How COVID-19 has revolutionised the digital fitness space
We spoke to Head of Media at Les Mills, Jean-Michel Fournier, who leads the charge with Les Mills’ digital platform, Les Mills On Demand. With years of experience working alongside Silicon Valley giants including Hewlett Packard, GE and BitGym, Jean-Michel has brought a well-rounded knowledge of the technology, digital and fitness sectors to his role at Les Mills.
As the Covid-19 pandemic impacted the world, one of the biggest changes that consumers had to incorporate into their ‘new normal’ in lockdown was exercising at home.
During this time, the fitness industry has seen huge changes in the consumer demands and behaviours. Jean Michel makes the argument below that following this growth in the market, consumers are going to want a more 360⁰ approach to health and fitness in their lives.
Accelerator not catalyst
Even though on-demand and at home fitness isn’t a new phenomenon, the pandemic really catapulted the need for people to use this service, to maintain a semblance of health and normality during tough times. Les Mills on Demand, the Netflix-style workout hub from fitness juggernaut Les Mills, has seen a 900% increase in use since January 2020. Jean-Michel points out that although it seems like Covid launched at-home fitness, it was merely an accelerator for the market.
“We’ve been doing on-demand fitness globally for years now. However, what COVID really kickstarted, was live-streaming fitness. This was because people were lacking the connection they usually get from being in a physical class with other people. They craved the human-interaction and live-streaming was born,” Jean-Michel explained.
With the huge variety of live and on-demand fitness now available on the global fitness market, does this make industry heavy-weights like Les Mills nervous about people returning to real classes in-studios and gyms in the future?
“We believe there will still be a huge number of people who return to the studios and want to go back to their normal way of exercising, but we’re excited about the future of digital fitness too. For us, the goal is about humanising the digital fitness space. We’re talking to our instructors and customers now more than ever; this period has given us unique insight into what people want and find most important in their daily lives.”
Data has become one of the most prevalent tools in accelerating new trends and solutions across all markets during this time, as well as the need to combine forces with other industries and consumer demands.
“We’re seeing that normal industry-competitors are teaming up, supporting one another and working together to help consumers. For example, Les Mills has been working closely with the team at Zumba to make sure that everyone in our remit – clubs, instructors, customers – are looked after. It’s about collaborating to ensure health and wellness on all levels. That’s one of the single biggest positives that digital fitness has encouraged, and I believe it’s here to stay.”
Jean-Michel’s point here is about finding solutions on all levels and incorporating 360⁰ health and wellness offerings in digital fitness as the biggest opportunity to grow. He discussed this earlier this year in an interview with Forbes.com:
“Consumerization of the fitness club (a $100bn industry) is inevitable. This industry will need to follow the member into the anytime and anywhere model – At home and travel. This changes the core economics and service levels and more of a 24/7 engagement model. The pandemic has bought the idea of the club into the house on a wider basis than before, so the opportunities are much bigger than ever before to shift the relationship away from old world economics.” Jean-Michel Fournier for Forbes
Through this experience, Les Mills has found that going back to its roots as a brand has been the most successful part in navigating the crisis. “It’s really very simple; we are about Tribe and community. Our instructors, clubs and consumers are our community and we need to do whatever we can for them to lead a better life, during the crisis and afterwards.” With the overwhelming amount of the global population reaching out for the connection in community, this is where Les Mills sees the future of digital fitness.
“It’s easy to get lost in the data but ultimately, the Les Mills business is about people. We’ll be using digital fitness now and, in the future, to speak directly to our instructors and consumers. Les Mills will still offer the highest quality on-demand workouts, but we’ll also look at training our instructors in digital fitness – so they have this tool in their armoury too.”
Which brings us to the most pertinent part of the digital fitness space – personalisation. If consumers now have a taste for digital fitness, they will be more invested in incorporating their fitness into daily life whether that is at home or not. The digital fitness offerings that will succeed during this time in the pandemic and beyond will be the ones personalising the customers experiences.
“As well as training our instructors to be able to instruct digitally, we’ll also look at supporting members through their unique goals. Clubs need to realise that now it’s not just about bringing members to their clubs. It’s about how they are going to support members in the club and away from it. As a brand Les Mills, we’re looking at elements like virtual coaching, which we feel, will be the best way for digital fitness to evolve.”
The opportunity to grow digital fitness without directly impacting in-studio offerings it seems, is a big one. Les Mills is one of the industry leaders in this field and will continue to grow its repertoire of live and on-demand classes to fit to the consumers needs. Any brand that wants to stay relevant in the space, needs to incorporate this into its strategy too.