Pandemic Escapism Drives Demand for Gym Membership

Pandemic escapism is driving new demand for mid-market gym memberships.

Changing Landscape for UK Fitness Industry

The UK fitness industry is continuing to adapt and bounce back from the enforced closures during the pandemic, as the nation discovers a newfound appreciation for health and fitness facilities, recent research has revealed.

Leading health club brand Total Fitness, which operates 15 health clubs throughout the North of England and Wales, has seen a 300% increase in net member growth in the first three months of reopening, when compared to the same period in 2019.

While the pandemic may have seen many Britons re-evaluate their health and wellbeing and embrace outdoor exercise and home workouts, research conducted by Total Fitness on members who joined since April 2021 reveals that it has also driven a new demand for gyms – with 45% of new members polled citing the pandemic as their main motivation for joining.


Millennials and Gen Z


And it is millennials and Gen Z leading this new demand with 37% of the mid-market gym chain’s new joiners aged 34 or below (an increase of 19% from 2019) and those aged 18-24 being most likely to join a gym in direct response to the pandemic (53%).

The period of enforced social distancing and closures has also given rise to a new wave of gym goers who didn’t previously exercise – as the research reveals that 39% of Total Fitness’ new joiners did not previously own a gym membership in the last five years.


Demand for Exercise Outside of the Home


The research also revealed this prolonged period of staying home with limited access to exercise amenities has resulted in a newfound appreciation for fitness experiences that cannot be replicated at home – with variety of equipment and fitness facilities being the motivation to join for 49% of Total Fitness’ new members. Almost half (48%) of its new member base have moved from ‘budget’ gym providers, indicating a desire to access a wider variety of fitness facilities.

One experience which cannot be replicated in the budget sector or at home is swimming and the pool was the most important factor behind joining Total Fitness for the overwhelming majority of new joiners – 79%, compared to 64% who joined for the gym and 24% for the fitness classes.

Another attraction of working out in a gym environment is revealed as the sense of community and opportunities for group exercise, with over half of those polled (57%) admitting extra support would help keep them motivated. Exercising with a friend, one-to one in person support and group activity options were mentioned as the most popular sources of additional motivation when it comes to getting the most out of a workout.

Sophie Lawler, CEO at Total Fitness comments; “The pandemic has forced the nation to consider their own health and resilience in sharper focus, and this research demonstrates that we are willing to invest in our own personal fitness beyond the confines of our homes and existing routines in pursuit of something more varied and therefore more sustainable.

“It’s encouraging to see this new wave of people who have been inspired to join a gym as a direct result of the pandemic and even moved from budget operators in search of a wider array of facilities to achieve this variety to their health and fitness routines which we know builds visitation and long-term change.

“What is really exciting is how engaged with fitness the younger generations are, with so many more joining our clubs than we’ve ever seen previously. This shows a greater level of commitment from our new members and it’s our great hope that their commitment will translate into better, healthier outcomes.

“Being able to access such a wide variety of services all in one place, and with a greater level of connection with other people than exercising alone, are really important factors in creating and maintaining motivation. We’ll continue to enhance and add more variety to Total Fitness’ 360 fitness approach to support them.”