People again to the health club, curiosity in exercising at residence waning: Jefferies

A customer wears a face mask while lifting weights while exercising at a Planet fitness gym as the site reopens in Inglewood, California on March 16, 2021 after it closes due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Patrick T. Fallon | AFP | Getty Images

As Covid restrictions eased across the country, vaccines stabbed in the arms, and fitness centers lift guidelines on wearing masks, more people are returning to the gym, new research shows.

Jefferies tracks visits to fitness chains like Planet Fitness and 24 Hour Fitness, and monitors online searches for gyms and digital fitness programs like Peloton. While many Americans invested in the latter during the health crisis to work up a sweat at home, that demand seems to be easing.

Online searches for “gym near me” sped up in May from April, Jefferies noted, returning to an all-time high dating back to January 2020, the beginning of the New Year – a time when many people are moving towards healthier lifestyles commit. The company found that the search for crunch fitness and blink fitness has grown the most among national gym chains year-to-date.

The flow of traffic in fitness centers has steadily improved this year. Last month, Jefferies said, gym traffic across the country fell back to 83% from January 2020 levels and only 6% from the same period in 2019.

Nationwide fitness center traffic

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Source: Jefferies, Safegraph

Gym visits appear to be highest in Georgia, Florida, and Texas, where Covid restrictions were lighter compared to many states in the northeast and along the west coast, Jefferies noted.

The high-end fitness chain Equinox is the biggest straggler in the group, likely affected by its customers moving to the suburbs, Jefferies added. Most of Equinox’s locations are in the New York City area.

As more people leave the home to go back to the gym, the search for home fitness equipment and digital fitness equipment is being moderated, according to Jefferies’ research. The company researched the search for exercise balls, dumbbells, yoga mats, skipping ropes, massage guns, weights, foam rollers, and exercise bikes. And interest has fallen since January.

Interest in fitness equipment for the home

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Source: Jefferies, Safegraph

More and more internet users are visiting gym chain websites like Orangetheory Fitness – likely to rebook a membership or check a location’s mask policy – while traffic to digital training platforms like Tonal and NordicTrack is also decreasing. Interest in fitness equipment for the home peaked in April 2020, Jefferies said, and has since dropped to an all-time low.

“We believe people will take a hybrid approach that leverages the wealth of digital concepts and traditional gym experiences,” said Jefferies analyst Randy Konik. “Gyms that advocate this model will emerge as winners for years to come.”

Companies like bike maker Peloton and rowing machine maker Hydrow, who last year saw incredible benefits from consumers looking for exercise equipment to use at home, are trying to find ways to keep adding momentum. Peloton, for example, is expanding outside of the US and continues to add new instructors and new content like Pilates to its list.

Peloton stocks are down more than 28% year-to-date, while Planet Fitness stocks are down about 4% over the same period.

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