Millions use online platforms to back athletic lifestyles
Liu Ya, a 28-year-old manager at a public relations agency in Beijing, switches on her phone and opens a fitness app.
With just a few taps, she has registered for her weekly barre class, which involves using a handrail that provides support for various types of exercise, incorporates movements derived from ballet, and combines positions and movements drawn from yoga and Pilates.
On a designated day, Liu goes to the fitness room, checks in with her phone, changes into sports gear and awaits the start of the class with 39 others.
This is her routine before each weekly workout. After an hour of sweaty activity, she sometimes takes photos of the session to post on WeChat.
"I think the internet has really changed the way people work out," she said. "The fitness apps give us more options. Rather than just going to a gym and training by yourself or hiring a private trainer, they can link online and offline alternatives."
With the rapid growth of fitness communities and increasing demand for professional instruction, new trends have emerged in recent years, attracting young users through socializing, group classes, qualified coaching and flexible payment methods.
In March, sports technology company Keep opened three offline fitness rooms in Beijing called Keepland. The aim is to persuade some of its online users to join offline communities, helping cultivate loyalty and fueling enthusiasm.
According to a report from market research consultancy Analysys in Beijing, as of April, more than 68 million people in China were using online platforms to support sporty lifestyles－a year-on-year rise of 2.22 percent.
Li Jinyi, vice-president of Keep, said online users' needs will be upgraded and Keepland can keep up with such changes.
"Users may not have that much time to go online and find solutions, or they can't find exactly what they need. But the offline courses can help locate weaknesses or provide future goals, which coaches can guide people to attain," he said.
Fitness brand SpaceCycle was launched in 2015 by Matthew Allison, the former president of EMI Music in Asia, and now has six clubs in Beijing, Shanghai and Taipei, in Taiwan, offering cycling, yoga, barre and dance classes with inspiring background music.
Liu, a SpaceCycle member, said she sometimes uses its app for more than just registering for classes.
"You can search for some music and buy fitness gear with just one app. You can also post and browse photos of people working out, and chat with others to get motivation," she said. "I think the fitness apps are trying to mix working out and socializing."
Li said it is important to socialize, as people need encouragement from others to advance, and users can get together and form a community by attending offline salons or other activities at Keepland.
"It's hard to persist by yourself," he said. "But if you have a partner or team members, the interactions and encouragement can support you in finally achieving your goal."
Li said another reason to socialize is to help users improve their athletic performance, as they can communicate with coaches and exchange experiences with classmates after sessions, especially when more people want to work out and choose a suitable training plan.
Keepland has installed a screen that can interact with users by showing the latest content, technology and activities.
"It is also convenient for us to organize better offline activities, salons and discussions, and a variety of communication activities are even organized by users themselves. This is how we can provide more for the users," Li said.
In recent years, the Chinese government has introduced policies to vigorously support the development of the health service and sports fitness industries, and to promote expansion of the fitness industry.
In 2013, the State Council issued a guideline to promote development of the health service industry－extending the nationwide fitness campaign and increasing awareness of physical fitness.