Fighting Fit: Building A Virtual Membership Offering

Many gyms and leisure facilities have sought to provide home workout options for members in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. But now is the time to get serious about virtual membership options. A compelling virtual membership offering will provide income whilst doors are shut and keep members engaged while they are forced or choose to stay home. Further still, virtual membership options could be essential even after facilities reopen.

Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, approximately a third of the world’s health and fitness clubs closed according to fitNdata. Leaving around 230 million people locked out of their usual workout venue.

With much of the globe in lockdown, fitness fanatics (and even those who are not so fanatical!) have been pushed to embrace home workouts. Sport England research into exercise habits found 25% of adults in England are now working out at home. Considering that the LDB’s 2019 State of the UK Fitness Industry Report found 15.6% of the population were gym members, this statistic shows that exercise is becoming viewed as increasingly important.

Now more than ever, it’s time to consider your digital presence. How can you build a strong virtual membership offering to protect and strengthen your organisation now and for the future?

Pushing Fast Forward On Digital Fitness Services Growth

While digital fitness services, alongside out of facility activities like running, were already growing in popularity (see our previous post: Is The Status Quo Your Biggest Threat?), COVID-19 has accelerated this growth.

Fitness streaming service, Obé, which launched in March 2018 bringing boutique classes like boxing, Pilates and HIIT into homes, reported a membership increase of 300% between February 2020 and March 2020 (having seen average growth of 30% month-on-month previously).

Meanwhile, Ian McCaig, co-founder of UK fitness streaming service, FIIT, told Sifted that signups grew by more than 2,500% in the two weeks following the forced closure of UK leisure facilities.

Research and Market’s Growth Opportunities in the Global Digital Fitness Market report predicted that the global digital fitness market would reach an estimated $27.4 billion by 2022. McCaig suggested that this value may be reached by the end of 2020: “We estimate that market value could be achieved by the end of 2020.”

Building Compelling Virtual Membership Options

Since the outbreak, many bricks and mortar fitness businesses have introduced new digital offerings, as well as expanding existing services.

With many unknowns surrounding quite when and under what operating conditions businesses will be able to reopen, the need to monetise these digital services is becoming stronger than ever. This could be through asking members to continue paying existing membership fees or by offering specific virtual membership options.

In a noisy marketplace with members already accessing free or low-cost digital fitness options, what elements should you consider including to build a strong paid virtual membership offering?

Streamed Live & Pre-Recorded Classes

Fitness operators have already started to offer live or pre-recorded classes, either developed in-house or via third parties.

The likes of boutique chains Frame and 1Rebel have developed their own digital streaming services. Setting up such a platform can be a significant undertaking and investment. An investment that may well be beneficial in the long-term should consumers choose to continue home workouts, either complementing in-facility activity, or, exclusively. For boutique chains a virtual membership option is a way to reach new members who do not live near a studio but desire this type of fitness experience.

Operators who are not able to invest in such a platform, developed in-house or using an existing/new software provider, are not shut out. Tools, such as Zoom and Facebook Live, have proved popular options.

These can be used to provide public or private classes either live or pre-recorded for future streaming in some circumstances. However, these free or low-cost tools can involve ‘workarounds’ to make them work as needed for fitness classes, especially when trying to restrict access to members only.

Software platforms like, TrueCoach, offer an alternative approach that allows you to provide set workouts or classes for members that can be accessed on demand via the platform. This allows you to monetise your offering with access restricted to members while workouts can be delivered professionally.

Beyond delivery method, key considerations to keep in mind when offering live or pre-recorded classes for streaming are:

  • Music licensing
  • Programme licensing (for example, classes provided by the likes of Les Mills, Beachbody or Zumba Fitness can have certain restrictions in place)
  • Public liability insurance coverage / requirements

Alternatively, partnering with a third party can provide a simple option. Many facilities offering Les Mills classes have given members access to an extended free trial of the Les Mills On Demand platform or have included access to this as part of a virtual membership package. Similarly, members of the Gym Group can sign up to a free trial of the FIIT app followed by a monthly low-cost rate.

Personal Training & Personalised Workout Programmes

If your facility or facilities offer personal training, this doesn’t need to stop just because PT clients can’t visit in person. Having a tool that allows you to deliver personal training digitally will enable your trainers to effectively engage clients now and when clients are able to visit in person.

Digital fitness platforms, such as TrueCoach, will allow you to provide your PTs with a tool that can be used to provide:

  • Personalised, ongoing workout and nutrition plans
  • Feedback on technique via the app, supplemented with face-to-face sessions online or in person (once appropriate)
  • Support between session with in-built chat functionality and tracking for your PT and clients

This not only allows your trainers to keep working for you whilst you are closed, it offers new opportunities for clients to access PT training from afar. For example, if you offer a specialised style of training or past clients have strong relationships with individual trainers, this allows you to keep serving them even when they are working, studying or living away from your facilities.

Many facilities will have a significant number of members who regularly use the gym following personalised programmes that are updated periodically. These members may struggle to find effective home workouts. Or want a more structured approach of following a personalised programme that aligns with their needs.

TrueCoach will allow you to deliver personalised programmes to this group of members who may otherwise be difficult to digitally engage and at high risk of attrition during this period.

Following this set up a trainer would have a session with the member to understand their goals, preference and any equipment available. A personalised work out would then be delivered via the app, along with nutrition advice if appropriate. Performance and tracking via the app will allow both the client and trainer to monitor progress and programme compliance. The chat and messaging functionality would be used as needed to provide ad hoc support.

Fitness Equipment, Kit & Trackers

Since the lockdown period began, home fitness equipment has been in high demand. Business Insider reported that in the run up to the Easter bank holiday weekend, kettlebells saw a 419% year-on-year jump in consumer demand. Yoga mats, dumbbells, barbells and skipping ropes also saw demand soar.

This trend is not confined to the UK. In the US, fitness operators have been coming to the aid of members allowing them to rent equipment whilst they are closed. This option may allow you to better serve members virtually. There are several key considerations to keep in mind with this option, including:

  • Rental rates and agreements
  • What happens if something breaks
  • Insurance requirements / coverage (particularly around injury and proper usage)
  • Transportation of equipment vs collection
  • Recovery of equipment for reopening

While, it might not fully address availability options, pairing up with a third-party provider to offer members an exclusive discount on equipment, as well as kit and trackers, can be a key element of your membership offering. For example, 1Life is offering a digital membership which incorporates discount for members buying equipment from Physical Company and buying training belts from Myzone.

Engagement & Rewards Programmes

As well as considering offering access to special discounts with third-party retailers (or even from your own online shop) as a perk of a virtual membership, including access to an engagement programme can be beneficial.

Specialist providers, such as Activpoints, offer your members the opportunity to earn points for keeping active, even when at home or outdoors. Points can be exchanged for rewards and discounts. This is a great option to have available to members now – Sport England research found that 59% of adults in the UK are using their daily activity time for walking, while 19% had used it to go running or jogging. And for the future – especially with the growth in participation at outdoor events like Parkrun. You’ll benefit from access to key data points that can be used to improve your operations.

Friendly competition may also help encourage members to keep active and ensure the community you’ve worked hard to build stays strong.

Apps and platforms will allow you to create challenges that members can enter. Consider offering prizes will drive up engagement further (something as simple as discounted food and drink, personal training sessions or free passes for friends can work just as well as larger cash or technology prizes).

Justifying A Paid Virtual Membership Option

When leisure facilities initially closed, many organisations introduced free digital offerings. Almost a month on facilities are still closed, timelines for reopening and an understanding of any operational changes are yet to become clear.

Whether you are continuing to collect membership fees or have frozen all collections until you reopen, now is the time to consider adding a virtual membership offering. This will justify continuing collections or introducing a nominal fee of some kind with a firm offering for members. Allowing your organisation to safeguard business viability with an income whilst closed.

The examples provided are just some of the elements that can be incorporated into an attractive virtual membership offering. It is important to ensure you correctly position your digital offering to members, consider highlighting:

  • Benefits over any options you’ve been offering for free
  • Retail value of package (for example, if you are including Activpoints access or Les Mills On Demand usage explain the saving members will see compared to going directly)
  • Explain the importance of supporting their local facility currently

Fighting Fit

We are passionate about the health and fitness industry and believe your strength is key to the successfully overcoming COVID-19.

Having a strong virtual membership offering will set you up for success now and in the future however consumer behaviours change. Get in touch with our team to learn more about any of the points discussed in this article and to find out how we can help you with your virtual membership offering.

Our COVID-19: Resources & Useful Links page gives details of helpful support at this time. As a fellow TSG solution, we are offering you access to a 3-month free trial of TrueCoach with no commitment necessary – find out more about TrueCoach.