Recalibrating The Fitness Industry - Featured Photo

By Sara Hodson 

The New Year is traditionally the busiest time in the fitness industry: clubs packed with members, classes with waitlists, and gym lovers and newcomers determined to hit New Year goals. Research shows that resolutions might not work, but we are hard-wired to try and make positive changes with the start of each year.  

This New Year was very different in Canada. With gyms closed in the three largest provinces, British Columbia, Ontario  and Quebec, many Canadians were left to figure out how they were going to stay fit and motivated. The Fitness Industry Council worked behind the scenes with governments to show that fitness is essential for our physical and mental health and to get gyms open again quickly. When we reopened to the public, we repeatedly heard from our members that the gym isn’t simply a place to workout – for many, it is their community, a second home, and a fitness family. 

The longer gyms were closed, the greater the ripple effects were felt. Mental health rapidly declined. Although many fitness facilities stay connected to their community through virtual, there is nothing like in person connection. and the energy of a fitness community. We need the gym not only for exercise, but for accountability and support.  

As gyms reopen across the country and mandates are lifted, we have to think about how we move into 2022. After two years of the pandemic, we have all learned something vital:  

We need to know how to adapt. 

The Canadian Fitness Industry is at a turning point, where we have the opportunity to recalibrate and service not only those Canadians that missed us when we were shut, but the ones who do not know what they are missing. We need to appeal to the inactive and sedentary population, which has grown substantially – according to reports, 84% of Canadians are not getting enough exercise. We have to look in the mirror and realize that even without the pandemic, our industry needed an overhaul.  


Business school 101 teaches us that it costs five times more to gain a new client than to retain an existing one. We know that January and February traditionally provided us with a rush of new members. Do we know how many stuck around? Did we make sure new members felt supported in their wellness journey? Did they walk into our gyms and not know how to use the equipment? Did they feel like an outsider looking in?  

It is my belief that the fitness industry has underserved the inactive population and we did it a number of ways. We are standing inside an opportunity – to rebuild our industry, fix what was broken, and offer a new product that champions the success of every person that walks through our doors. You don’t need to hard sell the twenty-something who was the first one back at midnight after lockdown restrictions lifted, or the middle-aged triathlete cross-training for their next race. They have drunk our Kool-Aid and they love it.  

But what about the middle-age, professional whose mental health has declined? What about the client with obesity who has spent the last two years completely inactive and has no idea how to begin? What about the 70-year old grandmother who just wants to get down on the floor and play with her grandkids?   

How do we change from within, so that our clubs welcome everyone? How do we come out of the pandemic stronger than before?  

Here are five ways we can recalibrate and recreate our industry in 2022 

  1. Stop using foul language. 

No excuses? Sweat is your fat crying? Don’t stop until you are proud?  

We might think the language we used was “motivational” but too often it was damning, and shut the door in the face of someone just peeking in. We have to use inspiring and motivating words in our social media and communications with our members. We have to remind our members that they will never regret a workout, that they can do this, and that taking the first step….and the next step….and the one after that is what matters. At LIVE WELL Exercise Clinic, we have a WIN WALL where we ask our members to celebrate their wins every day and we champion their potential.  

  1. Fitness versus Fatness. 

There is substantial evidence that being healthy at any size is the way of the future for the fitness industry.  In fact, our dose of physical activity is the number one predictor of our overall health, not our weight or size. Exercise is not a punishment; some data suggests that half of us gained weight during the pandemic. Exercise will also not lead to rapid weight loss, and needs to be more deeply connected to the health benefits it provides. We need to make our spaces inclusive and welcoming for all fitness levels, and all body sizes, and that means not only selling memberships but meeting them where they are. 

Lastly, let’s remember that habit change takes time. We also need to remember this as we recalibrate the fitness industry, and not slip back into our old ways. There is always the chance to start again.  

  1. Shift the focus from physique to wellness. 

Undoubtedly, over the course of the last 30 years the gym became known as the place you went to “get ripped”, pursue your ideal body, lift heavy weights, and to join the ranks of taut bodies. Anyone would be intimidated walking into a room filled with men and women with six-pack abs! We need to focus on wellness, and that means being a space where everyone feels welcome and supported to achieve their goals – whether it is training for their first 5 k race or recovering from a heart attack, learning how to do a deadlift or simply sleeping better at night. We need to educate and inspire our members to get 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise weekly for their physical and mental health – that’s our number one job for 2022. Go team! 

  1. Stop speaking, start listening. 

We love our product and we sell it well. We get potential members in the door and we highlight all the wonderful benefits our facilities have to offer – but do we listen to what they need from us? This is going to be a very important shift as we move through 2022. Our members – returning and newbies who have lived through a pandemic, likely experienced isolation, grief and loss, and their bodies might not be as functional as they used to be from lack of movement. Listen to your members, and offer them solutions -they might not be ready for an intense HIIT class, but they can have a personal training program designed to fit their needs.  

  1. Apart…and together.  

The pandemic divided the fitness industry. Whether you personally stand for or against vaccine passports, masks or any of the provincial mandates that members of the fitness industry were asked to uphold, we now need to come together in a way we never have before. We need to put politics and divisive opinions aside and remember that we are all pursuing the same mission: to bring health and wellness to Canadians, to provide safe and inclusive spaces for our members to achieve their goals, and to once again become a thriving industry with purpose. 

Lastly, let’s remember that habit change takes time. We also need to remember this as we recalibrate the fitness industry, and not slip back into our old ways. There is always the chance to start again.  


Sara Hodson is President of the Fitness Industry Council of Canada and CEO of LIVE WELL Exercise Clinic. To find out about bringing a LIVE WELL Clinic to your community, click here.