COLUMBIA — The restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic have prompted many gym customers to find new ways to train at home, but in recent months, South Carolina gym owners say they have seen a strong return in customers.
Some gyms and gyms closed amid the challenges, but those that made it report strong customer returns.
“As soon as we reopened, our classes were completely full,” said Jennie Brooks, owner of the Longevity Club on Rutledge Avenue in Charleston.
A nationwide customer survey by marketing firm Upswell, which works with fitness companies, found that about 27 percent of the gym’s regular customers have not returned regularly. The company released its results in September.
Home fitness options like Peloton and Tonal have seen strong growth amid the COVID-19 surge, especially while gyms have been closed.
When it came to fitness, too, some took a step back: nearly a third of those surveyed by Upswell said they weren’t exercising as often as they were before the pandemic.
In South Carolina, the advent of COVID vaccines prompted gym-goers to return quickly, even as a surge kept them away for a while, Brooks said.
Starting with just about 2,000 square feet, Longevity has purchased and expanded its building over the past two years to cover almost all of its 14,000 square feet.
Membership has grown about 55 percent since last year, Brooks said, fueled in part by those relocating to Charleston.
People with established fitness habits move to the area from the Northeast, Washington or California and immediately find a place to work out, and Longevity has benefited from that, she said.
In Columbia, Drew Mobley is an investor in two different style gyms, one free weight and one class focused, located just a mile apart downtown. Business at both has been stable with few disruptions from the pandemic, he said.
Basecamp Fitness, a co-owner of Mobley, launched successfully in 2021 and focused on classes that mix a variety of exercises into a single session, with participants rotating between stations to lift weights or ride stationary bikes.
He also owns an Anytime Fitness location on Devine Street where members can drop by and use machines or weights at their own pace rather than being in a class.
Both have had steady traffic over the past year, and the fitness market appears to be split evenly between the two styles, Mobley said.
People have been trying to find answers at home while they have to in the pandemic, Mobley said, but many of them are looking for ways to continue improving their health after faltering with their at-home routine.
Even the worsening economic times haven’t impacted recent demand for gym time much, Mobley said, as health is a priority for her.
“People are willing to have fitness as a requirement,” Mobley said.
People often choose to join a gym or other fitness option when they have health conditions like COVID, said Olly Pierce, owner of Brit’s Brothers Gym in Greenville. This concern can trigger a push for improvement in basic health that spurs an overall lifestyle change.
“I think that can be a healthy fear,” Pierce said.
Brit’s Brothers on Airport Road is an old-school gym with weightlifting and kickboxing. Customer numbers have stabilized over the past year after the pandemic disrupted attendance, he said.
The greater purpose of a gym isn’t just to break a sweat, Pierce said, but to build a coaching relationship and teach people how to help their own health. By doing this, Pierce says, clients often boost their self-esteem and ability to take on challenges outside of the gym.
“It gives them a lot more confidence in their day,” Pierce said.