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Washingtonians prefer working out at home even a year after gyms reopen

The pandemic shut down fitness gyms across the Washington state in 2020 for eight weeks, and although memberships have seen a resurgence since restrictions were lifted, it may be an industry that never fully recovers as more and more people have switched to home workouts.

When fitness centers reopened in January 2021, they were only allowed one customer per room, or per 500 square feet for larger facilities, with additional mask and physical distancing requirements. In Phase 2 of the state’s reopening, fitness centers were allowed to increase to 25% capacity. These restrictions hit the fitness industry hard causing centers like 24-Hour Fitness to file bankruptcy in June of 2020, closing down over 100 of their locations.

New data from market-research firm Nielsen shows that the Seattle metro area experienced the seventh biggest drop in gym memberships among the 50 largest metro areas in the country at a rate of just 18.4% as of August 2022. The Washington Post reported last year that home fitness equipment revenue more than doubled during the pandemic to $2.3 billion in the first six months. The Nielson study also showed that 23% of Seattle-area adults own at-home exercise equipment which could be a leading factor as to why fitness enthusiasts have no interest in returning to their previously attended facilities. 

Another paradigm shift in the fitness world is the insurgence of remote fitness classes that arose during the pandemic’s height, which many new subscribers say they won’t be replacing with gym memberships. Virtual platforms such as the Oculus-based Supernatural app and Peloton doubled their subscribers since the pandemic lifting revenue to $607 million in just one year – a 172% increase since pre-pandemic times.

Despite plummeting memberships, Washington State still ranks fourth in nation for most expensive gym memberships, according to a recent report conducted by fitness resource Total Shape. The report was conducted by analyzing data from cost-of-living site Numbeo to discover the average price of gym memberships across a list of 80 major U.S. cities.

Washington gym memberships averaged $84.51, according to the study, which is nearly twice (or $39.53) more expensive than the U.S. average. At each end of the spectrum, New York ranked most expensive at an average price of $106.06 a month, and Mesa, Arizona ranked most affordable at just a $18.29 a month on average. It may come to no surprise that New York also ranked first in the nation for dropped gym memberships since the pandemic as well.

“Working out is a vital use of your time for not only your physical health but your mental wellbeing too.,” a spokesperson for Total Shape said. “Whilst exercise can be done from anywhere, a gym membership can serve as a motivating factor for your fitness goals, whilst offering a space to escape from everyday life. The disparities in gym membership cost across the states is shocking to see.”

Gyms across the state have scurried to do all they can to persuade their members to return. From upgrading infrastructure and safety protocols to offering virtual personal training. However, with more expensive rates of memberships paired with the thousands of dollars Seattle-area residents paid for at-home equipment, local gyms may be the next to suffer in today’s worsening economy.

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