New Report: Online Fitness Continues to Grow, but Showing Weakness in User Retention

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Data from Murphy Research Online Fitness Deep Dive Report highlights changes in market size, category trial and brand engagement

New report from Murphy Research shows continued growth in online fitness, but trial isn’t necessarily translating into regular users

Nearly 25% of U.S. adults report currently using some type of online fitness platform at least once a month, giving fitness brands a unique opportunity to grow share, and to make online fitness a mainstay for a broader group of consumers

Murphy Research, a 10-year-old leading market research firm known for its comprehensive State of Our Health syndicated food and fitness study, will release its Online Fitness Deep Dive Report on Monday, Oct. 18, with highlighted findings shared during a free webinar at 2:00 pm ET on Thursday, Oct. 21. This new report paints a detailed portrait of the current state of the online fitness market by exploring online fitness market sizing, user profiles, brand engagement and performance, with a spotlight on the relationship between online fitness and gyms/fitness studios.

This report is particularly timely in light of increased interest in online fitness routines developed during the COVID-19 pandemic. It examines the types of consumers who have continued to use online fitness during the past year and the brands that are winning and falling behind in this crowded space. Key topic areas covered in the report include:

  • Profiling current and lapsed online fitness users
  • Evolving consumer online fitness routines, preferences and barriers
  • Changes in online fitness engagement following gym and fitness studio reopenings
  • Awareness, engagement and performance metrics for brands across the online fitness space, including trended data for many brands

The following five trends highlight key report findings:

Trial isn’t equating to new users.

Overall participation in online fitness continues to grow, and if current trends continue, will overtake the number of Americans with gym memberships within the next year. Approximately 23% of U.S. adults report currently using some type of online fitness platform at least once a month. This includes streaming video workouts, fitness apps, virtual training sessions and fitness classes and services associated with smart equipment, like Peloton and NordicTrack iFit. Compared to 2020, the number of current users is virtually unchanged.

However, what has changed is how many consumers have tried online fitness since 2020. Among fitness-engaged U.S. adults (60% of the adult population) - defined as those who report exercising, wearing a fitness tracker or tracking fitness with an app at least weekly - 73% report having tried online fitness compared to 58% in 2020. However, this growth in trial has not translated into higher numbers of current users, highlighting a weakness the category will need to address for continued growth.

In a crowded category, trusted names stand out.

Peloton and NordicTrack’s iFit lead in awareness, but YouTube remains the most commonly used online fitness resource. It is also where most consumers enter the category. However, newcomer Apple Fitness+, launched this past year, has quickly become a popular choice, coming in fifth in awareness and second in terms of current, regular users.

Specialized brands are showing higher levels of performance over digital and video platforms, like YouTube, despite their popularity. Brands with integrated equipment, like Peloton, iFit, SoulCycle, and Mirror, show higher rates of consumer satisfaction, as well as higher spending. Apple Fitness+ falls into this high-performing category as well. The investments these companies have made in variety and in motivating, personable and popular instructors are wise as these are the top drivers of satisfaction in online fitness, along with having fun, being a trusted brand, and providing guidance for improvement.

Current online fitness users are valuable consumers, but use many fitness resources to meet their needs.

Current online fitness users spend 5.8 times more on fitness than exercisers who have never tried online fitness. They are a very active group and online fitness caters to their need for variety, convenience, and motivation. However, online fitness is just one aspect of their fitness routines. More than two-thirds are currently members of a gym, and the majority workout at a gym or studio at least weekly. They spend more across all fitness categories than non-users, and use different fitness resources to meet different fitness needs.

Online fitness is a complement to the gym, not a replacement.

While online fitness plays an important role in fitness routines, it doesn’t take the place of the gym for online fitness users. In fact, 74% of regular gym users report using online fitness most of the time or always while working out at the gym, which is as frequently as they use it at home. Clearly, online fitness has not replaced the gym at all for these users. Instead, it has filled a need for guidance and tracking that gyms are presumably not meeting, or not meeting as conveniently.

Online fitness brands need to innovate to meet the needs of a broader group of fitness consumers.

Lapsed online fitness users who no longer regularly log on are still quite physically active. These lapsed users tend to be older than current users and show a marked female skew. However, while these consumers use online fitness platforms less often than those who regularly turn to online fitness, they workout at home nearly as much, and don’t mind an indoor workout.

These consumers share many of the same needs as current online fitness users; they too choose workouts where they can have fun, find variety and feel supported by a community. But, likely in keeping with their age and gender skews, they differ from current regular online fitness users in that they’re more interested in burning calories and lower intensity workouts. They also suffer more from motivation issues - they enjoy fitness a bit less and are less regimented and competitive than current users.

This group expanded in size over the past year. In 2020, 9% of fitness-engaged U.S. adults were lapsed online fitness users. In 2021 this number increased to 22%. This is money left on the table for the online fitness category. A greater focus on low intensity, calorie-burning workouts, walking, gentle strength training and overall wellness might unlock the potential of this group.

“Online fitness clearly gained a lot of ground since the start of the pandemic, “said Chuck Murphy, founder and president of Murphy Research. “The question now is how the category is evolving as gyms and fitness studios reopen and consumers begin to resume some of their pre-pandemic activities. The data shows that there will likely be a ‘new normal,’ with a lot of variation based on fitness level, age, and even gender. Fitness brands have a unique opportunity now to capitalize on these changes to keep and even grow share, and to make online fitness a mainstay for a broader group of consumers.”

Results included in the Online Fitness Deep Dive Report are based on an online survey of a nationally representative sample of n=1676 US adults. The report is the second wave of a study that was initiated in 2020, providing for comparative data between 2020 and 2021. The full report will be available for purchase on the Murphy Research website beginning on Oct. 18. Registration for the free Online Fitness Deep Dive Report webinar on Oct. 21 at 2:00 pm ET is now open. Click here to register.

About Murphy Research
Murphy Research is a full-service market research firm that understands groundbreaking research lies at the intersection of science and creativity. Based in Santa Monica, but with offices in Dallas, Minneapolis, Seattle, and Washington, D.C, the firm is known for its creative research design, rigorous execution, and enduring insights. Murphy Research offers quantitative and qualitative services to help clients with market assessment, brand strategy, product development, customer loyalty and engagement, and communications research. The firm works with leading Fortune 500 companies, like PepsiCo, Sony, YouTube, Disney, and Google, among many others, along with emerging technology, CPG, retail, media, communications, and financial services organizations. In addition to custom research, Murphy Research's comprehensive State of Our Health (SOOH) syndicated food and fitness tracker provides brands with an unparalleled depth and breadth of ongoing data uncovering the underlying truths that propel health and wellness attitudes and behaviors.

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