A new age of fitness is upon us. Gone are the days of strict rubrics and physical benchmarks.
Gen Z is in pursuit of holistic health over conformity to the fitness industry’s image of health and redefining fitness to be more inclusive, social, and personal. “Holistic” includes awareness of how physical, mental, and emotional all make up the state of our health. We believe fitness isn’t tethered to weight loss; moreover, fit bodies don’t need to look “traditionally athletic” (add to the chopping block “beach bodies” and “modelesque”). Instead, we’re seeking holistic and inclusive takes on fitness, which encourage body positivity with an array of options for every individual: one size fits al̶l̶ me.
In our view, there are no players delivering fitness exclusively to the digitally native generations. Current solutions—like the gym—are boring, not inclusive, and non-digital. We believe the next wave of fitness products will optimize for a partial or fully digital experience where users can interact with friends, have immersive experiences, and use their data to tailor goals and experiences.
Taking care of our bodies has always been an essential part of life, but where we place fitness on our hierarchy of needs has changed throughout history. At first, fitness was necessary for basic survival. Early humans lived a nomadic lifestyle that required regular physical activity to be able to hunt, travel long distances, and survive the elements. Things started to change with the Agricultural Revolution: Humans could acquire abundant food resources without having to relocate, which ushered in a more sedentary lifestyle.
Fast forward thousands of years to the Industrial Revolution: Manual factory jobs that required workers to stand for long hours slowly disappeared, advancements in technology enabled humans to travel longer distances with comfort, and human activities became further centralized for convenience. All of these factors contributed to humans becoming less dependent on fitness to survive. With fitness no longer a requirement to live, it could evolve (devolve?) into something purely aesthetic.
In the 1960s, thin, toned bodies became en vogue. For instance, Hollywood stars like Marilyn Monroe set precedence for what was considered “beautiful,” establishing beauty standards for generations. In the 1980s, bodybuilders took over, popularizing big muscles. As TV stars gained notoriety for their physique and fitness clubs began to rise, more and more people became obsessed with conforming to a particular image. The fitness industry pumped this obsession full of metaphorical (and, in some cases, literal) steroids.
Teleporting to the year 2022, #FitTok is full of influencers flexing their chiseled and toned bodies without showing the focus on holistic wellness behind the scenes (i.e., adequate sleep, nutritional focus, etc.) While this might seem like the democratization of fitness, it’s proving to be something different. Research shows that viewing images of “fit” people has a negative impact on our satisfaction with our own bodies, which can lead to harmful behaviors like disordered eating, or over-exercising (which can, in turn, lead to poor mental health).
If the coupling of body image and fitness can actually hurt our health—physical and mental—it’s time to change it. We need to decouple body image from fitness—leaving behind the version of fitness that emphasizes “looking good”—evolving towards a concept of fitness that supports holistic well-being.
We are looking to partner with the next generation of ambitious founders that want to help empower the digitally native generation on their holistic fitness journey. We are tired of lackluster solutions that help track fitness activities. Instead, we are excited about digital tools that will inspire and guide users to become holistically healthy on their own terms.
From immersive experiences to social fitness, these are some of the attributes and distribution channels that we think will make the best future for fitness for Gen Z and beyond.
For Gen Z, the definition of physical health contains multitudes of factors—stress, mindset, nutrition, and sleep are as important to our bodies as movement. Studies have shown that getting proper rest is just as important to our overall health as getting exercise—an area our portfolio company, EightSleep, has explored. The rise of companies like Noom and Sweetgreen is a testament to consumers’ increasing spend in the nutrition category.
We also believe that stress management and mental health are crucial to a holistic view of fitness, if not equally as important as physical health. Mental health conversation is fully normalized for Gen Z—dialogue about mental health among top athletes reinforces this point of view.
We see a need for fitness apps that appropriately include mental health, nutrition, and sleep to become an all-in-one solution. While Calm and Headspace only focus on mental health, and traditional fitness apps only focus on physical fitness, our generation views fitness holistically and should have digital tools to help us manage these considerations together in one place. Our portfolio company, Imagine Golf, recognizes that mental health is important for physical output and has developed a holistic app to reflect this. We think more companies that link mental health and physical output are set up to capture a large mindshare of Gen Z.
Though #FitTok has its problems, it points to Gen Z being inherently digitally native. Instead of asking a trainer at their local gym, Gen Z is seeking advice from people online. Unsurprisingly, fitness micro-influencers see the most success in engagement metrics on Instagram compared to any other influencer sizes (by follower count). With the rise of Peloton through the pandemic, Peloton instructors built massive fan bases online to capitalize on the opportunity to grab the digitally native populations’ attention.
Basic exercise tracking like running and nutritional tracking has already become digital. However, for more complicated movements during strength training, martial arts, or CrossFit (a GC portfolio company), automatic rep count and exercise recognition are still difficult. As the industry continues to evolve, we hope to see some of this mental tracking move to a more digital interface.
We believe Gen Z yearns for fitness to be a social experience more than any previous generation. Fitness is a journey where users might have to overcome mental and physical challenges. Once we embark on the journey, the path to “success” is rarely linear. Why struggle through this alone? As a generation used to sharing successes and failures with our digital network, in our opinion, the future of fitness will optimize for individuals to pursue their separate goals together. Virtual communities can give our digital generation extra support during times of need but also provide a sense of community to celebrate accomplishments as well. We’re seeing a great start in this vein from GC portfolio company Fitmint, which encourages users to walk and run with their friends online.
Building community in a digital space is important, and we believe there is room for “old-fashioned” in-person gatherings too! Fitness companies like Barry’s have gained a devoted following where consumers attend classes and have become part of their “weekly ritual” to congregate with others. Community tools or digital sports clubs can bring together those in a local area to participate in health and wellness activities like running, yoga, and recreational sports, and help them form relationships with people who share their goals and interests.
With Gen Z leading all other generations in purchasing wearable fitness products (like WHOOP, Apple Watch, Oura Ring, etc.), the amount of health data collected on each individual will only continue to grow over time. Luckily, Gen Z and Millennials actually want companies to leverage their personal data to customize their experience with products, services, and apps. Our portfolio companies, Breakaway and Terra, do this for individuals and businesses. Overall, our wearables are collecting troves of data that can be used to tailor workout plans, nutrition goals, and sleep patterns.
Generative AI (Gen AI) can help scale this type of personalization. Users could potentially input their goals and upload past data to use Gen AI and produce personalized recommendations instantaneously. This could also democratize access to personalization even further.
Fitness has rarely been objectively “fun.” Being digitally native, Gen Z is looking to augmented reality (AR) to change that. We’ve already seen social proof points of AR getting people to exercise more. In 2016, Ninantic’s Pokemon Go took the world by storm and inadvertently encouraged users to exercise. Studies show that Pokemon Go was successful at increasing physical activity in the short term. We believe this is only the beginning of AR fitness as potential use cases span from games to users being able to be “coached” on their form from their phones using AR.
Virtual Reality (VR) is the next level of immersion for fitness. Admittedly, some concerns still remain around the comfort of the hardware in the space. However, as a digitally native generation, there is no better time to be building for this group. Virtual reality enables users to participate in fully immersive fitness experiences from the comfort of their homes. For instance, FitXR users can simulate fighting motions while playing a Guitar Hero-esque game. With proper equipment, companies like Zwift allow users to feel like they are leisurely cycling in Montana. The possibilities here are endless, and we believe this category is just getting started.
These experiences do not have to stop at home. They can also exist in a virtual gym. Companies like Black Box VR are reimagining what a gym can look like and how users can interact with physical equipment while being immersed in a digital world.
The barrier to working out has never been lower. Fitness no longer needs to happen in a gym or dedicated third place. The pandemic normalized exercise from home, and we believe the trend of fitness meeting the consumer will continue. GC Portfolio company, Tempo, strives to help consumers achieve their fitness goals from home. Gen Z seeks out low-friction experiences that make it easy to work on their personal fitness goals whenever and wherever they want. Classpass and Mindbody are both GC portfolio companies that give individuals, businesses, and employers the opportunity to offer worldwide access to different wellness offerings.
Gen Z is leading the charge toward a more holistic and personalized approach to fitness. We are no longer fixated on conforming to the fitness industry’s image of health, but rather on achieving overall wellness. We think an increasing amount of digital solutions need to be built for the digitally native generation. Founders in the fitness space will have the opportunity to build products that optimize digital experiences that are fun, social and customizable while utilizing data-driven and personalized approaches. If you’re one of them, we want to hear from you!