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Why recreation facilities should continue offering online fitness classes.

According to Global Market Insights, the online fitness market size surpassed $5 billion in 2019 and is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of over 30% from 2020 to 2026. 

The COVID-19 pandemic that hit the U.S. in March 2020 is expected to boost the online fitness market even more since some people have preferred working out from the safety of their own home. Temporary closures of fitness centers nationwide also forced community rec centers to get creative and offer classes online or through livestreaming on social media platforms like Facebook. 

While people are starting to return to fitness facilities after the rollout of vaccines and boosters, many recreation centers are still offering a hybrid of in-person and online classes to meet the needs of all their members.

One facility going this route is the Prattville YMCA in Prattville, Alabama. 

“We are currently offering online classes through YMCA360,” said Sarah Kirkpatrick, the wellness coordinator for the Prattville Y. “It originally started with the Greater Wichita Y and has since grown. They have partner Ys from all over the country. We were offering classes on Facebook at the start of the pandemic, and then transitioned to offering them on a limited basis on a private group where only members would be accepted. We started to run into a lot of issues with Facebook and music rights.”

YMCA360 — which partnered with Matrix Fitness in October 2021 — offers group exercise classes, youth sports instruction, nutrition and well-being classes, and more to serve YMCA members wherever they are. According to a Matrix press release, content is continuously being added and can be accessed via the YMCA360 website, Roku, AppleTV, AndroidTV or mobile app. Classes are led by a YMCA instructor and reflect the same great programming people already expect from the Y.

Learn More: How YMCA360 is helping community rec centers create the ultimate connected community.

“The YMCA360 channel is made for the Y, by the Y,” said Kirkpatrick. “It’s a value-added service we can provide to our members, and it will allow them to engage with the Y when they can’t be at the facility. Since there are multiple partner Ys creating content, it’s not solely on our facility to create digital content.”

The Prattville Y installed Roku TVs in their cycling room and in one of their Group X studios. Additionally, they have allotted certain days and times during the week where members can come in and participate in a YMCA360 class virtually. Kirkpatrick said the intention is to give people an option if they missed a class, are uncomfortable in a large group or for someone just starting out.

Having an online fitness platform isn’t just giving members the option to join if they missed a class. It allows for the facility to still offer classes even if a staff member calls in sick, has a family emergency, etc. “With staff having to be out due to illness or quarantine, we have luckily been able to still have a class through the YMCA360 channel on the Roku TVs,” explained Kirkpatrick. 

While having an online platform with pre-recorded workouts and the ability to livestream is beneficial and less time consuming, it’s not the only way to offer online classes to members.

The Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto, California, offers online classes through Zoom.

Tennishia Vines, the former Group X manager for the Oshman Family JCC, said they chose to go this route because Zoom is a very popular platform many members started to use during the pandemic. It is also easy to use for both staff and members. 

“Most people are familiar with Zoom, especially now after facing the pandemic, so it helped all the way around,” said Vines. “Additionally, the platform is free to everyone, so we didn’t take on an extra cost to offer online classes.”

Whether you decide to invest in new technology to offer your online classes or simply livestream them on Zoom or Facebook, it’s important you continue to give your members the option to workout virtually. While your members may be returning in person, online and virtual workouts aren’t going away. 

“At the end of the day nothing replaces the social aspect of group fitness and being in the gym,” said Kirkpatrick. “People want to get out and be with others. Exercise is always better in groups. I think the most successful programs will still devote most of their resources to in-person offerings but will try to grow their on-demand presence.” 

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Taylor Brown

Taylor Brown is the assistant editor of Community Rec Magazine. She can be reached at taylor@peakemedia.com.

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