In early October, I was fortunate enough to present to a group of students for the BU Strength & Fitness Club at my alma mater, Bloomsburg University. It was a mixed crowd, with some planning on creating a future for themselves in the field of health and wellness, while others were business students looking to learn more about the future of sports administration, and some were just gym attendees interested in the general direction fitness will be taking over the next decade or so.
From this lecture, I’ve compiled some of my thoughts and materials here. The information enclosed is just my thoughts on the state of fitness and the direction in which I think the industry will proceed.
The Future is Bright for Strength & Conditioning
Athletes, parents, administrators, and coaches across the board are rapidly accepting and implementing strength & conditioning programs. While there’s no doubt this is good for the S&C industry, this influx of demand is changing the game at light-speed.
This demand is changing the job market completely. Highly-educated and experienced coaches are being sought-after like never before. At high schools and universities, these coaches are being paid top-dollar to ensure athletes are stronger, faster, and better able to handle the demands of sport. Many of the programs leading the pack in this regard are also using these strength coaches to avoid regulations imposed by high school state and collegiate national governing bodies.
With this in mind, it is possible to achieve the role of a collegiate strength & conditioning coach and be salaried similar to that of a sport’s head coach. But job market competition for these positions is fierce. Those best qualified for these positions are individuals with:
- Extensive experience within the sport
- Graduate-level training in a related degree
- Previous on-the-job experience coaching similar populations
- Those with extensive knowledge of the rules and regulations of the sport’s governing body
Beyond college and high school, such positions are still available at private facilities. Because these are usually for-profit, the benefits and pay will likely be considerably less (at least to start). To be best prepared for these positions, individuals will benefit by:
- Being comfortable coaching in small and large group settings
- Demonstrating above-average communication skills
- Proficiency in various training techniques and movement screens
- Possessing a certification from a nationally accredited S&C or CPT program
Again, the future is bright here, but the amount of candidates for these jobs still exceed the positions available, making the job market fierce. Volunteering with teams and undergoing an educational internship make for stand-out entrance-level candidates.
CrossFit is a Toss-Up
Many industry insiders may have lost a few bets by now about the continued success of CrossFit. Those who still call CrossFit a “fad” are losing touch with reality. This is not to say that CrossFit is still without problems. In fact, there are one of two ways that CrossFit can go from here; luck, circumstance, and strategic business maneuvers will define CrossFit’s place in the fitness realm for years to come.
Firstly, for CrossFit to have some level of continued success, the company will need to address their plateauing membership and the simultaneous influx of CrossFit “boxes”. More and more of these gyms are opening up, paired with this membership flat-lining is creating internal competition. In essence, this means that moving forward without a change in the CrossFit hierarchy and new gym requirements will allow CrossFit affiliates to eat each other alive.
Like many other companies, CrossFit will need to diversify to ensure financial health. This may include something like CrossFit branded supplements, which may be a hard sell, given the companies affiliation with some supplement brands.
CrossFit’s best bet for market expansion at this point would likely be additional specialty certifications. This move will allow CrossFit to tap further into their existing consumer base, creating specialty gyms and experts, which may help differentiate some of the higher-end CrossFit gyms from the rest of the pack (thereby perpetuating their business model and simultaneously filtering out the gyms giving CrossFit a bad image).
Something that may be CrossFit’s worst nightmare would be the emergence of a new training model which could cut into CrossFit’s market share. While I don’t know what this training model may be (if I did, I’d be a very rich man), CrossFit’s appeal as cutting-edge and different may be lost to its audience when there is something more cutting-edge and more different.
Bodybuilding is a Likely a Thing of the Past
This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that follows the sport of bodybuilding even remotely. The majority of revenue from the sport is attained through supplement sponsors, etc.. As less and less individuals idolize the figures of these individuals and turn to athletes like CrossFitters, more and more sponsors are beginning to bail–not the best situation for these federations to be in.
One of the few things that could redeem the sport, is natural bodybuilding. As the ‘un-tested’ athletes grow away from the figures and physiques of classic bodybuilders (i.e. the Golden Age Arnold-type physiques), natural bodybuilders may be the sports final stand and last chance as a mainstream and profitable sport.
Personal Training is Changing Rapidly
The idea of the 1-on-1 personal training model is losing its edge in the fitness community. Not only is 1-on-1 less profitable than small group or semi-private models, it is likely overkill and hugely inefficient.
This is not to say that 1-on-1’s will not stick around. It is likely that we’ll see these for a long time to come, but offered as a more premium service for higher-paying clients or elite athletes. In fact, rather you currently implement a 1-on-1 service or not, having this available as a ‘top-tier’ package may help funnel more clients into the aforementioned small group or semi-private classes.
SEO is Changing the Information Game
It’s likely no surprise that fitness information is getting muddied in an effort to reach the widest audience possible. Many of the large fitness publications are in business simply to create revenue by selling advertising space in their magazines or sites. This not only means that providing information in contrast to the mission of the advertisers (whether the information is scientifically viable or not) will not get published, but this also means that the publishers are trying to reach the widest audience possible.
To reach this audience, writers must adhere to strict editorial guidelines which are intended to maximize the likelihood that the publication will yield the highest result possible on a search engine’s web page.
This creates a system where those who are SEO savvy can market themselves much better than experts in the field who are trying to provide more pertinent and detailed content.
This idea applies within this lecture because this is not a trend that is in any way slowing down. Click-bait articles are becoming more and more prevalent, and content which intermediate or advanced fitness trainees can use and apply are becoming more and more scarce.
As we’ve seen over the past few years, there has been a rise of paid/membership sites. The growth of these will likely parallel the growth of SEO and its significance in growth of online media.
Challenge Races are Indiscernible
Initially in this presentation, I didn’t even make reference to the idea of challenge/ obstacle course races; this would have been a mistake and done this presentation a disservice.
Challenge races are on the rise as individuals look for new and different ways to challenge their fitness in an environment packed with like-minded individuals. These include Spartan Race, Tough Mudder, Warrior Dash, etc.. Many of these have a niche following, but not enough to set themselves out among the pack.
As time progresses, I expect one of these to somehow create a greater sense of brand-loyalty than the rest. This will likely tip the balance of power in their favor, giving that particular challenge race greater market share and brand recognition among outsiders making them the ‘go-to’ for challenge races (much like CrossFit has done in the cross-training niche).
Psych 101 and Sports Business Success
This is yet another point which I would be remiss not to include. While I primarily used this to demonstrate the success of models like CrossFit or semi-private training, this idea has implications across the board in the fitness industry.
If you’ve been in the field for any length of time, you know how volatile the fitness market is. During recessions, fitness spending is one of the first things to get dropped, but during economic recovery it is quick to rebound.
One way to tell how a sports business will fare throughout changing economic conditions, is where the business falls in a group of individuals hierarchy of needs. For most recreational gym goers, training (and therefore spending) is limited to the top 1 or 2 tiers of Maslow’s hierarchy (see picture above). This means that individuals are more likely to train to find fulfillment by developing their esteem and find some sense of self-actualization.
What the best fitness companies have done is tap into the love/belonging tier; ever hear of CrossFit being called a cult? By creating an environment which fosters belonging, people are less likely to forgo membership because they are meeting a wider base of their psychological needs (i.e. sense of community — think CrossFit gyms or something with a unique brand identity like Mark Fisher Fitness).
The Future is Mixed, but the Fitness Industry Only Grows Stronger
If time has taught us anything, it’s that as we move forward as a society and more and more needs are met, fitness in some form or fashion grows as a mainstay in our day-to-day lives.
The remaining questions are more about how people will aspire to feel healthier from day to day rather than if. Aligning your brand to help individuals meet these needs in an innovative and fun way is a recipe for success. Maintaining recognition as an innovator can be problematic, but keeping these ideas in mind should provide a likely framework for the future of fitness.