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Boutique gyms bulk up with specialized training

Gigi Douban Aug 5, 2015
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Planet Fitness, the discount gym chain that boasts of its “judgment-free zone” and Pizza Mondays, is going public, hoping to double the 1,000 gyms it already operates.

More than 63 million Americans used a health club in 2014, up 2.3 percent from the previous year. The International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association says revenue in the industry topped $24 billion last year. But an interesting pattern is emerging in where Americans are spending their money to get fit.

At Orangetheory Fitness near Birmingham, Alabama, on a recent morning, 10 people were spending an hour doing high-intensity interval training. They did squats, rowed on machines, did crunches, then got on treadmills. All the while, heart rate and other stats were constantly flashing on screens overhead.

Jill Graham, who works out there four days a week, says it’s a killer workout. “Every day, I think, ‘Oh, this will be an easy one,’ and they’re always torture, but good torture,” she says.

Graham pays $129 for membership. Between her and her husband, they spend almost $250 a month on fitness.

“It motivates me to come, because it’s an expense,” she says. “I do this, my husband does CrossFit, so I have to make the money count.”

CrossFit is another boutique fitness program that’s in right now. So are specialty studios, like boxing and barre.

“That’s where most of the industry growth is these days,” says Meredith Poppler, vice president of industry growth with the IHRSA. At the same time, low-cost gyms, like $10-a-month Planet Fitness, where you have basic cardio equipment and weights, are also doing well, she says.

And the big all-in-one gym that’s been around for years?

“It is getting squeezed,” Poppler says. “There are still plenty of clubs in the middle, and those clubs are doing very well. You’re just not seeing new growth in those areas.”

Sandy Todd Webster, editor-in-chief for IDEA Health and Fitness Association, says the bigger gym chains want to get in on the growth. “They’re bringing the boutique idea back to what they’re doing,” she says.

So you might see a small dedicated yoga studio in a big-box gym, with specialty lighting and top instructors. But it’ll cost you extra on top of your membership. The pricing, she says, is usually à la carte.

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