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What Does the Future Hold?: Emerging opportunities for trainers and coaches in medically oriented wellness

Four years ago, almost to the day, I made a keynote presentation at the California Clubs of Distinction annual meeting in Palm Springs. It was not long after the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, was approved and launched. I decided to make this presentation because the landscape for medical health was at an all-time high, and the certification organizations knew this as they were all scrambling for their market share of this emerging opportunity.

I was making presentations in healthy aging and how to train elderly people in 2014, joined with and became a master trainer for an emerging group at the time, and got certified in functional aging. I had met with this energetic woman in Orange County who was starting a network for medical fitness — any guesses? Yes, Lisa Dougherty was super passionate about it and was busy enlisting all kinds of groups to collaborate with her. After working for the American Council on Exercise and knowing their interest in this market sector, I too saw an interesting niche in the fitness and health market that was not getting filled. The gap between an allied health care professional’s treatment and true functional health for any individual, but especially an aging one. Phil Kaplan has written and spoken quite a bit on this and labeled it as the “new blue ocean.” As he mentions, it is not a small niche, but a huge market opportunity, and it is driven by people valuing their health and quality of life.

Market Changes: What does the future hold?

Fast forward four years in what will go down in history as the COVID-19 year for the U.S. “We are all in this together” but six feet apart and in our own homes! There is a lot talk out there about what the future holds. Our country has not seen this level of unemployment and losses of income since the Great Depression. Our government is bailing out people and companies to the tune of trillions of dollars. Large companies such as 24-Hour Fitness is considering bankruptcy and has closed all 448 of their gyms. The social isolation has changed the landscape toward medical fitness even further! The other trend it is causing is online services to be popular. The stay-at-home quarantines we all are supposed to obey has meant a huge upsurge for education and training done online or virtually, respectively.

In an interview with Chris Rondeau, the CEO for Planet Fitness, he was mentioning how their facilities were always practicing good cleaning practices but felt the “personal cleaning etiquette” will now likely change amongst members. Thank goodness! No one wants to be on a piece of equipment where another’s sweat was left. This factor and the personal space will likely be in the forefront as the fitness clubs are part of the Phase 1 of the U.S. government’s reintegration policy. He also mentioned how the public understands that fitness is good for the immune system, and the lower price point of the Planet Fitness facilities are something the public will need to consider with the losses of income. He also mentioned how the company’s app and virtually lead fitness is exploding. He called it the digital content consumption and said it is at an all-time high for the company.

So what factors were part of my “perfect storm” as I labeled it? The Affordable Care Act, the baby boomers becoming seniors, people living longer, medical costs going out of control, ROI on preventative services being realized and new opportunities for corporate wellness as well. Now we have a new perspective on staying healthy during pandemics, keeping ourselves and our families away from large crowds, and watching our budget. There has been a shift in society for quite some time now from a “volume incentive” or paying a fee for a service, to a “value incentive” or paying for outcomes.

So several questions the public is asking;

  1. Are the big box gyms doomed? No but they may need to serve the two ends of the spectrum, with clubs like Equinox serving the high-end client and clubs like Planet Fitness serving low-end clients.
  2. Are group classes going to go away? Not likely, but the need to have six feet of spacing and therefore smaller classes are likely to change the way group classes are run, and that is “when” they come back.
  3. Will online or virtual training increase? No doubt they will. This trend was already going strong with Peleton (stationary bikes) and other fitness devices having the virtual coach.
  4. Will wellness and health coaching services increase? Also, no doubt. People, like me, have been not been in a standard gym for almost two months and are realizing the importance of their mental and physical health over just looking fit and trim.

What is next?

It is believed that the fitness marketplace will change over the next decade, and that the pandemic has sped this change along. 24-Hour Fitness was going through financial problems prior to the COVID-19 shutdowns. The evolution of “gyms” becoming “health care” facilities is happening. You should position yourself to either deliver a variety of wellness services or have a network of people you work with who can deliver these services. I believe the future health center will be a place offering several services and most will be proactive in nature.

You will need to join organizations that expose you to people who desire these services, like the MedFit Network. Be sure to take advantage of this “downtime” to “gear up” with education and new business plans that include specialties in disease conditions like osteoporosis, Alzheimer’s disease and obesity. Others like women’s health or cancer or multiple sclerosis are available through MedFit Classroom as well.

This article was featured in the summer 2020 issue of MedFit Professional Magazine. Click to read the latest issue and get your free subscription.


Dr. Mark P. Kelly has been involved with the health and fitness field for more than 30 years. He has been a research scientist for universities and many infomercial projects. He has spoken nationally and internationally on a wide variety of topics and currently speaks on the use of exercise for clinical purposes and exercise’s impact on the brain. Mark is a teacher in colleges and universities in Orange County, CA., where Principle-Centered Health- Corporate Wellness & Safety operates.

MFN Industry Expert