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Gyms’ losses may be running’s gains in 2021

A recent survey found that only 15 per cent of gym-goers think the gym is the best way to keep fit heading into the new year

Gyms have taken a massive hit this year as many have been closed at various times throughout the pandemic, and a recent study conducted by RunRepeat isn’t forecasting much of an improvement in 2021. The study surveyed 1,990 gym members from 120 countries, of whom only 15.18 per cent say they think the gym is their best option for reaching their fitness goals in the coming year. Another RunRepeat study notes that 25 per cent of gyms are expected to close for good by the end of 2020. While this is bad news for gyms, it could be good news for the running community, as many former gym members say they plan on sticking with outdoor exercise to work on their fitness in 2021.

The lack of interest in working out at a gym makes perfect sense when considering the pandemic. Left with nowhere to exercise other than outside or at home, people all over the world took to running (causing a huge running boom in the spring) and bought fitness machines and equipment. Now that so many people have realized they can continue to progress toward their fitness goals without going to the gym (and therefore saving money by avoiding a monthly membership fee), they have no desire to return, even when it’s deemed completely safe. 

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At the start of the year, 63 per cent of gym members said they thought the gym was their best fitness option. That dropped significantly as the year progressed, and now just 15 per cent of gym members still hold that belief. Conversely, a whopping 49.9 per cent say running and other outdoor activities provide the best opportunity for maintaining fitness and reaching goals in 2021. This is up from just 35 per cent earlier in the year. 

This is bleak news for the fitness community, but for the running world, it could be a good sign. We still have to wait to see if the spring’s running boom will lead to more longterm runners, but if the RunRepeat numbers are correct and many people don’t plan on returning to the gym, then we might see high rates of participation in races when in-person events eventually make a comeback. 

RELATED: Only 30 per cent of gym goers have returned post-lockdown, study finds

Even though many people have turned to running in recent months, the running community and event organizers are still hurting. In-person racing will hopefully return soon, but for now, virtual events are our only option. It’s more important now than ever before to support our local organizers, or else many of them could suffer the same fate as many gyms and be forced to fold. Whether you’re a new runner or a seasoned veteran, consider adding some virtual races to your calendar. With this holding you accountable, it will be easier to convince yourself to train, which will help you reach your overall fitness goals. 

Check out our list of virtual races organized by Canadian event companies, and if you would like to read the full RunRepeat report, click here.