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[B-Side Podcast] Hitting the gym: how the local fitness industry is dealing with the coronavirus

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The local fitness industry was booming before the COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) pandemic hit, with international chains and small fitness studios popping up to satisfy the demand for health and wellness.

When the country was placed under lockdown to contain the pandemic, the industry—which relies on foot traffic—ground to a halt.

In this episode, Gab Pangalangan, marketing manager of UFC Gym Philippines, fitness coach and founder of combat sports website Dojo Drifter, talks to BusinessWorld sports reporter Mike Murillo about the impact COVID-19 has had on the industry, how gyms are dealing with it, and what lies ahead for them. They discuss why gyms see themselves as essential businesses and how even a “high-touch” industry like physical fitness is moving to digital.

TAKEAWAYS

The fitness industry, which relies on foot traffic, was hit hard by the lockdown.

When the pandemic began to take root in the country, the fitness industry was one of the hardest hit as face-to-face communication and mass gatherings were prohibited as part of mitigating measures to stop the spread of the disease. This setup is not ideal for an industry that needs foot traffic to get its operations going.   

“The fitness industry relies on people,” said Mr. Pangalangan. “If there are no people, there’s no revenue.” 

The fitness industry sees itself as an essential service.

A contentious issue right now as the country moves into the “new normal” is whether it is time for fitness gyms to open amid concerns that they are “high-risk areas” to get COVID-19.

The industry views itself as an essential service—going to the gym, as Mr. Pangalangan said, is about the pursuit of physical and mental health, and a person’s overall well-being.

Getting back into the swing of things will also afford industry workers, mostly independent contractors, to earn a living after months of being deprived from doing so.

It will be an uphill battle for gyms to convince people, especially authorities, that they are safe.

COVID-19 has changed how affairs across the board are conducted, and for the fitness industry to survive it needs to adjust and adapt to what it is presented with.

A lot of challenges lie ahead, including convincing people, especially authorities, that gyms are essential and restore confidence that everything is safe, and the industry must act accordingly to address these.

People have been buying their own fitness equipment as well and working out on their own at home. Mr. Pangalangan wonders if this trend will continue post-pandemic. “We are at the mercy of the pandemic, unfortunately,” he said.

Digital is the way to go — even for a “high-touch” industry like physical fitness.

Coaches are strengthening their online presence and boosting their personal brands through podcasts, live-stream workouts classes, and YouTube videos. “We really have to pivot and adapt to the times,” said Mr. Pangalangan. Those who already had a digital presence prior to the pandemic benefit from not having to start from scratch.

Recorded remotely on May 15. Produced by Nina M. Diaz, Paolo L. Lopez, and Sam L. Marcelo

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