Pandemic fitness trends: Why are yoga, pilates and barre so popular?

The fitness industry in the United States has seen an escalated level of interest in the restorative fitness segment over the past decade, namely in the yoga-pilates-barre trio. A couple of us in the Quilt.AI team are fans of this trio of workouts as well.

The incredibly varied health benefits that are attached to the strength building and stress release of these workouts, along with the rising importance of mental health over the pandemic has made this segment all the more attractive to gym-goers.

And, as for why we’re calling this trio the Comfort Fitness trio: these workouts are calmer and offer a different vibe from other hot workouts such as Crossfit, Spinning, and others that are of higher intensity.

LED lighting and dark rooms at a Barry's Bootcamp in the United States. This is an example of what we're not referring to when we talk about Comfort fitness

Investigating consumer sentiment: the appeal of restorative fitness through our Culture AI

How are comfort fitness enthusiasts communicating their experiences on social media? Our Culture AI examined over 1300 posts on Twitter and Instagram, scanning hashtags such as #YogaEveryDamnDay, #PilatesLovers, and #BarreSoHard.

Looking at the word cloud data of the top used words in Twitter posts, some key themes that emerged were those centered around “new classes” and “online workouts”. The COVID-19 pandemic’s nation-wide lockdown forced people to adapt to a new fitness regime at home including Youtube tutorials, workouts on boutique fitness apps, and instructor-led zoom lessons. People’s documenting of workout experiences have acknowledged this swap to remote workouts.

A noticeable cluster of words linking fitness with physical as well as holistic strength-building was detected too. Words such as “strength”, “flexibility”, and “well-being” were found.

In our AI-generated word cloud, the bigger the word and the darker the color, the more frequently it appears in posts

We also ran the posts through our emotion analysis models, and found that the top 5 emotions that were highlighted were those of Happiness, Sensuality, Creativity, Affiliation, and Solitude.

The emotions of Sensuality and Creativity are detected here for images where people are holding poses and engaging in workout movements such as Yoga Asanas (body posture) or Ballet Barre. All three of the fitness regimes involve slow and elaborate gestures that depict these sentiments.

The sentiments of Solitude and Affiliation are also significant as they call attention to the sensation that is felt by most people while doing these workouts.

Unlike traditional forms of intensive exercises, restorative fitness creates a feeling of calm, retirement, and oneness by connecting the person to their body and self, and is therefore said to help with overall mental health and wellness.

All in all, the emotion of Happiness ties in to all of the emotions above as it relates to the feeling of zen felt by the individual during and post the workout.

After analyzing the text and image data, we were able to identify four main factors that motivated consumers to opt for restorative fitness workouts as opposed to traditional high-intensity workouts.

Increased strength and immunity

The biggest incentive consumers have to engage in these workouts is their holistic focus on physical health and wellbeing. It is said that 61% of all people that start yoga do so for the purposes of increasing their flexibility, something they cannot do as effectively with other forms of exercise.

With the onset of the pandemic and a work-from-home culture becoming the norm in most countries, the trend of eye yoga has also been on the rise. This exercise involves gentle movements of the eye muscles to reduce tension around the region, caused by long working hours on the computer. Similarly, there has also been an increased focus on improving one’s posture, which can be refined with barre and pilates.

Apart from the need to boost external strength and flexibility, our AI also found that restorative fitness enthusiasts engage in the workouts because of long-term benefits to the endocrine, nervous, and digestive systems.

Mindfulness and mental wellbeing

An increase in overall stress levels related to lifestyle and, most recently, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, has put the limelight on mental health more than ever before. Being locked indoors for months at a stretch with limited social interaction has had a grave impact on people’s wellbeing. While a core focus of yoga is on meditation and mindfulness, the origins of pilates are rooted in healing and rehabilitation to connect to the internal functionings of the body.

The aspect of mental wellness has gained so much importance that even schools have started encouraging yoga as a means to teach children how to deal with stress and difficult situations outside the classroom. The emotion of Solitude once again comes into play here as it is a significant factor in achieving peace of mind.

As per our color detection model, the most commonly detected colors in the social media posts were tan, linen, rosy brown, and white smoke. These are muted colors that are generally associated with peace, tranquility, and harmony, highlighting the fact that people are expressing their restorative workout-related posts via visuals about meditation, wellbeing, and calmness. This even goes to say that the workouts in themselves are soothing and therapeutic as opposed to traditional high-intensity workouts.

The fun factor

Aside from the numerous health benefits of these workouts, consumers are also captivated by them because of the exciting variations that they offer. Classes like Beer yoga, Yoga with pets, and Cannabis yoga are unique in their own ways and create a thrilling workout routine that cannot be found in traditional forms of exercise.

Fitness enthusiasts can now take pilates classes that are combined with HIIT (or ‘high-intensity training’), creating a holistic workout that appeals to everyone. In addition, the core concept of barre is to mix principles of ballet and dance with exercise, resulting in a creative and enthralling experience for those that are easily bored by conventional workouts.

The top detected emotions of Creativity and Affiliation are underlined here as not only do people enjoy the unique aspects of these classes, but, as a result, they seem to be zestfully engaging with them more frequently.

The surge in convenient virtual workouts

The pandemic resulted in many more live Instagram classes, boutique fitness apps, and YouTube channels, many of which were offered free of charge for the initial months of lockdown.

There was a sudden spike in interest in workout membership platforms such as Peloton and boutique studio channels such as Pilates by Amanda as people began working out from the comfort of their homes.

We compared search data for the months of November 2019 through February 2020 with that of March to December 2020 to analyze the impact of COVID-19 on the comfort fitness segment. Even though we noticed a 4% decrease in overall search interest for barre classes, upon further investigation we gathered that within the category, a large portion of plummeting searches are related to in-person classes.

Searches for ‘barre fitness near me’ dropped by 48% while ‘barre studio’ saw a 55% decrease. Searches related to virtual classes, on the other hand, increased by a whopping 122% during the same time period, with terms such as ‘virtual barre classes’ and ‘pure barre on demand’ shooting up by 627% and 132% respectively.

Keyword searches related to workout equipment also rose by 96%, which signified the closure of gyms and fitness studios as people started exercising in the comfort of their homes via Youtube and other virtual channels.

Interestingly, from the searches for virtual classes, those for free of charge classes had the highest rate of change. Keywords such as “free barre classes online” had search volumes that increased by 831%, as compared to “bar method online classes” that shot up by 364%. Search volume for “pure barre prices” also dropped by 68%, indicating that customers did not expect to pay for their workouts as a result of multiple available workout options online.

As per this bubble chart, virtual classes are a dominant space showing high growth and high volume, with almost every fitness brand offering customers the choice of live classes. Equipment retail, on the other hand, is an emerging segment with low volume and high growth. It seems to be a less saturated market, which is why there is scope for companies to penetrate and take advantage of high consumer demand.

On the other end of the spectrum lies the dormant sector of in-person classes. With low volume and growth, it is clear that the need for fitness studios is diminishing as people prefer staying within the safety nets of their homes. It may be too soon to predict whether demand for physical classes will return to pre-covid levels or whether we are looking at a new normal that has now set in.

From the chart, we also see a slowing segment of generic restorative fitness related searches that have high volume and low growth. Terms such as “yoga and meditation”, “meditation and pranayama”, and “pilates core workout” are likely falling because people have replaced these generic searches with more specific and targeted ones relating to the high growth segments.

How can brands fulfil the needs of this fitness segment?

Emphasize how the comfort fitness experience offers all-round benefits:

Our Culture AI’s analysis has brought to light that the new-age restorative fitness enthusiast engages in these workouts to attain holistic body improvement instead of focusing merely on general fitness. Brands should offer innovative and engaging classes that cater to both the areas of mental and physical wellbeing.

Capitalize on the need for convenience and concerns about safety:

Despite the easing of lockdown measures in many countries, it is important that brands continue hosting virtual workout sessions, especially given the fact that there is a high level of interest from the vulnerable segments of kids and seniors, and cautious consumers in general too.

Our search behavior analysis reveals that offering live fitness classes is a great way for companies to establish their brand name and identity. Searches for “peloton barre classes” and “pure barre live stream” went up tremendously by 1381% and 2820% respectively, indicating a rise in brand awareness and popularity.

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