2021 Global Report reveals 7 key trends for the new fitness landscape

by Jak Phillips

The Les Mills 2021 Global Fitness Report spotlights how the world will work out as we emerge from the pandemic, with live experiences and omni-channel offerings tipped to be key differentiators for fitness providers.

Gyms around the world are set for a roaring recovery as they emerge from the pandemic, with fitness fans eager to get back to live workouts with friends.

That’s according to a major new report that charts a global ‘live revival’, with fitness fans flocking to facilities for greater motivation and social connection after months of solitary home workouts.

The Les Mills 2021 Global Fitness Report – which features insights from 12,157 consumers across 5 continents – explores how the pandemic has changed fitness habits and spotlights the trends that will shape workouts in years to come.

As well as the return of live workouts, the report explores how digital offerings will evolve beyond the pandemic and what strategies fitness operators can deploy to provide the perfect mix between live and digital offerings and meet the increasingly sophisticated needs of modern members.

“As the fitness industry continues its rapid expansion, the margin between success and failure becomes ever finer,” notes Les Mills Founder and Executive Director Phillip Mills in the report’s foreword.

“Against a backdrop of fierce competition and fast-changing trends, razor-sharp insights and excellent execution are the keys to stealing a march on your rivals.”

Access the free report to uncover the key numbers, insights, and recommendations for achieving sustained success in the new age of fitness. Here’s a snapshot of seven key trends the report covers:

1. The new fitness landscape

Across every industry, COVID-19 has forced businesses to rethink their go-to-market strategy. For fitness providers, this has meant ripping up the rulebook and using the pandemic as the catalyst for a completely new approach to meeting people’s fitness needs.

The pandemic has prompted consumers to prioritise their health, with 50 per cent focusing more on their wellbeing in 2021. Eighty-two per cent of consumers regularly exercise (or soon plan to), while 75 per cent of this group do gym-type activities, making fitness the world’s biggest sport. This presents latent growth opportunities for fitness providers as COVID restrictions recede and their clubs return to full capacity.

The report finds clubs worldwide making strong recoveries since reopening. In markets where restrictions have lifted, operators are reporting increased member activity compared to pre-COVID levels, and decisive eagerness among new joiners. Major players such as David Lloyd have already surpassed pre-COVID membership levels, while Planet Fitness, Pure Gym, and The Gym Group have all released impressive earnings reports in recent weeks, demonstrating resurgence among club operators.

2. The live revival

Despite fears the COVID-inspired home fitness boom would spell the end for fitness facilities, research suggests social live fitness experiences are driving the club recovery, with 85 per cent of gymgoers stating they’re interested in trying live classes in their facility. Meanwhile, class occupancy has reached 120 per cent of pre-COVID levels in markets where capacity restrictions have lifted.

After a year of enforced home workouts, appetite for live fitness experiences in groups is soaring. Two-thirds of gym members (67 per cent) say they prefer working out in groups, while live classes in club are nearly twice as popular as doing livestream classes at home (favoured by 44 per cent of members versus 23 per cent).

“After months of being stuck at home, people can’t wait to get back to fitness facilities and enjoy their favourite workouts with familiar faces,” says Phillip Mills, Les Mills Founder and Executive Director.

“Much like bars, restaurants and sports events, fitness is experiencing a real ‘live revival’, as people make up for lost time with a renewed appreciation for real-world social settings.

“Many people have missed the thrill of a busy class and the extra motivation you get from working out with others while being led by a rockstar Instructor.”

3. The human factor

With strong consumer demand for social connection driving the live revival, it’s somewhat inevitable that the people working in clubs will have a vital role to play.

Rockstar Instructors are identified as the single most important factor for gymgoers when choosing a live class, favoured by 28 per cent, ahead of the quality of music (24 per cent) and type of class (21 per cent). Quality Instructors are cited as a key component of the live revival, meeting strong consumer demand for added motivation and deeper connection in their workouts.

Having great people is particularly important for winning new members – 30 per cent of club prospects say “a good atmosphere” is a key factor in choosing a gym to join, while 59 per cent say staff are also a consideration.

“Despite the digital advances made during the pandemic, it’s our people who drove members to join clubs in the first place, and as you’ll see in this report, it’s our people who are proving key to bringing them back,” notes Phillip Mills.

4. The secret sauce

What’s the perfect blend of live and digital workouts in the new age of fitness? It’s a question taxing many club operators and one which the report sets out to answer through the latest data and examples of success from various markets.

Omnichannel fitness – a blend of in-gym and digital home workouts – is tipped to gain traction as we emerge from the pandemic, with the majority of exercisers (59 per cent) favouring a 60:40 split between gym and home workouts.

Far from being simple stop-gaps to tide the industry over during the COVID pandemic, live-stream and on-demand have become vital additions to clubs’ long-term digital offerings, with 80 per cent of members planning to continue using them post-pandemic.

And though live fitness experiences remain the pinnacle, the digital fitness boom and the growth of home working mean today’s fitness consumers demand a connected fitness experience that offers convenience and enables them to maintain a more active lifestyle.

Seamlessly linking live and digital will be key to club success. High-class digital offerings can help clubs win new fans online, build brand affinity, and then eventually convert them to becoming full members of the club.

5. Quality comes first

In an industry as notoriously trend-driven as fitness, HIIT is proving the exception to rule. Having dominated most of the last decade, HIIT is hotter than ever, with 32 per cent of consumers listing it as their favorite class format.

But it’s not just HIIT-heads who are loyal – 58 per cent of members say they would likely cancel their membership if their gym took away their favourite class, regardless of the genre.

Participants are also highly discerning, with 86 per cent choosing to do branded classes, and 62 per cent stating the presence of quality elements (the quality of music, Instructors, equipment, choreography) are key to deciding which classes they attend.

In a world of endless quantity, it’s never been more vital to focus on quality, particularly from a digital perspective. With YouTube chock-full of free, average fitness content, clubs need to ensure they’re providing world-class content to keep members engaged and willing to pay.

6. Beginners break out

Lockdown has also spawned a new generation of fitness fans who have taken tentative first steps into fitness and are now deciding what comes next, with 27 per cent of regular exercisers describing themselves as ‘absolute beginners’. But who are these new market entrants? And what do they want from a fitness experience?

Opportunities abound for operators who can appeal to these groups and understand the unique barriers to exercise they face. Although 81 per cent of beginners are interested in group activities, 66 per cent say they currently prefer to exercise alone, suggesting a confidence chasm that needs to be bridged before beginners feel fully comfortable.

Instructors and wider staff have a key role to play in ensuring they feel welcome, while helping beginners find intrinsic motivation to exercise will be key to their long-term adherence.

7. Total fitness transcendence

As home working becomes more prevalent and the boundaries between work and play are blurred, so too are the distinctions around the provision of fitness services, creating significant opportunities for clubs.

Employers are increasingly coming to recognise the benefits of an active workforce (and their responsibility to support this), while employees are gravitating towards companies that care, so the offer of quality fitness services is becoming a key differentiator.

The impact that wellness offerings can have on both work performance and employee health is also accelerating their prevalence, creating lucrative opportunities for omni-channel fitness providers to proffer their services and reach lucrative new audiences.

For clubs, the ability to demonstrate the scientifically proven impact of your workouts will place you in the box seat for winning in the workplace wellness market, where return on investment (RoI) carries great weight among decision-makers.


Learn the new rules of fitness and how your club can win with the Les Mills 2021 Global Fitness Report. Download the findings and reach out to your local Business Partnership Manager in Australia or Southeast Asia to learn more.


Les Mills Asia Pacific