EMD UK reduces membership prices and increases support for instructors as COVID-19 continues to hit the industry

As fitness instructors across the country continue to be impacted by COVID-19, EMD UK, the national governing body for group exercise, has committed to reducing its membership with insurance packages. The packages, now starting at just £49 per year, have reduced in price as instructor income continues to take a hit.

In March, instructors were forced to close their face-to-face classes as the UK went into lockdown. As instructors adapted their businesses to give communities access to physical activity, they encountered several barriers, including music licensing laws, reduced venue capacity, and the re-opening of gym facilities. As such, many instructors and their businesses have financially suffered.

Many instructors have opted to run their classes online on streaming platforms such as Zoom in a bid to make exercise accessible at home and create an income for themselves. Despite the internet being widely available across the UK, some instructors encountered problems due to the demographics they work with. One such instructor is Wendy, who works with older adults; “At the moment I am unable to teach as the class are elderly so half of them do not have email or even a computer let alone Zoom. I have therefore lost all my income.” Many are taking donations for classes or charging less for online classes as they feel this is only fair for the participants.

Another issue caused by online classes is music licensing. The complexities of music licensing meant that many instructors were unable to use the playlists that their class goers knew and loved. Due to legalities around synchronisation rights and royalties, music used in public settings cannot be used in the same way for online classes. This created a huge problem for instructors, where music is one of the key components of class enjoyment.

EMD UK sought to solve this issue for the fitness industry. In April 2020, it entered into a dialogue with PRS for Music, who represent over 140,000 artists, producers, composers, and songwriters. Following agreement from all parties, an agreement was formed, and the music licence was launched in July.

As the pandemic continued, the amount of Government updates and restrictions became confusing for instructors. EMD UK worked with the Government’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport (DCMS) to ensure instructors had the information they needed to run classes as venues started to reopen. Thousands of instructors benefitted from EMD UK’s Friday update emails and over 8,000 instructors downloaded the EMD UK Group Ex Support Pack: a free resource for instructors containing guidance on class capacities, disclaimers, risk assessments, a PAR-Q form, and more.

But even with guidance, studio group exercise classes have not been viable for many due to COVID-19 restrictions; a recent EMD UK survey found that 33% of instructors had not returned to face-to-face teaching. Sandra, an instructor from Chester noted, “I could just cover my costs but not actually make any profit so I would in effect be teaching for nothing.” Toni from London added “My income has more than halved because I cannot accommodate all my class.”

Being a group exercise instructor is an incredibly rewarding job but there are many background tasks. Instructor Emma says “Our industry is a very expensive one with insurance, licenses, music, hall hire, booking system and with travel time, set up time and then choreography, planning etc our job is not just a one hour class.”

With income losses continuing on top of standard instructor expenses, EMD UK decided to review its membership with insurance offering.

“As an organisation committed to instructors, we really want to make their life easier,” explains Sue Wilkie, Head of Instructor Development at EMD UK. “This extends past free resources and social media. We have worked to cut our membership and insurance prices to ensure instructors can use these savings elsewhere. We have saved them money on PPL, and we have saved them money on membership. We have championed them to DCMS and ensured they can continue teaching where possible. We will continue to stand by instructors and ensure they have the tools they need to stand at the front and do the job they love.”

As the Government continue to announce restrictions, it is feared gyms and fitness facilities will not be exempt from closures despite the low COVID-19 contraction rate. In September, ukactive published data that showed of 22 million visits to gyms and fitness facilities in England since reopening, there had been only 78 confirmed COVID-19 cases amongst customers. In fact, the data showed that across the UK, there were only 0.35 cases per 100,000 visits.

Fitness instructor Emma said “The fitness industry is a big industry but we are not given the respect we deserve with the importance of mental health, mobility, obesity, diabetes – I think we need to be given more coverage in what we do.”

EMD UK believes the physical, mental, and social health of the nation can be improved by group exercise, especially now. Marcus Kingwell, CEO of EMD UK, said “EMD UK has committed to ongoing dialogue with Sport England and DCMS to ensure group exercise classes are at the forefront of physical activity discussion. With nearly five million people taking part in group exercise classes every week (pre-COVID) and classes being the third most popular physical activity in England, group exercise instructors play a huge part in the health of the nation and we are with them every step of the way.”

More information on EMD UK’s reduced membership and insurance packages can be found here