Until the last week of March, Kanchana Ghosh’s daily routine was something like this — after a busy day at work, she would rush to the gym only to sweat it out and then return home to her daily chores. That was before the entire country went into a lockdown and suddenly Ghosh — a central government employee in her early 40s — was at home working out using a popular fitness app. She says, “Had the lockdown not happened, I probably would never have experimented with these apps. A family member first started using it and posting videos, and now my younger sister and I are hooked.”
Coming from a die-hard gym enthusiast, the above statement brings with it a lot of anxiety for an industry that’s been crippled ever since the lockdown was announced. Sumaya Dalmia, a Delhi-based leading fitness trainer, says, “The fitness industry has taken a huge economic hit. Unfortunately, these temples of fitness are easily contaminated spaces. There is so much human touch on all machines, people are sweating and breathing all over each other, and there’s no way to work out wearing a mask.”
Pause in growth
According to the 2019 FICCI EY report on fitness and slimming, the overall fitness market was estimated around US$14 billion in 2017. The growth in this industry is primarily driven by the increasing focus on personal health and well-being. With the shift toward sedentary lifestyle in our cities, there is renewed focus on fitness to deal with stress.
Seeking professional guidance for fitness and slimming are no longer considered a luxury but is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle. This change in consumer behaviour and preferences will continue to provide an impetus to the industry. This growth story however, was in for a rude shock when the pandemic hit the country and the fitness industry, one with the least possibility of social distancing, was badly hit. The complete shutdown of gyms, yoga studios and fitness centres across the country has left many unemployed. Neeraj David, who owns David’s Fitness Studio in Gurugram and Craft Fitness in Defence Colony, says, “For the past five to six years, the fitness and beauty industries have given employment to many people without formal educational degrees. Suddenly, all this has stopped. A popular fitness app recently sacked most of its trainers.” Ashwani Kashyap, a trainer with Seven Pillars Gym and Spa, agrees. Kashyap, who now conducts online workout sessions, says, “In the past few months, many of my contemporaries have changed their professions. Gym owners unable to afford rents are now selling their equipment. Now, people are focusing on buying fitness equipment for home.” A spokesperson for Decathlon substantiates Kashyap’s view, adding, “In the last few months, Decathlon has witnessed a significant rise in the demand for fitness equipment. Products for cycling, fitness cardio, yoga and running are among the top 10 purchased cate gories for customers looking to bolster home fitness equipment following the lockdown. We noticed an over 141 per cent volume growth in sales of gym benches and bench racks and a 141 per cent increase in demand for dumbbell kits or individual dumbbells. Sales of kettlebells also increased with 151 per cent growth. Fitness accessories are in demand and have seen an increase in sales in May. Resistance bands topped the list with growth in excess of 2,000 per cent.”
The silver lining
Not everyone is distressed by the lockdown. Yoga instructor Ira Trivedi, founder of Namami Yoga, says business is growing at 200 per cent with two or three students joining every day. Emphasising that online yoga is convenient because all that’s needed is a yoga mat, Trivedi says, “This is like the Paytm moment for yoga. It’s like when demonetisation was announced, people took to digital wallets, which they resisted earlier. We have about 30 classes a week with adults, senior citizens and children.” Bengaluru-based transformation coach Simrun Chopra agrees, “Digital fitness was not easily acceptable to people earlier. There were women who didn’t even have an email id and would insist to pay me in cash. Things are different now. People have even warmed up to the idea of online school,” she says. Chopra, who runs a fitness website nourishwithsim.com, has been helping people in their fitness journeys, over the phone or digitally, since 2014. So, one would assume nothing much has changed for her. She mentions, “My clients might have increased but the struggles are more. Since everything has gone online, I’m now competing with bigger fitness apps who are more like tech companies.”
The tech revolution
Nivedita Joshi, founder of Iyengar Yoga kshema in Delhi, says, “It has been a good transition. As an Iyengar yoga teacher, we are precise and that makes the instructions very clear. So students are able to follow well.” Joshi’s student Bhawna Gulati, joint director (law) at the Competition Commission of India, agrees, “We are so grateful to technology that our learning could resume through video classes. Though technology can have its own limitations, these online classes came as a blessing in such difficult times when stress levels are at an unprecedented high.”
With the fitness industry making a sharp digital shift, one wonders if people like Ghosh would ever want to return to a physical gym?