Throughout history, we have witnessed that innovation often arises in times of adversity. In a fast and ever-changing world, sometime during the late 90s, the mobile phone emerged as a new means of communication. Today, we can talk to anyone, anytime and anywhere. The mobile phone revolution changed the nature of communication, from speed of people to speed of light.
Major world events are often inflection points for innovation and creativity. Covid-19 has been one of the humbling experiences. Many inventions seemed to have germinated in the backdrop of the Coronavirus. On the flip side, it has been a disaster for many industries, including the fitness industry. What does one do when a business that involves physical contact with clients is forced to shut? Innovate, continue and move on — but from a distance.
Digital offerings have sprung up to ensure people continue with their exercises while staying at home. When people encounter a new situation, they generally make a decision as to how to respond to the ‘change-event’. They deny or ignore it, handle it on their own or consult with others. Various factors might affect their decisions, including: Their perceived control over the situation, motivation, existing coping skills, and available support.
To stay fit and healthy, fitness experts, doctors advise a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate physical activity a week or around 20 to 30 minutes a day, but this may be difficult to achieve while homebound.
Sunil Menon, Head Coach, Menon Fitness Systems, is an Ironman-certified coach and an ultra marathoner. He says, “The pandemic did bring my training to a lurching halt but the light bulb went on immediately. I realised with an indefinite ‘stay-home’ orders, I can switch to virtual training sessions. In the next few days, I reinvented the way fitness training is delivered; Zoom sessions, Google Hangouts, YouTube Live got me engaged with my trainees in India and abroad. My primary objective was to ensure that none of them are dis-engaged from their fitness routine and feel demotivated. Training went on uninterrupted.”
What has emerged very clearly through this crisis is the importance of disseminating knowledge across geographies. If virtual learning technology can play a role here, it is incumbent upon all of us to explore its full potential. If life is all about changes, and the changes define who we become, why can’t we understand it, anticipate it, and move on? Change is scary, but we shouldn’t be so fearful of it. Why is it scary? Because it is unknown. Humans naturally crave comfort and only think to change when something is not right.
Dr. Neera Katwal is a Certified Running & Fitness Coach based in Bengaluru. She was afraid of losing her clients and trainees losing their fitness that had painstakingly been built over the years. So she had to restart at the earliest.
On how she handled the situation, she says, “I began using Facebook live feature to broadcast my fitness sessions and used video conferencing apps for my personal training and small group training clients. Frustrating and challenging at the beginning, I got a fast internet connectivity, bought a phone with better camera. Learnt to provide good visual quality by managing my outfit colours, background shapes, sounds and colours to minimise distraction for clients. My manner of conducting sessions also changed. I started giving more cues and verbal directions knowing that clients might not be able look at the screen while they are in an exercise position. Trainees also had a hard time initially but they were desperate to continue their fitness journey so they learnt to adapt soon.”
It is clear that this pandemic has utterly disrupted the way fitness is delivered. Finding ways to successfully replicate the community aspect of in-person workouts has been one the greatest challenges. Some statistics point out that in 2019, just under 10% of people who work out used fitness streaming services. By April 2020, that figure had grown to more than 80%. In response, downloads of fitness and health apps increased by 47% in Q2 of 2020. Many streaming services experienced dramatic increases in demand.
While streaming services and apps may seem like the ideal alternative to brick-and-mortar facilities, they aren’t without their pros and cons. “I am happy with online sessions too as it helps me accommodate more clients and conduct back-to-back sessions without having to travel to client’s place. My eyesight did suffer from the strain of looking at the screen for long hours. On rare occasions my Internet fails and my live-streaming gets interrupted. On the whole, there are more pros than cons and the online sessions are here to stay forever,” says Dr. Neera.
Echoing her thoughts, Sunil Menon believes that virtual fitness will be the way forward with occasional ‘face-to-face’ training sessions thrown in. Coaches can set-up and do sessions from anywhere. One has to stay ahead of the curve or remain outdated, he says.
Colonel Sunil Uniyal, a serving Armed Forces Officer, has been training virtually, though his coach is 1,000km away. On his online training, he says, “All of us were in a tough situation with restricted movement. New habits develop over time, and we’ve had three to four months of this, exercising at home became a new way to train – and it may very well stay that way. The movement to everything-digital has been slow up until now, but relentless, and the fitness industry is its latest convert. The lockdown has accelerated this direction of innovation through necessity and convenience.”
As WFM (Work from Home) continues to conduct business largely from home and personal contact is still a big NO, accommodating a trip to the gym into the daily routine looks to be something that won’t happen for many in the near future, especially when workouts can be done from the comfort of one’s home. The virtual training sessions are a phenomenal substitute.
New habits should be acquired that fit into new schedules. The fitness training will survive the pandemic, but it will look very different. As new trends come and go, the consumer mindset will continue to drive the fitness industry now and in the future.