Digital disruption in the fitness industry.

The forced closure of gyms, dance studios, and yoga venues has turned the usually buzzing fitness industry on its head, but the sessions are heading online.




When the order came down that Justin Ashley's gyms and personal training studios had to close immediately due to new restrictions to prevent the spread of COVID-19, he was worried that he would have to sack many of his trainers and other staff.

But within a week, Ashley had refocused Fitness Playground to become a modern-day production studio selling subscriptions to online workouts.

Fitness Playground chief executive Justin Ashley has been able to retain his staff by turning the company into a digital provider.

The founder and chief executive of boutique gyms Fitness Playground and The Bunker is one of a huge number of players looking to Instagram, Zoom, and Netflix-style on-demand fitness libraries to try to stay afloat.

Before the closures, Fitness Playground had grown to 15,000 members since 2014 dotted across five locations, and employed 220 staff. As soon as the gyms were shut, its payment processing platform EziDebit stepped in and instantly shut off all membership payments.

Ashley says the switch in focus to go online has meant he has been able to retain all of his workers so far in some capacity.

His gyms have become impromptu production studios, with a film crew of two existing media and marketing staff and three new hires to help make videos, motion graphics, and creative content for a new social distancing-friendly product Virtual Playground.

The forced closure of all gyms, dance studios, and yoga spaces by the federal government on March 23 turned the usually buzzing Australian fitness industry on its head.

And while such measures are temporary, the effects of this mass digital migration by affected businesses to online offerings will fundamentally change how the industry operates in a post-COVID-19 world.

The fitness livestreaming revolution

Since the closures, three times a week at 8am, Barry's Bootcamp trainers, including the effervescent Molly Gay and Beth Forshaw, hop on to Instagram Live to take about 300 viewers through an intense real-time 30-minute workout.

Waves of supportive emojis from viewers regularly flood the screen.

"If you're typing, then you're not planking!" Forshaw yells to a dispersed squad of at-home viewers.

Barry's Bootcamp instructors Molly Gay and Beth Forshaw are used to leading rooms full of people through workout routines. Now, they are bringing that same high-energy intensity to the small screen, with COVID-19-friendly Instagram live-streamed workouts. Louise Kennerley

A normal Barry's workout at the gym is a mix of high energy beats, treadmill action, and floor weights. On Instagram Live, this has been transformed into an equipment-free body weight circuit. All Barry's membership payments have been cancelled at the behest of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, and anyone can join in the live workouts for free.

Barry's Bootcamp Asia-Pacific head of marketing Olivia Boyd-Smith says closing its studios has obviously hurt business significantly, but its ramped-up digital presence was helping keep clients healthy and in high spirits.