Survival of The Fitness Industry

As we stretch into the fourth week of self isolation with no clear finish line, we cannot help but wonder how the fitness industry will survive when this is all over. We are not just talking about fitness facilities be it big, medium or small sized, this includes freelance and independent instructors as well as personal trainers whose livelihood depends first and foremost on serving people through fitness experiences. Gyms, studios, Crossfit boxes and all kinds of fitness facilities were some of the first businesses to shutdown completely to comply with governmental regulations which was a true testament to social responsibility too.

The Heya team is comprised of fitness instructors who have been affected first hand by the sudden shutdown along with hundreds of fitness professionals who have no other source of income or security for that matter. Classes canceled, memberships put on hold and shall be extended for the lockdown period - however long that may be. Everyone looking for alternatives not necessarily to keep the business running even though this is essential for most, but to help students and clients stay active while supporting them to keep their physical and mental health in good shape during those trying times. In the first week we witnessed a flood of workouts and classes by multiple entities and fitness professionals on their social media platforms, some even added 14 day challenges based on the fact that the self isolation period was initially 2 weeks. We have seen Yoga instructors come together to offer full classes and meditation sessions on a daily basis, and various platforms hosting instructors through live sessions. It was a wind of hope amid the uncertainty and anxiousness.

A tribe of givers, believers and supporters who have a positive impact on people’s lives. If you have taken any kind of group exercise class/session such as aerobics, bootcamp, Zumba, Yoga or any other program; then you know the experience goes beyond the workout, you will always remember the instructor or coach and how they made you feel.

As the popular saying goes “Where there’s a will there’s a way”, a few businesses and independent instructors took their sessions to the virtual world and created pre-recorded and live experiences for their clients. While this is not an invention, it is relatively new to the local market and quite challenging for some due to space, connection and tech requirements especially with live sessions. Here comes the big BUT, is it sustainable? Will it help them survive and keep their businesses afloat until we are cleared to go back to our regular routine? Will it help them pay the rent? Will it be enough to pay salaries? Will instructors be able to make ends meet to get through this with minimal to no losses as we hope? We are not even going to ask for how long because no one has the answer to that question.

We had even more questions running through our heads so we decided to ask a select group of fitness business owners and professionals to share with us their thoughts to help shed some light and offer insights that can be beneficial at a time like this. Here is what they told Heya!

believe this will make the fitness industry re-evaluate how they do everything and how they run their businesses, says Deana Shaaban, Fitness Director, Ignite Egypt. Businesses will absolutely have to be centered around the needs of human beings, because services will now be inside everyone’s homes. It’s a great opportunity for businesses to reset and evaluate how they want to move forward. Deana has always been a firm believer that in situations where one is stripped of all their luxuries, they become quite resourceful and innovative in how they live their lives. She believes this is the type of situation the world is currently in, and we have a choice for how we innovate moving forward. This situation will affect every single person on this planet. There is something undeniable happening that is currently changing the course of history, and this isn’t a change that is a small temporary one, says Deana. This is a change that will last for months. This will impact myself and everyone else. How we choose to handle it is key. Deana personally believes that a situation like this is all about helping others first and foremost. To try to ease physical circumstances and therefore psychological struggles for each other. That is her goal when trying to plan how to move forward. 

We also asked Deana if she thinks online training will grow locally in the coming period and if she believes people will go for it if this situation prolongs. She replied saying that online is all we have at this point, it has already grown significantly in temporary solutions. Deana thinks businesses will continue to find more long term solutions. At Ignite, they have already built an online platform for their clients to train everyday, and for them to train together. The Ignite Online Training launched on the third day after the government announced schools and gyms would be closed. Their team worked non-stop for 3 days to be able to provide their clients with what they need and they will continue to build on it moving forward.

Mila Bonvini, Founder of Reform Pilates Studios and Master Trainer for Peak Pilates in Egypt has a more conservative outlook as she believes it’s very early to say how this will impact our future. Most people are in denial still and too scared to react. Mila hopes that in a couple of months things will go back to normal and everything will go back to what it used to be, maybe with some more appreciation for life. Her take on online training is that it will probably grow as people are confined at home but as the economy will begin to slow down, the fitness industry will surely be heavily impacted. Mila believes that never before being a good instructor with great teaching skill mattered more, only the really good ones that are able to teach clearly off a screen will make the difference and stand out. Mila along with her team of talented instructors doing their best and hope to pull through.

Moving onto independent Yoga instructor Alia Sherif who has an optimistic perspective and that is the impact this pandemic has on the fitness industry will compel most instructors and coaches to post their workouts for people to follow as an easier and more practical means to exercise. People will become more accepting of the work out at home concept rather than commuting and squeezing it in during their regular rather busy schedules. Alia says virtual training will definitely boom and fitness instructors will try to find more ways to make a living out of it. This will not only be practical for clients who sign up, but will also be very beneficial for instructors as it would allow them to reach a wider range of audience from different parts of town locally or even abroad in other countries. Online training is borderless and that is one unique feature fitness professionals can benefit from.

Jumping from Yoga to bootcamp and high intensity training with Allaa Ashmawi, Partner and Coach at BodyPal Fitness Depot who has been super active on social media and posting killer workouts. Allaa says that in this critical situation most industries have been affected negatively, and so has the Fitness industry, but the only difference here is that our main core as a Fitness community is to help people sustain good health, and now it is more of a top priority which is why we have to keep at it. Most definitely online training is taking the lead at the moment and we should encourage that, shares Allaa, yet she also understands that working out at home might not be easy for most people especially if you want to stick to a routine while there are multiple distractions around you - a main benefit fitness facilities offer and that is a no distraction zone. While athletes may stick to a workout plan rather easily than most, the average person who is looking to lead a healthy lifestyle might find it a little challenging.

On to Diala Jamaleldin, Personal Trainer and Yoga instructor at HIT Egypt who takes us down a slightly different road along with the rest of their team who are already conducting online sessions with their clients and she says it's growing fast. We are thrilled to hear that!

The current situation is actually highlighting the importance of fitness in our lives, says Diala. People are more aware of how important gyms and fitness facilities are. Yes the business is affected by what is happening, but now there is more time to work on other things, such as growing the online platform and gaining more knowledge in fitness through reading and continuing education.

Another take that is personal and heartfelt by Manar El Mokadem, Founder, PoleFit Egypt who has been hit hard by the closure of her business. We came across her very personal post on instagram and not only did we want to support by sharing but we also knew it could be an eye opener to many.

Financially the fitness industry is bleeding hard at the moment, especially for those who rely heavily on drop-in sessions and personal training services, Manar shares with Heya. Education and fitness were the first to close, the difference is that no parent will ask for their child's tuition fees back. Payments for schools are made in full at the beginning of the year and forced closure doesn't indicate any partial reasons. This however isn't the case for us here in the fitness industry, besides the fact that we are currently making zero revenue, our business livelihood highly depends on us being open. Most fitness facilities in Egypt at the moment are really struggling to meet ends. Take Greece for example, the forced closure also meant that the government gave all sports facilities a 40% hair-cut on their rent for March. Depending on how long we are all closed and what kind of agreements we manage to achieve, unless some crazy sanction happens, I would be very curious to see who will actually be able to survive and will come out of this alive, stated Manar.

A positive impact is the very clear need for movement due to restrictions, being stuck at home and now that facilities are shut. It feels like more people are moving now more than ever. On social media, it has clearly become an integral part of many people's diet and daily practice. Manar voices some concerns which may might not be taken lightly by other professionals; however, she has reservations considering the number of free training services being provided online. This may be because she is not only responsible for her own personal income but those of others too. Imagine having to sit and think how to pay 3 locations rent, software solution subscriptions and most importantly the team of 18 women whose livelihood and paycheck rely on a place actually making money. We have all worked hard and invested a lot of time and money to educate ourselves to become providers for our specialty, says Manar. She believes that offering everything free of charge is a very slippery slope that will make it almost impossible for business owners to pay their bills.

On the last day of operation, PoleFit had already launched their online training. They have been instructing online since day one, since they wanted to offer members alternative solutions to their memberships especially with an instinct that closure would not only last 15 days. From having only taught 2 weeks online, Manar can already see a clear increase in popularity from the first to the second week. She predicts that online training will expand, and become extremely popular as long as we are in lockdown, but she is skeptical about the continuation post quarantine, however very curious to see as things unfold.

One incredible silver lining is they now have students attending from so many countries across the world such as Dubai, Netherlands, Germany, Bahrain, Greece, France, Uk! It's crazy really and Manar does not think they would've ever been able to have this reach unless this situation had happened.

Continuing on the positive vibes with the multi talented Sarah Taha, Partner, Personal Trainer and Pilates instructor at VIBES.

The effect of COVID-19 is clearly felt and seen, which surely makes it a very challenging period among all industries. At the current moment, it is very hard to predict how this will impact fitness as an industry; this is new to everyone and there is a lot of uncertainty. Sara with a very similar outlook like Manar also sees the growth of online training, but she is not sure if it’s just because there are no other alternatives at the moment or there are other factors playing a role for it to become a growing trend. It’s quite impressive and inspiring seeing how both clients and providers are quickly adopting alternatives in order to maintain their fitness routine and keeping it part of their daily lives. I do think this will definitely create a big market for online training during the coming period, clarifies Sara, and people will go for it, but I also believe that we as a culture appreciate real-life experiences and interactions, therefore demand for on-ground in person training will always exist.

As a trainer and an entrepreneur, Sara sees this tough period as the perfect time to hit the reset button and explore strategies of improvement in different aspects of our lives; to maybe go through this challenge with a sense of purpose and allow creativity to flow in, and we could not agree more.

Last but not least, our very own founder, Sally Salama who is also a Zumba®, bootybarre® and STRONG Nation™ instructor whose classes seized on March 15 like everyone else; also continues to support her clients virtually to keep them moving and motivated. She believes fitness contributes a great deal to mental health stability which is very much needed these days. We are all trying to adapt, move into uncharted waters and make the best out of a relatively scary situation for ourselves and our beloved clients, says Sally. She also believes virtual online training is here to stay and that it has a lot of potential to grow if implemented with the user experience at heart.

To wrap this up, it is clear how all these fitness professionals and business owners share similar yet relatively different experiences, but they all are deeply affected by this unpredictable situation. One thing we know right now is it that we all want to survive and push through until it all clears up and we are able to workout, dance, flow and jump up and down between some of our favorite walls together again while possibly keeping these new innovative online solutions that can open up new doors for more people to join the health and fitness movement. We pray that everyone strives and survives, and we ask you to support your fitness providers so they can continue to be there for you and your health.

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