As 2021 comes to a close, the usual reviews of this anything-but-usual year are being published. The fitness industry experienced its fair share of news, not all of which was COVID-19 related. The industry saw several companies move into public companies, experienced changes in ownership and leadership at several major brands, watched as Peloton faced difficulties and made moves into the brick-and-mortar space, saw several companies rebrand and experienced that deaths of industry leaders.

COVID-19’s Continued Impact

It likely comes as no surprise that the COVID-19 pandemic continued to impact the fitness industry in 2021, making it one of the biggest stories of the year.

In August, IHRSA’s National Health & Fitness Alliance (NHFA) shared that 22 percent of U.S. health clubs and studios had closed permanently since the COVID-19 pandemic began, and about 1.5 million people had lost their jobs in the industry — equating to about 47 percent of industry jobs. U.S. health clubs suffered a loss of $29.2 billion in revenue from March 2020 through June 2021, according to the NHFA

These numbers were based on data from 11 membership billing companies and input from industry consultant Rick Caro.

Even though gyms were reopened by 2021 in most states, some were still under capacity limits for at least part of the year. Despite health clubs in New York reopening in September 2020, indoor fitness classes were only allowed to resume (at 33 percent capacity initially) in New York City on March 22, 2021.

As vaccinations became more widely adopted and as the Delta variant of COVID-19 led to a higher number of COVID cases in the fall, a number of cities—including New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and New Orleans — required vaccinations for entry to certain businesses, including gyms. Even prior to these mandates, some health clubs, including Equinox and VIDA Fitness, were requiring all members and staff to be vaccinated.

Several health clubs, including LA Fitness and Xponential Fitness, sued their insurance companies for denying business interruption insurance for the forced COVID-19-related closures of their clubs and studios. To date, none of the lawsuits has been successful.

The pandemic also impacted organizations outside of health clubs. IHRSA, which is the trade association and lobbying group for commercial health clubs in the United States, had to cancel its 2020 trade show, causing financial issues that led to the departure of CEO Joe Moore and staff layoffs in summer 2020. Those financial issues were still present in 2021, causing the departure of four long-time top executives in 2021. Industry consultant and former club owner Brent Darden served as interim CEO of the organization from August 2020 until August 2021 when IHRSA hired Liz Clark, formerly head of government relations and advocacy at the National Confectioners Association, as the new IHRSA CEO, just the third CEO of IHRSA and the first woman in the role.

The association had already stepped up its advocacy efforts by hiring more lobbyists in April 2020 after none of the three stimulus packages to that point included stimulus money specifically for health clubs.

In February 2021, the Gym Mitigation and Survival (GYMS) Act was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives, and in May 2021, it was introduced in the U.S. Senate. If passed, the GYMs Act would provide assistance for fitness facilities that were forced to temporarily close during the COVID-19 pandemic and, as a consequence, have struggled to stay in business.

The bipartisan GYMS Act would establish a $30 billion grant program through the Small Business Administration, similar to the programs already in existence for restaurants and live event venues.

IHRSA introduced a campaign to get more U.S. representatives and senators to sign onto the bill to ensure its passage.

IHRSA also introduced the National Health & Fitness Alliance (NHFA), a leadership council that champions the health club industry’s role in shaping a healthier future, and the Global Health and Fitness Alliance, which is working to establish the health and fitness sector as an essential service and a key contributor within the healthcare continuum.

Fitness Companies Go Public

Not everything that happened in 2021 was related to COVID-19. Four fitness companies went public in 2021, and a fifth company delayed a planned initial public offering (IPO).

Beachbody was the first company to take the leap, and it came about due to a three-way merger that was announced in February between Beachbody Company Group LLC, Myx Fitness Holdings LLC and Forest Road Acquisition Corp., which is a special purpose acquisition company that had been publicly traded prior to the merger. The merger became final on June 25, and the company, now called The Beachbody Company Inc., began trading on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) on June 28 under the symbols BODY and BODY WS.

F45 Training was next up, opening as a public company on the NYSE under the symbol FXLV on July 15. F45 Training initially considered going public in 2020 before pulling back due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The company’s pre-IPO investor had a mandate to create some liquidity, which was one of the reasons for the IPO, F45 CEO Adam Gilchrist told Club Industry. In addition, going public provides transparency and credibility that could attract private equity companies to invest into its network, he said.

Following on the heels of F45 Training, Xponential Fitness debuted on the NYSE on July 23, trading under the symbol XPOF. At that time, Xponential Fitness had 1,750 studios, most of which are franchised, across 48 states and 10 countries. Its portfolio of brands are Club Pilates, CycleBar, StretchLab, Row House, AKT, YogaSix, Pure Barre, STRIDE and Rumble.

On the day of the IPO, Xponential CEO Anthony Geisler told CNBC’s Morgan Breenan that the company went public

Life Time was the fourth fitness company to go public in 2021. On Oct. 7, it began trading on the NYSE under the symbol LTH. The company plans to use the funds raised from the IPO to pay down debt, for working capital and for general corporate purposes, according to its filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

Life Time previously traded on the NYSE as LTM from June 30, 2004, until an investor group, which included Life Time founder and CEO Bahram Akradi as well as private equity firms Leonard Green & Partners and TPG, bought the company in June 2015 in a deal that Life Time valued at $4 billion.

The same day that Life Time started publicly trading, iFIT Health & Fitness Inc., postponed its previously announced IPO due to adverse market conditions. iFIT brands include Freemotion, NordicTrack, ProForm, Sweat, Weider and 29029.

Acquisitions and Partnerships

2021 was a year filled with mergers, acquisitions and partnerships. The biggest one was perhaps the one that didn’t happen. Equinox Holdings reportedly ended its merger discussions with publicly traded Social Capital Hedosophia Holdings Corp. VI, due to a disagreement about how much to value the combined company, Bloomberg reported although Equinox declined to comment on the report. Equinox Holdings operates Equinox, SoulCycle, Blink Fitness, Pure Yoga and Equinox Hotels. It is a private company owned by a group of investors including Equinox Holdings Executive Chairman and Managing Partner Harvey Spevak, principals of The Related Companies, L Catterton and Silver Lake.

Equinox had $650 million in 2020 revenue with a loss of $350 million due to temporary club closures caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Bloomberg. The company had been seeking a valuation of $7 billion or more, according to Bloomberg.

Other planned deals did come to fruition during the year. Xponential, in fact, had several of them, including an exclusive development agreement with Fitness International in which franchisees of Xponential’s nine brands will have the ability to open a studio within LA Fitness and City Sports Clubs locations. These two brands are owned by Fitness International. The November agreement lays out a minimum development of more than 350 franchised locations over five years.

Prior to this agreement, Xponential purchased Rumble, a boxing brand, in March for an undisclosed price. Then in October, Xponential acquired Australian functional fitness franchise Body Fit Training for $44 million.

In December, F45 Training announced it will open studios inside private golf and country clubs owned by Concert Golf Partners, as part of a licensing agreement partnership in which Concert Golf Partners will operate F45 studios at its 22 golf courses and country clubs.

New York Sports Clubs (NYSC) made a splash with the November announcement that it was purchasing Kettlebell Concepts for an undisclosed sum. NYSC, which was formerly known as Town Sports International, plans to grow the brand across its gym network, which includes New York Sports Clubs, Boston Sports Clubs, Philadelphia Sports Clubs, Washington Sports Clubs, Lucille Roberts and Around the Clock Fitness.

In April, Midtown Athletic Clubs sold its affiliate company Midtown Health, which manages 25 onsite fitness centers, to HealthFitness for an undisclosed sum. The sale allows Midtown Athletic Clubs to focus on growing its chain of eight luxury sports resorts, Midtown Athletic Clubs CEO Steven Schwartz said at the time of the sale. “Our Chicago flagship has been tremendously successful,” he said. “We have decided to focus exclusively on that model and are reinvesting all proceeds of this sale into the Midtown Athletic Clubs not yet converted to the Chicago format, look and feel.”

The flagship location includes a hotel, and the company plans to add a hotel to at least one other location, Schwartz told Club Industry.

The first big acquisition for 2021 occurred in early January when BoxUnion, which had three studios and a digital subscription service, acquired Title Boxing Clubs, which had 166 studios open and 130 studios in development, for an undisclosed sum.

On the vendor side, one of the biggest acquisitions was the October agreement for Mindbody to purchase ClassPass. The acquisition will be an all-stock deal at a non-disclosed price and will integrate both teams — with ClassPass continuing to operate its app and website.


Peloton was in the news in 2021 on multiple fronts. In March, the company revealed that one child had died and several had been injured on its Tread+ treadmills. The Consumer Product Safety Commission began investigating the death and injuries, noting that a six-year-old child died in February after being pulled under the rear of the Tread+ as it was operating. Up to that point, Peloton had received 72 reports of adult users, children, pets and/or objects being pulled under the rear of the treadmill, including 29 reports of injuries to children such as second- and third-degree abrasions, broken bones and lacerations, according to a release from the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

On April 17, the CPSC warned consumers against using the Tread and Tread+ if they had small children or pets, and the consumer advocacy group urged Peloton to recall the two products. Initially, the company refused to do so, but on April 20, a consumer class action lawsuit was filed against the company alleging that Peloton had advertised the product as being safe to use around children but that the product had a design flaw that made it unsafe around children.

On April 29, a second lawsuit was filed on behalf of Peloton investors who alleged that Peloton failed to tell investors that its Tread+ could injure or kill children and pets and that initially refusing to recall the product had caused the value of shares in the company’s stock to drop, negatively impacting Peloton investors.

Peloton then recalled both products on May 5.

At least two families of children allegedly injured on the Peloton products filed lawsuits against the company in 2021.

In August, Peloton shared that it was being investigated by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security. The two government agencies subpoenaed the company for documents and information related to its reporting of a death and injuries on its treadmills. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission also began investigating the company’s disclosures about the injuries.

Despite these difficulties, Peloton also had some good news during the year. On April 1, Peloton finalized its $420 million purchase of Precor. The purchase was made to not only allow Peloton access to additional users but also access to the two Precor manufacturing facilities in the United States that presumably would help the company catch up on a backlog of online orders of its products, particularly those from inside the United States that piled up during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. In May, Peloton announced it would begin construction during the summer on a dedicated Peloton manufacturing facility in the United States that would produce the Peloton Bike, Bike+ and Tread.

In March, Peloton bought Atlas Wearables, leading to speculation at that time that it might get into wearables. It also purchased Aiqudo, which uses artificial intelligence to add voice actions to apps and devices, as well as Otari, which created an interactive workout mat.

In June, the company launched its Peloton Corporate Wellness platform to businesses in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada and Germany, rolling out into Australia later in the year.

In September, Peloton announced it was expanding its commercial footprint in the hospitality market with its new Peloton Commercial portfolio, which includes the original Peloton Bike and Precor’s catalog of strength and cardio equipment.

Change at the Top of Large Brands

Changes occurred at the top of some of the larger fitness brands during 2021. 24 Hour Fitness lost its CEO in December when Tony Ueber left after leading the company through its 2020 Chapter 11 and re-emergence. 24 Hour COO Karl Sanft is serving as interim CEO until a permanent CEO is named.

Another surprise departure was Life Fitness CEO Chris Clawson who left in November and was replaced by Paul Stoneham. Before coming to Life Fitness, Stoneham led three global consumer businesses and achieved growth for various businesses before an acquisition of those companies.

In October, In-Shape Health Clubs announced that its majority shareholder and previous CEO, Paul Rothbard, returned to the company as CEO, replacing Francesca Schuler. Rothbard’s father founded the company, and Rothbard himself led the company for several years before joining the board of directors and pursuing opportunities outside the industry.

In February 2021, Rothbard, Aquiline Capital Partners LLC and other investors purchased In-Shape out of bankruptcy, eliminating $45.3 million of debt, according to Bloomberg Law.

Also in February, UFC Gyms promoted Adam Sedlack from COO to CEO, replacing Mark Mastrov, who moved into the role of executive chairman. Mastrov and Sedlack joined UFC Gym as co-founders in 2008 and helped build the concept, a brand extension of the UFC MMA organization in alliance with New Evolution Ventures, from the ground up to more than 150 locations in 37 countries.

Investment by PE in industry

2021 brought several rounds of private equity investment into the fitness industry. Just some of the investments are included in this review.

In September, EGYM, Munich, Germany, received a $41 million investment from new investor, Mayfair Equity Partners. The investment will be used to expand the product portfolio, expand EGYM’s presence in the U.S. market and increase the company’s competitive edge. EGYM products and services include EGYM Smart Strength and Smart Flex, EGYM Digital and EGYM Business.

In October, member management software and integrate payment solutions company Daxko received an investment for an undisclosed sum by Genstar Capital and existing investor GI Partners. The recapitalization will support Daxko’s goal of accelerating innovation in product development, customer support, sales and marketing, and strategic acquisitions.

In November, private equity firm HGGC completed a majority investment in PF Atlantic Holdings, which is one of the largest Planet Fitness franchise groups. PF Atlantic Holdings, which was founded in 2010 and has 42 locations in Florida, California, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, will now be known as Grand Fitness Partners. In addition to these changes, former NFL quarterback Steve Young will join the board of Grand Fitness Partners. Young is president and co-founder of HGGC.

D1 Training announced it had received a strategic investment for an undisclosed amount from Princeton Equity Group, a franchise and multi-unit private equity firm. The funding will help D1 Training accelerate its nationwide expansion in new and existing markets and support its franchisees.

Rebranding of Fitness Companies

During 2021, several larger fitness companies announced rebranding. Three companies announced rebranding in October, just a few days apart: YouFit, Snap Fitness and Exos.

YouFit Health Clubs rebranded as YouFit Gyms because “health clubs” was deemed as outdated and the brand at its core is a gym, YouFit CEO Brian Vahaly told Club Industry at the time. As part of the rebranding, YouFit, which filed for Chapter 11 in 2020, will offer new member services and invest $20 million to renovate its 80 locations.

Snap Fitness launched a rebrand in October to appeal to the 80 percent of North Americans who do not belong to gyms, particularly those in rural markets. The updated branding will emphasize the emotional benefits of fitness over the physical benefits. The company also is overhauling its location prototype to appeal to today’s consumer preferences.

Also in October, Exos launched a business acceleration plan that included a rebrand, new product offering and a consumer campaign focused on teamwork. The goal of the rebrand was to modernize and evolve the brand as a purpose-led, performer-centric brand that will resonate not only with its core audience of pro and elite athletes but also with a broader audience, according to the company.

In June prior to these rebrandings, ICON Health & Fitness rebranded to iFIT Health & Fitness Inc. iFIT is the parent company of Freemotion Fitness, and as part of the rebrand, Freemotion was rebranded as Freemotion from iFIT. iFit is the company’s proprietary software platform, and the name changes reflect the company’s commitment to delivering an omnichannel fitness service through personalized, connected health and fitness experiences, according to the announcement.

Passing of Industry Veterans

A number of well-known fitness industry veterans died in 2021. Club Industry paid respects to each at the time of their death, but below is another notification for those who are unaware of the loss of these individuals.

Stephen Tharrett died on Dec. 22, 2020. Because he died so late in 2020, Club Industry is including him in the list for 2021. Tharrett had more than 30 years of experience in the fitness industry. He authored several books for the health and fitness industry. As co-founder of ClubIntel, Tharrett offered market research for the fitness industry. He also was president of Club Industry Consulting, which he started in 2005, offering strategic planning, new business development, brand insight work and culture development.

Mike Chaet, known as the Club Doc, died the week of July 26. He had been in the industry since 1964, founding consulting firm Club Marketing & Management Services Inc. He spoke at various industry events, including Club Industry and IHRSA.

Geoff Hampton died on Sept. 2. Hampton was vice president of business development at Active Entities Consulting, Knoxville, Tennessee, after having spent more than 40 years in the industry in various roles.

Chuck Leve died on Nov. 11. He had worked in the fitness industry for more than 50 years, most recently as executive vice president of business development for the Fitness Business Association (FBA), where he worked with his son, Josh Leve. He also had been executive director of the NCCA, an organization that preceded IHRSA, before working for IHRSA and helping to create the trade show portion of the association’s annual convention.


The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as a health advice. We would ask you to consult a qualified professional or medical expert to gain additional knowledge before you choose to consume any product or perform any exercise.


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