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Fitter, faster, stronger, smarter

China Daily | Updated: 2020-05-28 09:20
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Fitness coaches show the public how it's done as part of the Sports Night initiative at the SND Cultural and Sports Center in Suzhou, Jiangsu province. The event aims to promote China's mass fitness program and help the nation's sports industry recover from the financial hit it suffered during the height of the COVID-19 outbreak. [Photo/XINHUA]

China's fitness sector emerging from lockdown with spring in its step thanks to renewed focus on digital business

Gyms shut down, sporting fixtures suspended, and owners faced with financial losses-China's fitness industry has absorbed a huge blow from the COVID-19 outbreak, with the sector now fighting to get back on its feet.

With the pandemic now largely contained in China, the country's fitness industry is hitting the reset button as it seeks to regain its momentum, embrace changes and find a silver lining in the cloud.

With gyms forced to close during the lockdown, home workouts have snowballed in popularity. The fitness industry has embraced the digital age like never before, offering classes on everything from yoga to weight lifting via live-streaming services and social media.

The boom in stay-at-home fitness has created huge online traffic for sports apps. PPTV, a sports video website, and fitness app Keep both launched home fitness courses designed for different ages.

Chai Guohui, the founder of a fitness app with nearly 500 trainers, says his Chinese kungfu coaches were "forced" to offer online sessions as more users chose to take up the martial art to stay active and in shape during the pandemic.

Blogger Song Fei, who has over half a million followers on video-sharing platform Bilibili, has become a new star after seeing her fan base rocket over the past few months.

Song's channel on wellness and beauty tips is popular with female fans who wish to keep fit while staying at home.

"Women who aspire to have a healthy figure are my target audience. People are now focusing more on their life quality and I'm quite positive about the perspective of my career," she said.

Yoga mats, dumbbells and even accessories for Nintendo fitness game Ring Fit Adventure are in high demand across China's different e-commerce platforms.

Home fitness equipment is another category that has witnessed a huge spike in e-commerce sales, with live streaming also playing a part in the surge. In February, livestream sales of fitness equipment on Alibaba's main e-commerce site Taobao grew by 213 percent.

The pandemic has been of particular concern to graduate students eager to make their first steps in the sports and fitness industry this year. But many analysts reckon those worries are dissipating as China focuses on transforming itself into a leading sports power.

Last year, the General Office of the State Council declared that China is aiming to make the sports industry a pillar of the country's economic progress.

Industry expert Wang Zhenyu, of Shanghai's Jiaotong University, has backed the plan to succeed, noting that all the indicators point to the continued expansion of sports tourism and fitness services.

Zhang Fuli, principal of the Dalian University of Science and Technology, concurs.

As people embrace a higher quality of life, their personal fitness will take on greater importance, which could create a marketplace and new job opportunities for the industry, explained Zhang.

"While industries like health and nutrition counseling emerge with rising health awareness, new careers like sports psychology will also come into our sight," he added.

The industry is also diversifying its talent pool, with one recruitment website claiming gyms and fitness studios across China are now looking for video directors and editors to improve their online sessions.

The COVID-19 pandemic is transforming commerce, and businesses are working to quickly find ways to adapt to the post-lockdown period.

Fitness-app entrepreneur Chai reckons the new normal is forcing businesses to up their game.

"You need to be the real deal for the job," he said.

Qu Wenyong, of Heilongjiang University, believes technology remains the key to survival in this tough new business environment.

"The pandemic has impacted many jobs and challenged humanity, but as long as people can quickly adjust from traditional ways with new technology, new jobs will be created," said Qu.

"As demand for fitness services solidifies, new jobs should meet clients' needs and create value. If we can do it together, we can make a better industry," said Zhang.


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