By: Fred Hoffman

Accessible… immersive… engaging… disruptive… and a game-changer.

Those are just a few of the buzzwords that are often used to describe virtual fitness (VF) offerings.

Through VF seems as current as something could possibly be, the concept actually isn’t new. It arrived on the health club scene over 15 years ago. What is new is the rapid expansion that it’s currently undergoing and the quickly proliferating number of formats in which it’s being presented.

An estimated 12,000 clubs worldwide now offer a virtual option and, in all likelihood that figure understates the reality.

When one thinks of VF, one generally imagines large – or huge – screens in dedicated studios. Today, digital programming, both recorded and live, also is being streamed to iPads, tablets, smartphones, other mobile devices, home television screens and, even, home exercise equipment.

And what about the many TV exercise channels or shows, or the increasingly interactive consoles on commercial cardio equipment – do they, too, qualify as VF?

The digital domain

What’s the appeal? What’s the upside for users and clubs?

Digital services and devices are now ubiquitous. Many people take all of the ease, and the convenience, and the endless doors they open for granted.

The modern consumer has adopted an “everything, everywhere, anytime” philosophy. In terms of fitness, they expect to have access to virtually unlimited variety and number of workouts that complement their lifestyle, and that are available 24/7.

Clubs and other providers are clamoring to meet the need.

For fitness facilities, VF holds out the promise of numerous benefits. Among them: greater utilization of underused studios, reduced training overhead, ease of operation, prospect and member appeal, applicability to every member population, increased sales, higher retention, the ability to serve members “outside” of the club… the list, it seems, is limited only by one’s creativity.

VF allows facilities to introduce new class options in a cost-effective manner. “It boosts engagement and motivation by making it possible for clubs – ones that might not have the resources or instructors to introduce additional live classes – to offer their members more choices,” points out David Packman, the marketing director for Wexer, a London-based VF provider.

“VF supports a company’s acquisition and retention efforts by connecting members with the club brand beyond the four walls of the facility,” notes Jen Zygmunt, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Wellbeats, Inc. “By reducing the barriers to fitness, it can keep members involved with their club for a longer period of time.”

The question no longer is, “What is VF?” or, “Does it work?” Or, “Is it a fad, or is it here to stay?”

The question, today, is, “How can you make it work for yourself?”

Read the full article featured in Club Business International (IHRSA’s online digital magazine) here.

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