Our data, collected from thousands of gyms and studios around the world, showed that microgyms dropped as much as 74 percent of their gross revenue during pandemic-related shutdowns. Big chain gyms had it worse: Many of the largest chains filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the U.S., and some, like Lifetime Fitness, predict that it will take them three years to recover completely.

That being said, many of the small gyms, studios and trainers fared pretty well—and some even grew. With the ability to pivot quickly, gyms with fewer than 150 members made changes that helped them survive lockdown. Here they are:

  1. They loaned their equipment to members.
  2. They called each member at least three or four times per week.
  3. They explained the daily workout to each member individually and told them about the benefits (not the reps, intensity or even technique).
  4. They adopted technology to help with client communication and online training.
  5. They offered one or two online Zoom classes per day.
  6. They didn’t drop their rates.
  7. When permitted, they reopened for one-on-one training or small-group training.
  8. They communicated with all of their clients daily—at minimum—and provided clarity, assurance, leadership and step-by-step plans.

Many gym owners found that the changes COVID forced should actually become permanent. For example, gym owners who struggled to have members register for classes in advance had the perfect excuse to require it: government-mandated limits on class sizes.

Others found new opportunities to train their clients online. At my gym, Catalyst in Sault Ste. Marie, many clients drive a half hour through bad winter weather to attend. So, the option to train at home once or twice per week is pretty attractive, COVID or no COVID.

Hundreds of gyms reported an uptick in personal-training sales because it was the only service available to their clients, and more than one supplement rep told me, “When the grocery stores are closed, supplement sales go way up.”

For the most flexible trainers, coaches and gym owners, COVID forced an evolution that was imminent anyway. Opportunities like online training and responsibilities like one-to-one client contact became urgent instead of important. Post-lockdown, many gyms will actually become more profitable by adopting a client-centric business:

  1. A combination of in-person and online training.
  2. More one-on-one connections with each client.
  3. A new focus on nutrition, mindset and sleep coaching.
  4. Enhanced cleaning plans.
  5. Better media and communication with all clients.

These elements will help gyms and studios diversify their revenue streams, increase revenue per client and keep members long enough to change their lives. As we’re discovering in retention and adherence data, these changes don’t just help bottom lines: they help clients, and that’s most important.

Necessity is the mother of reinvention. The fitness industry has weathered its toughest period—one that isn’t over in many parts of the world, including most Canadian provinces, but tough times provoke ingenuity and reveal leadership. Though it’s been an emotional period, the survivors are emerging into a brand-new world full of opportunities to help people live better lives.

Chris Cooper is the owner of Catalyst Fitness and the author of five books, 
including the recently released “Gym Owners Handbook.” He is the founder of the 
worldwide mentorship practice Two-Brain Business.