The rapidly changing world of pandemic fitness

Located in the heart of the normally sleepy downtown Soquel, Play it Again Sports is a cool, foggy Saturday morning. A constant stream of shoppers – browsing the store’s small selection of used and new disc golf discs, testing out the few remaining fitness equipment in stock, and scouring the now-legendary free weights from top to bottom – keeps Assistant Manager Josue Diaz on his toes. guards and in a whirlwind of perpetual motion.

“Business hasn’t stopped this year. We have tried to meet the needs of the community, but we are criticized, ”admits Diaz. “When the gyms suddenly closed, everything went crazy. Since the start of the pandemic, demand has remained constant. People come to buy fitness equipment and equipment to set up their home gym. We’ve been around a year and business has never been better.

The coronavirus has forced millions of fitness fans to be extremely adaptive. Left without a gym, without classes, and without a trainer almost overnight, many Americans have had to make complete changes to their fitness regimes, totally changing when, where and how they train. Socially distant, quarantined, and quite leery of venturing into a sick and treacherous world, Americans have gotten creative by going outdoors or bringing fitness activities into their homes.

“It scared people. People had to be incredibly careful and scramble to find options that worked for them in their homes, ”said In-Shape Fitness CEO Zach Rankin. “Even when we opened, not everyone felt comfortable coming back. “

Covid was not at all kind to the gym industry. According to the International Health, Racquet, and Sports Club Association group, the pandemic has led 15% of all gyms to close permanently. It is estimated that over 50% of members have frozen or canceled their membership, and the industry has hemorrhaged, losing billions of dollars and shedding more than 500,000 jobs. Several workout behemoths, including Gold’s Gym and 24 Hour Fitness, have filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

With gyms closed and with more homeowners in America than at any time in modern history, you might think fitness was overlooked during the pandemic. Not so! According to UnitedHealthcare’s 2020 Health Check Survey, this actually prompted more than 35% of Americans to increase their physical activity. Adopting healthier habits just might be the weirdest and most unexpected side effect of Covid.


As members continue to return to fully reopened In-Shape, Rankin admits that “a lot of people are hesitant at first. It’s a gymnasium with a lot of people and moving parts.

To allay fears and calm the nerves of prospective and former members, In-Shape has made cleanliness a top priority. All gym surfaces are cleaned hourly and hygienic wipes are provided in place of sprays throughout the resort.

“At this point it’s all open now,” Rankin explains. “The same amenities have been available since the pre-Covid days. “We have opened up the relaxation, comfort and recovery area as well as our fitness and swimming offers.

Outdoor exercise offers are available for club members. Half of the gym’s parking lot is devoted to outdoor activities, filled with platform machines, free weights, and a plethora of cardio options.

Everything at the Capitola Gym is based on an app-based reservation system. In-Shape offers regular classes, but with limited capacity. Its popular yoga classes, which are usually attended by 50 to 60 members, are limited to 30 lucky yogis. Participants must book at least two days in advance and adhere to a strict 10-foot separation and spacing. Don’t just show up and hope for the best.


A sign of the times, all In-Shape classes are also available for streaming online through the club’s proprietary web application. Members can select a variety of pre-recorded classes and personal training programs via laptop or desktop, TV or tablet.

“The goal is for people to feel comfortable getting the exercise they need, but not in the physical location of the gym. Our digital fitness platform gives people flexibility and a way to adapt their fitness to their busy schedules, ”says Rankin.

Kicked off by Covid’s ‘dirty globetrotter dance’ and fueled by stay-at-home regulations, physical, digital and virtual fitness have exploded onto the scene. 2020 was the year gyms like In-Shape fully embraced the digital revolution. Scrambling madly to cope with a steep drop in membership, nearly 70% of gyms are currently broadcasting live and offering on-demand workouts. Only 25% did so in 2019, according to fitness research firm Clubintel.

Quarantine and mandatory social distancing have reminded Americans that they can exercise almost anywhere. Experts believe that a hybrid model, a combination of digital and in-person services, is the way of the future.

Virtual exercise has become the cornerstone of the exercise routine of millions of Americans. A whopping 80% of fitness consumers have streamed a workout live since the start of the pandemic, up from just 7% in 2019. Gyms and businesses in the fitness industry are constantly reinventing the average workout and imagining ingenious new ways to members / clients. to sweat and stay in shape from home.


The pandemic has created a legion of gym handymen. Spending on gym basics like treadmills, ellipticals, and stationary bikes has skyrocketed. What about free weights? Good luck.

“This area is different from most,” Rankin admits. “Most of the people who live here have a considerable amount of money. They were able to afford to buy equipment and set up major home gyms. Many sellers took advantage of the moment and raised their prices.

The second quarter of 2020 was the strongest on record for Icon Health and Fitness, the umbrella health and fitness company that includes NordicTrack in its portfolio. Net sales increased 94% to $ 114 million year over year. Bowflex sales – yes, the same dope setup you saw in commercials when you were a kid – also got ballistic.

“For some products, we had to wait months to be restocked. The exercise machines were difficult to keep in the store. Every seller and supplier has been beside themselves. Prices have increased with demand and limited supply. A lot of items were hard to come by for sure, ”says Diaz of Play It Again.

Meanwhile, dumbbells, just like toilet paper, bidets, hand sanitizer, and Nintendo Switches, were one of those curious things that became extremely hard to find during the pandemic. Experts say the year-long dumbbell shortage in the United States is what happens when colossal demand turns into a shattered supply chain.

“From the start, by far the most popular things were dumbbells. People rushed to buy 10’s, 15’s, 20’s, and 25’s. Weights have become in high demand. We had to close an entire section of the store. Customers rushed when we received a shipment. It was busy and chaotic. That’s what kept us alive in the beginning. Now we have to wait months to be restocked, ”says Diaz.

A lot of fitness junkies rushed in and took the plunge, investing in a set of NordicTrack or Bowflex adjustable dumbbells, considered the holy grail of gym toys. But these favorites will set you back $ 4000 or more.

The call ? They take up much less space than standard weights, and with well-designed clips and switches, they can weigh up to 55 pounds or up to 10.

Historically, the dumbbell market has been cyclical; sales increase in the fall, peaking with the “I’m gonna do it this time!” »Resolutions, then decrease as temperatures begin to rise. Stores like Play it Again Sports were not equipped to handle the tidal wave of demand.

“I remember when dumbbells were $ 1.09 a pound,” Diaz explains. “Now they cost at least $ 1.75 a pound, when we have them in stock. “

It turns out that 95% of all dumbbells are made in China, and the Covid lockdowns there virtually wiped out the free weight supply chain overnight. Dick’s Sporting Goods, Big 5 and Modell’s join Play It Again Sports on the weight waiting list. Good luck finding them on Amazon. And if you come across any on eBay, be prepared for some serious price increases. A pair of regular 15-pound dumbbells will set you back $ 169.


If the pandemic has done one thing, it has highlighted how important it is for all of us to prioritize – and invest in – our well-being, fitness and health. Digital and home fitness has likely received a permanent boost, and gyms are suspiciously eyeing the headlines on the Delta variant. Will running with weights, exercise equipment, bikes and shoes persist? When will supply chains normalize? Only time will tell.

But one thing is certain: things are changing again, quickly. Since I started researching this article, California has removed capacity limits and reopening levels, only to start recommending the use of indoor masks when cases of Covid started to increase due to the Delta variant. As recently as last week, health officials in the Bay Area of ​​Seven Counties reinstated the mandate for indoor masks.

A year and a half of quarantine and isolation has left many former gym goers eager for human interaction and social engagement. Some will no doubt stick to home workout routines. Home exercise is likely to become a supplement rather than a direct competitor to fitness clubs.

“Covid has been terrible for all of us, but in a positive light we were able to try things that we had never done before. We’re starting to see members coming back to us, ”Rankin says. “We love to hear their stories of what they’ve done to stay fit and active over the past year and a half.”

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