Growing demand for healthy living and growing awareness of products increasing in the nation

Although the COVID-19 epidemic severely affected leisure and normal life in China over the past year, it has not dampened awareness and demand for fitness activities and products, as measured by its steady growth.

According to the China Fitness Industry 2020 data report released during FIBO China Exhibition 2021 in Shanghai, there were 44,300 fitness clubs and stores nationwide at the end of last year. Although the number declined 11.1 percent annually, industry experts said the lower numbers were mainly due to COVID-19. The average closure rates of fitness clubs and studios in major cities last year were 16.15 percent and 21.55 percent, respectively.

Although the number of physical facilities decreased, the epidemic sparked a steady increase in the number of people participating in sports and fitness-related activities. The number of people participating in fitness activities rose from 68.12 million in 2019 to 70.29 million last year.

Shi Shenghai, co-founder of the Luwan Runners Club in Shanghai, said the number of people willing to do sports has steadily increased.

In recent years, Shi and his club members have gathered at the Luwan Open Air Stadium in Shanghai, divided into small groups according to their ability, and completed training sessions under the watchful eye of volunteer coaches.

The club with around 2,000 members is known among runners for its discipline and perseverance as well as the strong performance of its long-term members. Since it was founded in 2014, the group has been training on Tuesday evenings. On days with warm and clear weather, more than 100 participated in the run, while on cold or rainy days dozens of die-hard runners still showed up and completed the training.

But in 2020, the teams “canceled group training for four months from January to May because of the pandemic,” Shi said. When the club resumed operations in June, Shi found that the number of new runners was increasing and new running groups were also sprouting.

Shanghai has some routes that are popular with runners. For example, the ring route around Century Park in Pudong is spread out over five kilometers, while the paved routes along the Huangpu River and Suzhou Stream allow runners a great view along the way.

On average, more than 100,000 people participate in the activities related to running, Shi said. Some of the tracks have become so popular with runners that they can be a little crowded at times, said Qian Kan, a 32-year-old marathon runner and triathlon athlete.

On the other hand, more and more experienced runners like Qian are taking up the interdisciplinary and more demanding triathlon run.

“If your knees hurt after long runs, you swim, and you can’t make progress in the pool, you can turn to cycling for a change,” said Qian of the benefits of triathlon training.

“You are constantly struggling to make new breakthroughs and find your skills increase,” said Qian, a Shanghai office worker. “It gives you a great sense of accomplishment.”

Like the industry experts, Qian agrees that more and more people are taking up activities like cycling and triathlon. A number of new sports bike stores have recently opened in Shanghai selling finer, more expensive equipment, he said.

Shi from the Runners Club estimates that the city has more than 10,000 people training for the triathlon, and most of them are willing to invest in fitness equipment and equipment. For example, a starter bike can cost 2,000 yuan ($ 308.4), but there are also some expensive bikes that can cost up to 100,000 yuan.

Although several sporting events have been canceled and outdoor sports have become largely impossible in the past year, that hasn’t stopped people from exercising to invest in home gyms. For example, Qian bought a treadmill and an indoor spin bike so that his exercise wouldn’t be disrupted.

According to the LeadLeo Institute, the national home fitness market reached 28.15 billion yuan in 2019, with an average annual growth rate of 35.5 percent in five years, and is expected to reach 40.4 billion yuan this year.

Exercise at home

Due to the COVID-19 epidemic, more people are now willing to build special gyms at home because it is safer and more convenient, according to experts.

“In recent years, the number of commercial fitness equipment for home use has increased steadily, and some of them are equipped with intelligent technologies,” said Ren Hairong, general manager of Active Lifestyle’s Shanghai office.

Wang Jian, a representative of the smart fitness brand Onelap, said sales of the company’s domestic spin bikes nearly doubled during the epidemic.

“As far as I know, orders for Spinbikes have increased since September last year,” said Wang.

The 2020 China Fitness Industry data report indicated that sales of home fitness equipment such as treadmills, spin bikes, yoga mats and dumbbells on e-commerce platforms have increased significantly. Dumbbells, hula hoops and yoga mats recorded growth rates of 500 percent, 391 percent and 332 percent, respectively, on Suning’s online platform for fitness products.

A few weeks after last year’s Spring Festival, Zhang Yun, a 36-year-old woman who lives alone, was disappointed that most of the gyms were still closed and she could not resume yoga classes. However, her yoga trainer invited her to an online session along with several other students, and they were able to resume classes as if in a Zoom meeting.

“It wasn’t as good as a real classroom when the trainer is by your side and can give you the guidance and support you need,” said Zhang. “But it felt good that I could get some of my normal life back, and yoga helped me calm my mind during the lockdown.”

Along with the development of internet technology, fitness platforms like Keep and content platforms like Xiaohongshu (Little Red Book), Weibo and Douyin, which launched online sessions and livestream courses, have become important allies for the fitness industry.

According to the LeadLeo report, daily downloads of the fitness app Keep and Boohee rose 478 percent and 341 percent, respectively, from January to February last year at the start of the outbreak.

The number of active fitness app users nearly doubled during the epidemic, with Keep active users increasing 20 percent compared to pre-epidemic data, the report said.

The fitness passion has not waned even though the epidemic has been brought under control.

According to consulting firm iiMedia Research, the number of fitness app users in the nation was over 350 million at the end of last year, while fitness app download rates rose 12 percent from 2019.

For example, Zhang still occasionally spreads the yoga mat around her living room, even though she has resumed lessons with her trainer. “When I do yoga at home, I have some time to myself when I feel completely safe and relaxed. Plus, it’s so convenient for showering, changing, and everything,” she said.

According to the China Consumer Report 2021 by global consulting firm McKinsey, 60 percent of new users intend to continue their online fitness sessions.

In addition, many offline gyms launched online platforms and video courses after their physical surgery was hit by the epidemic. The 2020 China Fitness Industry Report indicated that many gyms were trying to improve the customer experience through live streaming, video training, and community advice.

Fitness puzzles

However, home fitness is also a double-edged sword, said Hou Xihe, a team doctor at Shanghai University of Sport.

“It is a perfect choice during the epidemic when prevention measures are strictly implemented and the fitness enthusiast is kept away from strangers and unfamiliar environments,” Hou said, adding that it is also a time-saving and convenient choice.

“But the limited space available while exercising at home may not guarantee air quality. Also, exercise options at home may be limited and there is not an appropriate exercise atmosphere. This could include family members or neighbors,” he said.

Qian, on the other hand, was more than happy to find lots of runners, outdoor bike events and triathlon events this year. During the busiest weeks of April, he found up to five running events held over the weekend in Shanghai and the surrounding cities. After comparing the Qiandaohu Triathlon and the Tour of Zhoushan, on April 18, he decided to take part in the latter.

Participants warm up for the 2021 Beijing Half Marathon on April 24th. WEI XIAOHAO / CHINA DAILY

A fitness enthusiast hits a sandbag during the Shanghai International Fitness Exhibition on April 6th. BARCROFT MEDIA / GETTY IMAGES

A yoga trainer gives classes in a gym in Shanghai. CHINA DAILY