As countries around the world started to impose lockdown restrictions earlier this year, many people were left with limited entertainment options.
Without restaurants, cinemas, and sporting venues to go to, many decided to get into shape. Since gyms were also closed, wearables and fitness applications were ideal solutions for those seeking professional coaching or gamification options.
Suddenly, technology that had previously been the preserve of fitness fanatics exploded in popularity.
According to British operator EE, the use of running app Strava trebled in the U.K., while there were long waits for Peloton’s connected exercise bikes and treadmills. Even more casual options like Nintendo’s Ring Fit Adventure video game were hard to come by and ‘Couch to 5K’, a running app endorsed by the National Health Service (NHS) was downloaded by one million people.
And it wasn’t just amateur athletes – professionals were also reliant on technology to keep fit and hone their skills. Soccer players using STATSport’s Apex Athlete GPS trackers would have been surprised to see Arsenal’s Hector Bellerin and Kieran Tierney appear on the leader boards.
Although the prospect of several effective Covid-19 vaccines on the horizon has had some impact on share prices, it appears as though there is no sign of demand slowing. If anything, the pandemic has increased awareness and entrenched habits.
The market for wearables is expected to increase by 14.5% in 2020 according to IDC, with a growth rate of 12.4% expected over the next five years. Analysts note that one of the biggest trends is the creation of ecosystems to accompany these devices.
Apple is doubling down with the fitness features of its Apple Watch and plans to launch a subscription-based service called ‘Fitness+’ later this year, offering an “immersive” workout experience, curated playlists and studio workout classes. Meanwhile, Google is trying to get its proposed acquisition of Fitbit through various regulatory hurdles.
Sports equipment manufacturers like Nike , Adidas and Under Armor UAA are also getting involved and major gym chains have looked to expand their online offering to compensate for closures.
But it’s not just the established tech and fitness players looking to secure a slice of the market. Athletes themselves are investing with fitness and performance startups, while Peloton’s growing revenues have seen it valued as high as $30 billion.
Two of the biggest winners of lockdown can now claim to be tech unicorns. Zwift, an app popular with cyclists, is one of them. It now has more than 2.5 million registered users and was even used to stage a virtual Tour de France back in July. Meanwhile, Strava was able to add 2 million users a month in 2020 and now has 70 million users. It recently secured funding to take it above a $1 billion valuation.
However, analysts at CCS Insight believe the two could eventually become a single connected fitness giant.
“Little known beyond a growing community of cyclists and runners, Zwift’s virtual, indoor exercise platform has recently become a sensation, helped by lockdown restrictions during the pandemic,” the firm said.
“With the Tour de France running a virtual race using the platform, revenue opportunities beyond its $15 monthly subscription are becoming apparent. Zwift has leapfrogged outdoor running apps such as Strava, making the latter an acquisition target. The acquisition creates a strong platform for inside and outside exercise, and gives Zwift a new channel to market.”
As Covid-19 cases come down and vaccines become available, people will eventually return to gyms, cycle paths, and running tracks just as workers will return to the office as soon as it is safe to do so. But just as lockdown has provided people with a taste of the benefits of flexible working, it has also offered a glimpse into the connected fitness future.