Josh Peacock: Our hero today is Sarah Marion. Director of syndicated research at Murphy Research. In this episode, she reveals insights from original research into how millennials and Gen Z view fitness in gyms. As these generations continue to develop greater spending power, it’s important for gyms to understand how to attract and serve them. Sarah unpacks how you can do just that. So, without further ado, Sarah Marion.

Alright, welcome to the Gym Heroes Podcast. Today, we have Marion, can you go ahead and introduce yourself and your background?

Sarah Marion: Sure. So, I’m the director of syndicated research at Murphy Research. We’re a full-service customer research firm. I manage our syndicated side of the business and one of the products that we have is the state of our health syndicated food and fitness tracker covers mindfulness too. So, a lot of what you’ll hear me talk about comes from that data set, but I’ve been working in the health and wellness space for a long time now. Talking to consumers, doing quantitative and qualitative research and so this state-of-the-art health track really brings all that together. It provides a really nice comprehensive, holistic look at how Americans approach food, how they approach healthy eating, how they approach mindfulness, how they all fit together. It’s a long-term tracker. So, we’re collecting quantitative data always to the tune of like 40 people a day going back to 2018 and we do qualitative research too, to help kind of stay on top of the trends with some of those early adopters.

Josh Peacock: Excellent. Yeah. So, that research is really the reason why I wanted to have you on the show today, because I’ve heard you on other podcasts and you have a lot of great insight into how the different generations view and engage with fitness. So, I wanted to start with millennials and understand how are millennials different than like boomers and genetics when it comes to how they view fitness, how they engage with fitness.

Sarah Marion: Yeah. So, full disclosure, I’m a millennial myself, a late millennial, geriatric millennial sometimes they call us. But it’s a really interesting generation not just because it’s my own and I think one of the key things that differentiates it from slightly older folks is that millennials were the recipients of a lot of public health education initiatives and Gen Z behind them. So, they received a lot of education around healthy eating around exercise. Even as we’re talking about younger millennials about mindfulness that it was just simply not true of older generations. And so, for talking about fitness specifically, millennials are really the first generation where both boys and girls were encouraged to in sports. That a lot of that comes from title nine which really got implemented for the millennial generation. Also, where particularly women, but both men and women got this consistent message that exercise is really a pillar of health. And if you’re talking especially about boomers that just wasn’t true. So, it took some boomers were the originators of a lot of fitness trends but they were trends whereas for millennials those things kind of really became fully made extreme.

Josh Peacock: Awesome. So how what’s the difference between men and women and how they’re engaged with fitness across the millennial generation because I guess they’re generally more health conscious than previous generations but I’m sure there are differences in how they view it.

Sarah Marion: There are. So, a lot of those come down to, well there’s a couple of things going on here. So, in general across all generations men are more likely to be engaged in fitness than women are. And I think a lot of that is just socialization. Still, even talking to the youngest consumers, teenagers today, they will say there’s differences between boys and girls and how much they felt they were encouraged to participate in sports and fitness. So, that’s still higher among boys even among teenagers which to me, I keep hoping that’s going to change and it just still hasn’t yet. That said, that gap is getting a lot smaller and smaller kind of the younger you go.

So, there is this kind of early introduction to fitness that more likely to happen for boys than girls and that carries through to the rest of life. But for millennials, it’s important to remember that millennials are right now they’re ages around 26 to 41. That’s the kind of definition of the generation. And this is exactly the age where you are building a career. You’re establishing families. You have young kids in the home perhaps. This is a really busy time of life. You might start taking care of elderly parents even. And that works out in different ways for men and women. So, we see in terms of millennials at this stage in life is that men are more likely to be engaged in fitness and they’re more engaged in fitness than women are. And a lot of that just has to do with there are only so many hours in the day. And if you are raising children and possibly working and maybe taking care of other people, a lot of women feel like they don’t have enough time to fit fitness in especially relative to something like healthy eating where you got to eat, right?

So, it’s much easier for many of them to manage that goal even if they can’t fit in the hour it takes to get some exercise for themselves. So, time and energy and convenience. Big needs for the whole generation but especially for women and that’s one of the biggest gaps that we see and I really think it’s about life stage. Less than aspiration.

Josh Peacock: Right. So, do you ideas about how to help attract or convince more women to come in? Because I think even though they don’t perceive the time there probably are ways to jig your schedule a little bit and find yourself in the gym?

Sarah Marion: There are and so I think yeah, so time is as a barrier its external, right? That means that like you can develop solutions to it. It’s a much easier hurdle to solve for than internal barriers like the feeling that you don’t like exercise. You’re not having to change hearts and minds here. You’re just trying to find a slot or a way to get you in. So, when we ask about what factors people consider in a gym, millennial women are much higher in looking for things like childcare, like that shouldn’t be a big surprise. I think childcare can be difficult for gyms to provide, but it is a big helper if you are able to have a safe place for your kid to go or even bring them to the gym with you. Different types of hours, having classes that are at good Times.

Now the problem with that is what is defined as a good time. Is different if you’re perhaps like a stay-at-home mom versus a working mom. But I also think that well I don’t think I know online fitness has been a real game changer for a lot of millennial women. Millennials are the biggest users of online and digital fitness resources and by that I just I mean apps. I mean Zoom classes from your gym. I mean pelotons like that whole spectrum of getting fitness to you wherever you are. Millennials are the most likely generation to use any of those resources. And a lot of women use them because that means you can do the exercise at home. So, if you are a gym like that as a way to get yourself to these women who would like to come in but maybe don’t have the time all the time.

Josh Peacock: Awesome. I’ve promoted for gyms and even my background’s more with martial arts. I’ve promoted really the idea of having an online program for whatever it is that you do and there’s a lot of reasons for that. That was not one that was on my list but now it is. Now they understand that dynamic.

Sarah Marion: Yeah, it makes fitness more convenient. You can do it whenever you have time. Rather than having to schedule that class and then something happens your day goes haywire you don’t make it to the class. I have a friend who’s a fitness instructor. She works specifically with moms and new moms and she has to do more and more and more virtual classes because it just makes it so easy. Even for the People who are scheduling it, it makes it easier for them to get to class. They can find, they can deal with, they’re at home, so they have a way to deal with their children, but they’d still save time because they’re not having to drive to the gym and then leave again. So, it’s a whole extra hour that they get back out of their day. So, it’s, the, online fitness is really, I think, a helpful way to meet time starve consumers, particularly mothers where they are.

Josh Peacock: Well, right. So, switching gears a little bit. I’m interested to know how millennials feel about engaging in organized sports. Like how do they view that? Are they doing it more less than previous generations? What’s going on there?

Sarah Marion: Yeah, so we’ve actually seen participation in organized sports go up since the pandemic. So compared to 2019 more millennials even more Gen X are doing more organized sports. Gen Z who are ages 10 through 25, they’re all, they do it the most, right? Because they’re doing it as part of school or intramural programs. But it’s been a really interesting trend particularly among millennials because they don’t have the same structures like pushing them to participate. They’re choosing to participate in organized sports and at higher rates. I think some of that is from the loss of the gym and then also the loss of group fitness. So, some of this replaces what you used to get out of group fitness. It’s this organized time where you get to get some exercise and so it was a kind of a safe activity to do. You’re combining fitness which you need anyway with often outside or large rooms. It felt like a safe thing to do during the pandemic.

So, a major trend and then millennials are also in this age where they can still do things like that. As you get older especially past about age 45, you start to see high intensity activities which not all organized sports are high intensity or high impact. But activities shift toward more walking, more low-impact activities, more calorie-burning types of activities. But millennials are still in this place physically where they can do pretty much whatever they want. Which again, like helps push them into things like organized sports as a fun and social way to get some exercise and some socializing in there.

Josh Peacock: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, softball, tennis, all volleyball. Those all feel like they would feel safe during the pandemic.

Sarah Marion: Exactly. I joined a soccer team. I recently hurt myself on my soccer team, so I have to give it a rest.

Josh Peacock: Yeah, I feel like that at playing a team sport, if you didn’t do it that much before and you were kind of doing group classes and then you kind of just you switched out of necessity because you wanted to keep doing something. I don’t know. I feel like the team sport would be a lot more fun and the collaboration would be more meaningful than just a group yoga class or something or spin class.

Sarah Marion: Yeah, I mean people look for different things from their activities, right? So, just as my own personal experience, the soccer team took the place if I used to go to a yoga class and have had difficulty getting back into that rhythm since the pandemic. Because sometimes you know we had all of last year where they’re open and they’re closed and they’re open and they’re closed whereas this was a regular consistent thing, that also I made friends. I never made a friend in a yoga class but after the game we go out to the bar. So, I think.

Josh Peacock: That’s a good point.

Sarah Marion: Yeah, all of that organized sports filled a lot of that both social and fitness function that people used to get in other places. Not just group fitness. Also, the gym provides that for a lot of people too and with all of those things closing down. We saw a lot of consumer experimentation. Not just with organized sports. I think that’s part of what we’ve seen the last 2 years. Consumers really trying out a lot of new things trying to fill the gap that in-person fitness left when all of those, all those resources got shut down for so long.

Josh Peacock: Yeah. So, what about the price consciousness of millennials? Are they stingy or they how are they with that?

Sarah Marion: No. That’s the short answer. Now I think especially as you’re go younger Gen Z’s very price conscious. A lot of that is just their stage of life, right? They have like really limited resources. And so, younger millennials probably still feeling the pinch of some of that but in general especially compared to boomers. Millennials are really are willing to pay for what they want. So, they don’t, everybody likes a deal but to them it’s worth it to pay. If you want towel service. If you want a hot tub. If you want the sauna, they’re willing to pay for those things. Whereas especially as you get a little bit older you find that those folks are looking in a gym particularly for it. They want a long list of Things but they want it at the lowest price they can possibly get. So, they’re willing to trade a lot of things out to get to a lower price point, because the value equation is simply different for them.

Whereas millennials have grown up paying more, we call it the Starbucks effect. $5 is what a coffee costs. Whereas that isn’t true for older generations. And so, if the gym costs so much to get what I want they’re willing to pay. Part of also is the importance that fitness plays in terms of their overall health we’ve seen exercise in particular really take on much more of a greater role in in terms of maintaining mental health and in stress reduction and so that has really skyrocketed as a motivation to exercise especially among this age group. So, millennials but shading into Gen X as well. The connection is really tight there and it’s a really tangible daily benefit that drives people to exercise and so that turns size into something even more important, right? And if it’s that important, it’s important enough to invest money in.

Josh Peacock: Absolutely. So, let’s switch gears to Gen Z now. How are they different than the previous generations on fitness and like fitness engagement?

Sarah Marion: It’s a good question. Part of it is, again, these are young people, right? They’re still figuring themselves out and we’re still figuring them out. In some ways, they’re very much like millennials particularly in the educated they are about health, the importance that fitness plays to their overall health. So, they know what they’re supposed to do, right out of the gate. They have had years and years of education around what’s good to eat. What’s a healthy diet. How much exercise you should be getting? Exercise does this and this and this and this for you. It’s not just about losing weight and looking good. It’s also about maintaining mental health. It’s about boosting your mood. It’s about energy.

So, there’s this really holistic approach to health and fitness among Gen Z that used to come at a much later age used to come much like it took longer for all of those things to mesh together for consumers among older generations.

Josh Peacock: Right.

Sarah Marion: But Gen Z already know all that. However, they’re still very young, right? They have a lot of leeway in terms of what they’re able to kind of get away with physically. So, you don’t see the same kind of routinized habits that you see among slightly older adults like in particular millennials. And we’ve been talking about price. They’re very price conscious. Which makes sense. We’re talking about college students. We’re talking about people just starting their careers. They’re still figuring out what they want to do in life.

We know during the pandemic many of them moved back in with their parents. So, there’s actually this might be a little different now but about a year ago there were more Gen Z living with Parents than since the Great Depression. And maybe that’s making them a little bit less price conscious but I think that speaks to like how price sensitive this generation is. That said, Gen Z fitness is very important to them. Exercise is important to them. They’re also gym members. So, they’re second in terms of ranking the generations. Millennials are most likely to have a gym membership. Gen Z are right behind them. They do have very seasonal patterns though.

Josh Peacock: Okay.

Sarah Marion: And so, Q4 is the lowest point. I think a lot of this is again we’re talking about a large chunk of this generation or students and this is just a really stressful time of year. And then gym memberships pick up back up in Q1 and they rise to the summer and then fall again as school kind of gets busy in the fall. So, I do think that Q1 come January we will see like kind of an influx of younger consumers back in the gym. I mentioned that many of them are students. They also work out in a lot of different types of locations. So, the competition, if you are a gym or a health club or studio, you’re competing with facilities at schools and universities. You’re competing with community centers and rec centers. You’re competing with team sports and sports facilities, and even community fitness centers at apartment buildings, that kind of thing. Again, if you’re looking around trying to make exercise work for you within your budget, they have a lot of options available to them that even slightly older people don’t and they’re looking at all of those options trying to figure out what works best.

Josh Peacock: Interesting. So, how do they feel about online training?

Sarah Marion: Great question. It’s actually really interesting. So, Gen Z really driven by structure and by social factors. Social factors are included kind of self-presentation. So, they’re interested in looking good. They’re interested in having a certain type of body. They’re interested in outward appearance and feeling confident. So that’s a big driver to exercise. But also, they’re interested in doing it with their friends. So, they want to be where their friends and family are. They like to work out together. They like to work out as part of a team or in groups and that’s just adolescence, right? That’s the stage of life that they’re in. The structure comes from they’re used to being in sports. They’re used to having a lot of structure provided for them.

Again, this is about life stage. They have not, part of what going to college and that kind of late adolescent period is about is about figuring out how to structure your life as an adult when nobody else is doing it for you. And so that for that reason, they like sports, they like group fitness, and they like gyms. For that reason, online training at home is much less appealing. Now this is a really tech-savvy generation. So, they are engaged in fitness apps. They’re engaged in all those digital fitness resources, but it’s not as motivating to them in terms of getting them to work out. It doesn’t solve the problems for them that it really solves for millennials who are looking for a really convenient efficient workout because Gen Z is less interested in convenience and more interested in like being seeing and being seen. And when they’re around people even if they don’t know them, it gives them more motivation to get that workout in. So, they use it but it’s not optimal. They’d rather go be in a place with other people doing their workout with others.

Josh Peacock: Yeah, I think that it makes sense once you’ve explained it, their life stage and the way things how their lives are kind of mostly structured for them right now and then many of them are of the older part of trying to transition into oh I have to make my own schedule now. But if you didn’t think about it that way, you would probably fixate on the fact that Gen Z is so tech savvy. They’re like the first generation that just grew up with technology everywhere in the home. You would think that would be unintuitive because you’d think that oh yeah, they’re they don’t want to see other people. They don’t want to talk to other people. They just want to be in their phones. They just want to be in their iPads, but that’s not the case.

Sarah Marion: No, they’re just like teenagers and young adults everywhere.

Josh Peacock: Yep.

Sarah Marion: Now I do think tech is fully integrated into their health and fitness lives in the same way that it is in their social lives. Which makes them different than older generations. So, the Apple watches, tracking things, you know getting all of your information and inspiration. That is all coming from TikTok, from Instagram, from fitness apps. Um but they just want to be doing the workout with other people.

Josh Peacock: Yeah. So, you mentioned that a lot of them played sports growing up. What is their sports participation? Is it similar to millennials? Is it lower? Is it higher?

Sarah Marion: It’s much higher. And again, a lot of that is different by school. So, high school and college.

Josh Peacock: Yes.

Sarah Marion: Intramural and college sports programs. And then many carry those sports with them an elsewhere even if they’re not playing on formal teams’ pickup basketball, pick up soccer games, that kind of thing. So, boys are more likely to playing, I’m talking about teenagers here. Boys are more likely to play organized sports than girls but still a lot of girls are involved in those programs. And that carries through into college and the young adult years. And then things start kind of dropping off the map. If you look at their top 10 activities there’s a lot of sports on among those activities. Basketball, football, soccer, baseballs all in the like just top 10 activities that they participate in. And then once you make the jump into millennials. Basketball and soccer are the only things left on the list and then what do you make the jump over to Gen X? There are no more team sports on that list.

Josh Peacock: Not even softball?

Sarah Marion: Nope.

Josh Peacock: Oh, my goodness.

Sarah Marion: But maybe this is softball could make a resurgence, right?

Josh Peacock: Yeah. I hope so.

Sarah Marion: I know. It’s so fun. But so yeah, like sports provide a lot of structure, right? And that social atmosphere, the motivation, the camaraderie, the competition that they like so much. There is a shift, so when you’re looking at teens versus young adults, young adults are actually the most likely age group to participate in group fitness. Which makes sense, because some of them have left the sports behind but they still are looking for that same structured social fitness experience. So, there’s a lot of group exercise across all different types of activities among young adults.

Josh Peacock: Excellent. Cool. Well, that was really, really instructive. Where can people find you if they want to reach out and ask you more about this?

Sarah Marion: We can always send me an email. But you can also visit our website. It’s, and then the State of Our Health Tracker that I mentioned is right off the main page. We have a lot of great information there. You can contact us through the website and then I’m on LinkedIn and all of the usual channels. But always happy to chat and I love to answer questions.

Josh Peacock: Awesome. Cool. Well, thank you for coming on. I hope we can do this again sometime.

Sarah Marion: Yes, it’s great. Thank you.



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