and can find a bank of virtual fitness classes for them to do any time
- You can send notifications of new virtual classes straight to members’ phones
- The app is branded to your business
- Members only need to download one app to access all your services
- You control your content and can make changes quickly and as frequently as required
- App can be made live with quick turnaround times
- If you already use app video content, you don’t have to learn how to use a new video streaming platform
- Takes more than a couple of hours to set up
- Must pay for the app technology
Ultimately, you should consider the best option for you based on how many members and sites you have, how confident your instructors are in filming their workouts, what locations they can film in, how regularly you can generate new workout classes for your members and your budget.
Think about trialling a few different options and starting with smaller numbers, then once you and your instructors are more confident, you can expand your class sizes.
Tip 2: Invest in the right equipment for your needs
Once you’ve decided what your online offering will be, you’ll have a better idea of what you’ll need to help you achieve it.
Think about how you will produce high-quality videos as this will be really important in the longer term. Even a smartphone or tablet carefully positioned and angled may suffice, especially for live-streamed classes.
Otherwise, you could also consider getting a good-quality video camera that can be set up at different heights and locations. Invest in a decent computer system, with video-editing software. If you are on a strict budget, there are lots of very good, free options available. You can always assess initial demand and then upgrade your video camera equipment once you’ve built a regular following for your workouts.
Tip 3: Pay attention to where you film
You need to consider the ‘space’ in which your videos are filmed. The last thing you want is for it to look like your instructor is hosting the workout from their messy living room.
Good lighting is essential and ideally there shouldn’t be too many distractions in the background. If the same space is doubling up as an office, ensure desks are away from the camera angles.
Try to create a professional setting, and one that has plenty of room for a range of different workouts. If possible based on restrictions in place, make use of studio space in your facilities.
Make sure the camera or webcam provides a good view of the instructor and whatever is in the background. You can even create your own virtual background on many video streaming services.
Tip 4: Make your workouts easy to find
If you run your own website, you should start creating pages that showcase your new virtual fitness services and that include high-quality photos, customer testimonials, and clear call to actions with details on how to book.
When you’re ready to take your online offering live, make sure you link to the new pages directly from your homepage.
For example, Halo Leisure, a social enterprise and UK registered charity, has launched a brand new range of 600+ virtual workouts on their website and app, with the help of virtual fitness provider Wexer.
Their website features a class of day and a teaser of all classes available so members can easily scan and choose their workout. The class finder facility allows the user to search for a workout based on duration and type (mind/body, weight loss, strength/conditioning or kids for example).
Cathy Fletcher, Marketing Manager, Halo Leisure, says:
“During lockdown #1 we started to share our own exercise content and that from partners on our website. With videos hosted on our YouTube channel, hours viewed were up an impressive 20,614% on the previous month in April 2020 alone. A customer survey indicated that 70% of our members would be interested in combining on site with online workouts. To meet this changing customer behaviour we introduced Halo@HOME to encourage our customers to work out from their front room or back garden when they couldn’t make it into their Halo centre.
By mid-November 2020, over 2,100 members have created an account and are enjoying online sessions. In October the platform was accessed 3,157 times – with strength and condition classes being the most popular, followed closely by weight loss sessions. The next step in the development of our digital offer is to increase the depth and breadth of our own content from our own instructors with more live streaming of group exercise classes. Feedback has been positive especially from those who have yet to reactivate their membership due to shielding, self isolation or they are just not in a position to return to in centre exercise. Halo@HOME is keeping them connected to the Halo brand and more importantly supporting help people to be more active more often.”
Here at Legend, we’re experts in the leisure and fitness sector. You can find out more about virtual workouts and how to future-proof your business in our recent guide, ‘Making virtual workouts a reality’.