The Reality of Virtual Gyms in India

This column is authored by Amaresh Ojha, Founder and CEO, Gympik

virtual gyms

Photo by Bruno Nascimento on Unsplash

As all aspects of our life – from banking and shopping to food and movies – get online, it’s only natural for fitness to follow suit. Worldwide, virtual gyms are catching the fancy of time-starved professionals as well as low-on-motivation gym goers. And the trend is slowly catching up in India too.

A recent pan-India study conducted by Gympik, covering over 1.06 million people, mainly in the age group of 20-35 years in Delhi, Bengaluru, Mumbai and Hyderabad, found that 59% men and 68% women in India believe that virtual gyms are the future. While they may not completely replace the traditional fitness centres – at least for now – the merging of physical and virtual worlds promises to be a game changer for the Indian fitness industry in the near future.

Imagine cycling in the streets of Spain from the comforts of your home on a rainy day; 3D-animated personal trainers demonstrating plank variations and yoga asanas; choreographed fitness classes in an immersive, virtual environment. Seems straight out of some sci-fi movie? Welcome to the world of virtual fitness.

Online advantage

Over the last decade, growing awareness about the importance of fitness and the desire to embrace an active lifestyle has seen an increasing number of Indians take up gym memberships – not only in the metros, but also in tier 1 and tier 2 cities. Fitness clubs are mushrooming in almost every nook and cranny of the country. Yet, the turnout in most of these centres, on an average day, is far from adequate. According to our study – Weighing up fitness – although 30% of the respondents currently had a gym membership, only 11% have been regular for more than six months.

The study further revealed that 52% simply fail to find time to exercise, while 36% lack the motivation to hit the gym. Incidentally, 14% claim to be absolutely clueless about where to begin their fitness journey. In such a scenario, virtual gyms offer the perfect solution.

Irrespective of the insane hours at work, awful weather, or family commitments, workouts need to be a part of the daily routine. With virtual fitness, you can sweat it out at any time, in any place, as per your convenience. There are online fitness classes as well as apps that allow you to do everything – from yoga and Pilates to cardio and dance – right in your bedroom.

Another big advantage of virtual gyms is that all you need is a smartphone, an internet connection, and perhaps, a virtual reality (VR) headset. Virtual fitness turns out to be more cost-effective than regular gym memberships. According to the study, 20% Indians found gym membership fees too expensive. Not to forgot, the woes of finding parking space in overcrowded gyms!

Fine print

While it’s definitely more convenient to try new fitness regimes at home, there’s always the inherent risk of injuries. Because unlike in a traditional setup, the instructor is not physically present to avert such mishaps. Also, right now, the sector is too fragmented for any quality checks.

So, the onus lies on the online user to ensure the credibility of the virtual fitness programme. Virtual fitness instructors need to be duly certified. It’s a good idea to look for online customer feedback to gauge the company’s or instructor’s reputation. Another aspect to bear in mind before embarking on any exercise regime is one’s health history and current fitness state. While certain workouts, such as Zumba, can be mastered through online classes, others that demand the right technique, like weight training, are best done under the supervision of an expert trainer.

Right reasons

Why do people go to the gym? The study found that 53% do it to reduce health-related risks, while 46% want to improve their energy levels, and 42% wish to lose weight. Increasing functional strength (37%) and combating stress (33%) are the other top draws.

However, an increasing number of Indians today are looking for flexible fitness solutions. The study revealed that a sizable population preferred activities such as walking (30%), running (24%), cycling (11%), swimming and sports (18% each) to hitting the gym. It’s not surprising then that virtual gyms are stepping up to the challenge, offering health and fitness resources to the consumer wherever they so desire.

These are exciting times for the fitness industry. International researchers are working on using augmented reality and virtual fitness to make workouts not only more effective, but also more engaging and entertaining. Virtual fitness modules are being developed to help sedentary children develop a more active lifestyle. Activities that are traditionally associated with the outdoors, such as cycling and walking, are already becoming a part of the virtual world. A lot of gyms today are opting for virtual treadmills and virtual cycling classes – that transport you to faraway lands, looking for adventure. The idea is to make the best of both worlds. Disruption is inevitable.

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