Updated: Jul 14, 2020
By Harrison Greenspan
Wondering when it’ll be safe to go back to the gym? Truth be told, there is absolutely no clear-cut answer. Although businesses and public society as a whole have been starting to open back up, those same businesses might have to shut down once again as COVID-19 cases spike across the United States. When looking at an array of factors and studies when assessing which businesses should open their doors, it should surprise nobody that gyms and fitness studios alike should be absolutely last on the list to open.
Why You & Everyone Else Should Stop Visiting Your Local Fitness Center and Gym
One of the main concerns health experts have about COVID-19 is how readily it can spread through the air via respiratory droplets, especially in confined spaces. As such, researchers from South Korea recently warned people against rigorously exercising in confined spaces like fitness studios. For the sake of an early release report that was published in Emerging Infectious Diseases, Korean researchers looked at a confirmed case of COVID-19, which was traced back to a nationwide fitness dance class. Ultimately, the research team found 112 COVID-19 cases linked to dance workout classes across 12 different facilities. According to these researchers, the moist, warm air combined with turbulent air flow from exercising may create an environment in which droplets can spread readily. “Based on recent research, aerosolized droplets can remain airborne for up to 3 hours, making the potential for spread in crowded and confined spaces such as fitness studios problematic,” said Dr. Robert Glatter, an emergency medicine physician at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.
Further, the size and intensity of the class can also impact transmission. According to the study, transmission was detected in fitness classes that were about 50 minutes long, were held in a studio measuring around 645 square feet, and included anywhere from 5 to 22 people. Simply put, people breathe harder when they work out, which is the primary way the virus spreads from person to person. “When people breathe more rapidly and more deeply, they expel greater numbers of droplets,” Glatter said.
And while I’m sure you all know this by now, people who have COVID-19 and don’t have symptoms can still spread the disease. Dr. Anne Liu, infectious disease physician with Stanford Health Care, said people are most infectious the day before, day of, and a couple of days after developing symptoms. They can even transmit the virus several days before symptoms appear, Liu noted. If a person is asymptomatic or presymptomatic, they can expel viral particles into the air through droplets that can become aerosolized, according to Glatter. “This increases the potential of transmission among people in hot and crowded fitness studios with poor air circulation,” Glatter said.
To further portray why a trip to the local gym is a bad idea, a study was done in 2014 at four Memphis gyms in which they measured the degree of germs and bacteria in an average gym. Staph bacteria were found on the surface of every piece of exercise equipment tested, including free weights, weight machines, ellipticals, stationary bikes, and treadmills. In all, 25 types of bacteria were found in the four gyms tested. And now, due to an inherent and expected slight paranoia because of the pandemic, even gym rats may be rethinking how often they actually go to the gym. This is why many people, including myself, at the onset of the pandemic, started looking to buy gym equipment for use at home.
Fitness Equipment Selling Out Everywhere
I was quickly disappointed to see dumbbell weights and all kinds of gym equipment sold out. Whether it was online shopping through Walmart, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Target, and even on Amazon, weights, resistance bands, and any sort of gym equipment were likely sold out. And when you were lucky to find something, more times than not, the quality of the product would be subpar and shipping took many weeks to well over a month (as it tended to be shipped from China). According to market research watchdog IBISWorld, the gym and exercise equipment manufacturing industry generated $2 billion in revenue in 2019. But, with most equipment made in China, the COVID-19 crisis disrupted the supply chain. As a result, major retailers are out of stock, and online sellers like Amazon have limited supplies. However, businesses that have had warehouses already stocked with fitness equipment now likely have empty warehouses. “I sold over 61,000 pounds of dumbbells, plates and kettle bells in the last eight weeks,” said Stan Soboleski, operations manager at Fitness Brokers USA.
San Antonio Fitness Equipment owner Jerrell Guy says residential equipment sales have been booming at his Marbach Lane store since the start of the COVID-19 stay-at-home orders. “I tell people that fitness equipment is the new toilet paper,” he said. “We’re getting people coming from Corpus, Laredo. Everybody wants it.” While he said they’re selling plenty of exercise machines, such as elliptical trainers and treadmills, less expensive equipment that can be easily stored is also flying off the shelves, including dumbbells ranging from 5 to 50 pounds each. And while a New York fitness retailer saw a 625% spike in business, a Colorado-based gym equipment retailer named Rep Fitness had more sales in one day than it normally does in a month.
To portray the bigger picture, we can compare data between March 2019 and March 2020 regarding the fastest growing categories in e-commerce. It was found that “Weight Training” came in at eighth place at a 307% growth rate, while “Health Monitors” had a 182% increase and “Fitness Equipment” had a 170% increase. Moreover, there has been a 500% increase in interest in home fitness equipment, according to Yelp’s data.
For more information on how the fitness equipment market is on an upward trend, especially regarding the home use market, click HERE!
The Type of Fitness Equipment YOU Should Be Selling: Portable
When launching a small business selling fitness equipment, it is not only important to track the trending or most popular equipment, but also what can be used in any sized space. For example, although treadmills and stair climbers are typically seen in any fitness center or gymnasium you visit, they are simply not built for homes. Not everyone has a dedicated “gym room” or even enough garage space to work out. Additionally, you can imagine many people not wanting a bulky treadmill in the middle of their living/family room, especially since they’re usually not retractable nor portable. As such, we’ll be going through the most popular fitness equipment anyone can afford and stow away in the closet.
The Most Popular (and Portable)
1. The Yoga Mat is an essential piece of fitness equipment generally used for, yeah you guessed it: yoga. Yoga is a popular form of exercise because it not only builds muscle tone, but also enhances circulation and promotes relaxation (which is something I’m sure we all need during these trying times. Studies show that yoga plays an effective role in decreasing stress, anxiety and depression. However, it will be wise to market this item as not only a Yoga mat, but as a fitness mat, as you can do all kinds of exercises and stretches on it. To stand apart from the competition, make sure you manufacture extra-thick mats that provide cushioning to any body type (between 5mm to 6mm of thickness is the sweet spot).
2. Free Weights: Kettlebells, Dumbbells, Barbells. All three are fundamental kinds of fitness equipment designed to aid in weight training. When it comes to explosive and dynamic physical movements, kettlebells are king. Potential customers should be looking to this product when trying to improve powerlifting, plyometric movements, or compete in sports that entails explosiveness (think Basketball and Football). Some typical kettlebell moves include snatches, cleans, windmills, Turkish get-ups, and of course, the kettlebell swing.
On the other hand, we have dumbbells, which “are great for a little bit of everything,” says Nikki Reifschneider, the assistant director of fitness and personal training at the University of Miami. “You can start with more basic movements like a chest press, shoulder press, a row, or squats with dumbbells held at the shoulders.” The advantage is that you’re not swinging the weight around (like you do in a snatch or swing), making the moves a bit more straightforward, Reifschneider says.
And finally, we have barbells, which are basically the longer version of the dumbbell. They’re typically used for free weight training and competitive sports, such as powerlifting, Olympic weightlifting, and CrossFit, as many exercises can be done using the barbell, such as bicep curls, bench press, Olympic weightlifting, overhead press, deadlifts, and squats. Standard barbells are usually an estimated weight of 44 pounds (just the bar), but also are extremely versatile due to the fact that weight plates are added to them, unlike dumbbells that are set-in-stone regarding the weight.
3. Resistance Bands, (from what I heard and including my own experience), were life savers during shelter-in-place orders since they were a bit more widely available and the fact that they’re extremely versatile. They are basically thick rubber bands that can be attached to a door (as they usually come with door anchors to attach to), can be stood on, typically have foam handles, as well as ankle straps. You can replicate any free weight or body weight exercise using resistance bands, making them popular within the world of physical therapy. Also, the time under constant tension is something that sets resistance bands apart from other equipment pieces, thus inherently designed for even more benefits for muscle growth. Although the length is typically universal, packs of resistance bands usually come with a handful of bands that are color coded to show different levels of resistance (anywhere from 5 lbs to 100 lbs).
4. The Jump Rope is an item so simple, yet so effective. This incredible cardio exercise requires no more than a bit of space and a flat surface, making it ideal for a workout anywhere at any time. The well-made ones typically have a braided steel wire rope (for longevity) that’s coated in a type of plastic. The rope should be adjustable from 7 feet (for those not blessed with height) to 12 feet (think NBA player Lebron James). The handles should be a soft, moisture proof, non-slip foam between 5 and 6 inches in length, as the shorter handles are used for speed roping.
5. The Foam Roller is a lightweight, cylindrical tube of compressed foam that is used to increase flexibility, reduce soreness, and eliminate muscle knots. Foam rolling is a method of self-myofascial release, which is an alternative medicine therapy claimed to be useful for treating skeletal muscle immobility and pain by relaxing contracted muscles, improving blood, oxygen, and lymphatic circulation, and stimulating the stretch reflex in muscles. For a more detailed look at the effects of foam rolling, read this scientific analysis and this incredible overview on all aspects of foam rolling.
Other fantastically useful and portable pieces of fitness equipment you should sell are Pull-up Bars, Exercise Balls, padded Weightlifting Gloves, and adjustable Weight Benches.
What Are YOU Waiting For?
Although this list is obviously non-exhaustive, these pieces of fitness equipment should be the baseline items any successful fitness equipment small business should have in stock. Especially due to the ongoing pandemic and possible permanent shift to even more e-commerce transactions, it’ll be wise to make sure your business plan includes a massive online presence. Whether that be your own website, through the Amazon marketplace, on fitness websites, and though online advertisements, your online presence must be as strong as the muscles your future clients will have, thanks to your fitness equipment.
To help you get started in surveying possible manufacturers for your new small business, click HERE!
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