Americans emerging exhausted and depleted from more than two years of pandemic are looking for something new in their workouts: A good rest.
Gyms say they are seeing increased demand for gentler classes, and they’re expanding their mellower offerings like yoga and meditation. They’re also rolling out dedicated “recovery” rooms equipped with massage lounge chairs and self-massage gadgets.
Russ Frank’s evening workout reminds him of preschool nap time. He lies on a mat and pillows in a dimly lighted room and follows an instructor through a series of gentle stretches while calming music plays.
Aptly named Surrender, the hourlong, restorative yoga class has been packed since his Houston gym, part of the
Life Time Group Holdings Inc.
chain, reopened from the pandemic. The chain has increased the number of Surrender classes by an average of about 50% across its locations compared with 2019, it says.
“I always thought a workout required me to sweat,” says Mr. Frank. “Being still has its own benefits.”
Months of stress and sweatpants have shifted priorities for gym-goers, with many saying they now care more about how they feel versus how they look. A recent survey of 16,000 Americans from wellness app Mindbody reported 43% are exercising to feel better and 59% to reduce stress. The gentler offerings also provide an easier on-ramp for people who have gotten out of shape.
“Leaving it all on the gym floor doesn’t seem like a priority as much,” says Marc Santa Maria, national director of group fitness for Crunch Signature. People are no longer taking a no pain, no gain approach to fitness, he says.
Starting in May, Crunch Fitness will bring back its “rainbow” meditation classes at many locations alongside new classes focused on breathwork and stretching. Crunch had previously introduced the rainbow meditation class, focused on the body’s “chakras” or energy channels that are associated with different colors, about 15 years ago, but it didn’t draw much interest. “It barely attracted 10 people and there was always someone snoring in the back,” says Mr. Santa Maria. The chain added “abs” to the class name to make it sound more suited to a gym than an ashram, he says, but it failed to attract a following and was dropped from the schedule.
Today, “we sense people are more willing to embrace this type of holistic workout,” he adds.
Crunch is also adding “rest and recover” areas to its facilities. In December, the chain added the spaces—which feature massage chairs and high-tech massage tools—to six of its locations and plans to continue rolling them out through 2022.
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The chain has shifted the tone in its classes, with instructors swapping in gentler vocabulary in many of their classes after sensing that people seemed nervous about coming back to the gym. Most classes now start with “positive affirmations” and end with meditation and breathing work. “Coming out of lockdown people’s cardio and strength were deconditioned,” Mr. Santa Maria says.
Life Time gyms now has “recovery zones” in 22 of its 150 locations in the U.S. and Canada, equipped with compression boots, self-massage tools and HydroMassage loungers, after introducing them in 2018. Use of the spaces has quadrupled since the start of the year, says Tom Manella, vice president of personal training at Life Time. Now these dedicated areas will be built into all new clubs, he says.
Pilates and slow-paced yoga classes, like Surrender, as well as a newly introduced meditation class have also become just as, if not more popular than high-intensity interval workouts.
“We’re seeing the same customer return, but they’ve come out of the pandemic less focused on looking good at the pool and losing weight,” says Mr. Manella.
Mr. Frank, who takes Life Time’s Surrender class in Houston, still spins and lifts weights in the morning, but says the pandemic pause made him crave more rest in his routine.
“For years I’ve focused on intense workouts and never had time for recovery,” says Mr. Frank, a 50-year-old transit authority employee. Now he has found that the sleepy yoga class “guarantees a good night’s sleep.”
24 Hour Fitness, a chain with about 280 locations in 11 states, says it has increased its recovery classes 33% since the summer of 2021 as demand has surged, says Karl Sanft, CEO of 24 Hour Fitness.
Later this year, locations in California and Colorado will debut recovery areas in partnership with Houston-based wellness company iCRYO. Instead of a post-workout green juice and sauna session, members will be able to restore sore muscles in cryotherapy chambers and get vitamin shots and IV drip infusions of nutrients.
Jylan Megahed, a family law litigation attorney in San Diego, returned to 24 Hour Fitness at the end of January after a six-month hiatus from working out. She says the gym’s new mind-set and recovery-focused “Modus” classes, which mix cardio, strength and meditation, offered a supportive space for her to get back in shape.
“I had lost all of my muscle and struggled with 10-pound weights,” says Ms. Megahed, 35. “But the instructor just kept reminding me to listen to my body. He was so encouraging and supportive.”
She’s now using 30-pound dumbbells in class. Not only is she stronger, but she says she’s noticeably less stressed after a session—to the point she’ll sometimes take two classes a day.
Write to Jen Murphy at [email protected]
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