Home fitness has never been more popular than in the time of COVID-19. This is largely due to lockdown changing people’s fitness regimes and moving them inside. The closure of gyms and sporting facilities in the UK means we’re all looking for an alternative.
For example, during the first lockdown in March 2020, celebrity trainer Joe Wicks became a focus for schoolchildren and families with his online daily PE lessons. Meanwhile, hardcore gym goers are finding apps, home equipment and alternatives to their usual regime.
The evolution of home fitness starts in Victorian times
From the explosion of aerobics in the 80s to fitness VHS tapes and DVDs in the 90s and 2000s, the cult of home fitness has always been with us. Depending on your age, your first memory of home fitness may have been something like the Jane Fonda workout, or the Green Goddess on breakfast TV.
Or, for younger people, it could be Davina McCall’s fitness empire or the rowing machine your parents bought for the home. So, while home fitness has taken on a new importance during COVID-19, it has been around for a long time. Here’s a quick look through its evolution over the years.
Exercise in various forms has always been part of human life. Yoga, for example, has been around for thousands of years. But ‘fitness’ in the way we think of it today is a much more recent concept. An early example of this can be seen in this Victorian fitness manual, which was printed in 1861. The concept of a daily exercise regime originated with an orthopedic machinist called Gustav Ernst. He essentially invented the home gym using his equipment.
People, of course, walked a lot more back then and gyms as we know them simply didn’t exist. Not long after World War 2, technological innovation boosted the idea of home fitness.
TV and advertising created the home fitness industry
In the US, the trend was for new tech and homes equipped with all mod cons. People had more leisure time and the obsession with staying healthy and fit began. Because women usually didn’t work, it was natural that home fitness was initially aimed at them through TV shows. There was also pressure from the fitness industry to maintain a slim figure. Jack LaLanne was the first presenter on an exercise TV show aimed at housewives in 1951. Advertising quickly followed and it became more mainstream.
All kinds of equipment were quickly on the market, from ‘sauna suits’ to vibrating belts – all sold as weight loss and fitness aids. In 1958, the hula hoop was launched as a fitness device and within six months more than 100 million units were sold. Over the next 20 or so years, personal fitness trends turned towards running and jogging.
Along with this trend, gyms began to open all over the place. Just as this became the norm, fitness changed again due to technology. VHS workout tapes became popular, kickstarted by the likes of Jane Fonda in 1982. By 1992, her first tape sold more than 17 million copies worldwide. This was the start of on-demand fitness in the home environment.
Following celebrity fitness regimes on video, DVD and online
Hundreds of celebrities jumped on this trend, with Mr Motivator becoming mainstream in the UK, while supermodels like Cindy Crawford released their ‘fitness secrets’ to convince women they could look the same by exercising at home. The home gym was next with increasingly expensive machines ranging from rowing machines to treadmills, bikes and ellipticals entering people’s homes.
All of this meant people were taking home fitness much more seriously, and by the time the Internet became popular, it moved online. Fitness influencers on every social media platform you can think of sell their form of home fitness, often including products, diets and supplements as well as physical exercise. This has transformed into what we now call the wellness industry.
Exercise is now inextricably linked with self-help, beauty, self-worth and bettering ourselves. This inevitably led to much more complex home exercise offerings that include everything from yoga to mindfulness in addition to luxury gym chains with swimming pools and creches.
Home fitness trends for COVID-hit households
Finally we get to the age of COVID-19. Gyms are, for the most part, closed and outdoor exercise restricted. As soon as the first lockdown was instigated Zoom and YouTube became ubiquitous. People are ordering more home exercise equipment thane ever before. For example, sales of fitness equipment in the US between January and March 2020 increased by more than 55%.
Online classes are now live, with instructors across every kind of exercise regime offering regular sessions. If you don’t fancy that, then there are endless fitness apps offering the same. And while many of these classes need basic equipment, there are plenty of home exercise lessons that don’t.
Whether home fitness is booming right now solely because of lockdown remains to be seen. It’s unlikely that people won’t flood back to the gym just as soon as they can, as these are now much more than places to exercise. Gym culture means that these facilities are social connections and offer a community. People are missing social contact and will want to recapture the human connections gyms and outdoor organised exercise offers.