The disruption of the fitness industry
Over the past decade a number of disrupting factors have changed how the fitness industry operates; as a result, the question becomes where is the best place to exercise: a health club, fitness studio or home?
From wearables like trackers and hear-rate monitors to streaming services that brought the fitness studio experience to anywhere you can get a high-speed wifi signal, technology was already disrupting the delivery of fitness before COVID became a thing. The pandemic has caused many operators to have to create virtual solutions for their members who can not attend a workout in person.
Fitness studios existed before 2010, but the 20-teens saw a HUGE explosion in studios from Barre to indoor cycling to high intensity training to indoor rowing (really) to assisted stretching – there now seems to specific type of studio for each mode of exercise. The primary benefit of a studio is going to a place that does one type of fitness extremely well; the downside, however, that for the most part, studios only offer one type of fitness.
Residential Fitness Centers
Fitness is a way of life for many people, as a result, homeowners associations and large rental properties have started offering fully equipped fitness centers as an amenity for residents. Consumer products like treadmills or indoor bikes are designed to be used for about an hour a day so they are not engineered to take heavy use. On the other hand, commercial products for health clubs are engineered to handle hours of use per day. This has become such a large category that many equipment companies have started producing lines of equipment specifically for this market.
High Value / Low Price Health Clubs
As the result of a new “high value/low price” business model that has become popular since the mid-2000s there has been explosive growth in health clubs. The HVLP model allows consumers to pay 1 price to join a gym and use the equipment, however, there are additional fees if you want to take instructor-led group classes, use the towels or access other amenities. This model that I hope stays because it allows consumers plenty of options at different price points; one member might only pay $25/month to exercise on his or her own, while another member might pay $79/month to be able to take as many instructor-led classes as possible.
The ultimate disruption to the fitness industry occurred in the spring of 2020 as the COVID pandemic spread, governments all over the world issued mandatory closures for health clubs and studios in an effort to limit the spread of the virus. Many adapted by offering streaming workouts or moving operations outside; however those clubs that were not prepared either with technology or access to capital were forced to close. This is the market in action, the strong will survive by adapting to the new environment.
Exercise strengthens the immune system
As my article for the American Council on Exercise explains, exercise can strengthen the immune system, but high intensity exercise or too much exercise could weaken or comprise the immune system. IN MY OPINION, it is PERFECTLY SAFE to exercise in public IF it is low-to-moderate intensity AND you are wearing a mask.
Onward to the New Normal
These two things happened during 2020:
1) Many organizations realized that their employees were productive working from home which eliminated the need for expensive office space.
2) We realized that it can be possible to have a great workout while exercising at home.
How to exercise in the time of COVID
During high intensity exercise, we breathe much harder and faster so if we’re in public there is a greater chance of spreading germs, especially in an enclosed group fitness studio. This is no joke, there could be a risk of getting sick at a health club, especially in high intensity classes. Don’t believe that? Follow this link: THE CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL TRACES OUTBREAK TO FITNESS STUDIOS
Based on the available information: I go to the gym for strength workouts requiring barbells, machines or a variety of dumbbells AND wear a mask while there, BUT, I do my high-intensity workouts either outdoors or at-home.
Humans crave social interaction and while video conferencing has changed how we interact with friends, colleagues and relatives there is still an innate need to socialize in person and if there is a movement to a remote workforce, the gym or studio is where that socializing can happen.
Studio, health club or home?
However, the question remains – Which is better for YOUR specific fitness needs? Studio, health club or your house? Read on to find out…
As the video shows, health clubs can provide a wide variety of equipment – but you have to know how to use it!
Learn how to design effective strength training workouts that could help improve your fitness no matter where you exercise.
What works for you?
There is no 100% right answer, only you can determine which is best for your needs and interests. To identify the best place for your fitness experience, it’s important to consider your workout goals whether they be gaining muscle, getting stronger, shedding unwanted weight or meeting potential suitors. Other considerations include: your personality type, the amenities you want (really, who wants to carry a wet towel with them all day), and, finally, your financial status.
Price v. Value
My master’s degree is in exercise science, however, in undergrad I studied political science and economics allowing me to approach fitness from a completely different point of view – how to best allocate the finite resource of time, specifically how to make workouts as efficient and effective as possible. Like many things, you get what you pay for, if you want a clean, safe environment with the best equipment, there will be a cost. Trying to save a few bucks on a membership may seem like a good idea, but if the facility is poorly managed, you will not enjoy the experience resulting in fewer visits.
Consider these questions:
- Do you want to join a studio that offers only one format of exercise?
- Can you afford to pay the high fees for an unlimited amount of instructor-led workouts?
- Do you want to pay the initiation fee and monthly dues required to join a commercial health club?
- Does your company or health insurance offer a discount to certain clubs or subsidize exercise classes? (some health insurance companies offer discounted rates at national health clubs and some employers will have available money that can be used to help pay fees at a training studio – ask your benefits people).
- Do you enjoy the social aspect of working out around other people?
To help you make a decision, here are specific things to consider:
If you find yourself in the market for a health club keep in mind that there are many similarities between the health club and restaurant industry. Just like there are many different types of restaurants from fast food to fine dining, health clubs offer a wide variety of fitness experiences from full-service clubs with amenities such as cafes, spa services and luxury locker rooms to scaled-down health clubs that only provide the basics such as weight-lifting and cardiovascular equipment.
In some cases fast food works because you just need something convenient and quick whereas other times you are more than happy to invest the time and money in making a reservation at the nicest place in town. Here are some pros and cons of health club that could help you to identify the best one to meet your needs.
- Most health club memberships include amenities like full-service locker rooms with showers and towels so you can clean up after you workout.
- Health clubs include a wide variety of equipment such as treadmills, elliptical machines, resistance training machines and free weights so you have numerous options to meet your fitness needs. The larger health club chains have the resources (and can negotiate better pricing due to scale) to purchase the latest equipment (often a couple of times a year).
- If you enjoy group workouts consider the fact that many commercial health clubs offer a number of scheduled classes that are usually included in the cost of the monthly membership as well as
- For the most part, health clubs only hire qualified, certified personal trainers and group fitness instructors so you can be confident that you’re working with someone who has the qualifications to help you meet your needs.
- Many health clubs are now offering fee-based small group training programs which can create a studio experience with the additional resources such as a variety of equipment and locker rooms with amenities like towel services, saunas, whirlpools and snack-bars that are simply not an option at most studios.
- A number of health clubs offer memberships that can be cancelled with thirty days notice but these are more (sometimes significantly more) expensive than a membership with an annual contract. Here’s a little secret: a club can only claim the revenue for the contracts on hand, so the more year-long membership contracts the greater the revenue on the books. Therefore it’s in their best interest to have members on an annual contract since month-to-month members only provide thirty days of membership revenue. When shopping a club, wait until the end of the month – each club has to hit a monthly membership goal and at the end of month they will offer more incentives to have you join sooner rather than wait until the next month.
- Joining the right health club (often a more expensive one) can provide significant networking opportunities that can help you both professionally and personally (full disclosure: I met my ex-wife in a health club, she was one of the group fitness instructors). If you want to move up in your company or industry you may want to research where decision makers and/or thought leaders workout then join the same facility. If they see you sweating at the same time it becomes an easy way to establish a relationship outside of the workplace.
- Staff turnover can be high at health clubs so once you find a couple of instructors or a personal trainer that you like they might move on to their next employment opportunity.
- Health clubs can be extremely crowded during peak times making it difficult to access your favorite equipment. When shopping a club ask for a week pass (most companies will provide this) and go when you will normally use it so you can see how crowded it will be.
- There has been a lot of recent activity in the mergers and acquisitions of health clubs, the club you join today may be sold or purchased in the near future which can change the entire experience for the end-user.
- Because health clubs buy new equipment on a regular basis, your favorite piece could disappear without any notice.
- Due to nature of exercise, specifically sweating, and the high usage there can be a concern about cleanliness and germs.
Fitness studios provide a wide variety of exercise options that have traditionally not been offered by commercial health clubs. Studios often offer a specific type of workout led by a dynamic instructor and many allow drop-in options so you can workout without having to sign a monthly contract. Studios are a great option for those who enjoy different workouts without the commitment of paying a monthly membership fee.
If you go to a studio for a specific instructor, here’s a little secret: many instructors at high-priced studios will often teach at area health clubs so they can have a free membership. If you don’t want to pay per class for a favorite instructor – scour the group fitness schedules of area clubs to see where else he or she might be teaching FOR FREE as part of the regular group fitness program.
- Many indoor cycling, yoga or Pilates studios charge a fee per class with the option to reserve spots and pay through a mobile app making them convenient for people who live their lives through their phones.
- A majority of studios that offer a specific format of exercise like CrossFit or other forms of instructor-led circuit training workouts charge fees of $150 and up per month but this is for an unlimited amount of classes led by an instructor trained in how to deliver that specific format. While the price point might seem expensive the fact that you receive customized group workouts under the supervision of an instructor and you can attend as many workouts as you want in a month means the more you go the less you pay per visit. Considering that one-on-one coaching can cost upwards of $100/hour paying up to $250/month for coach-leg group workouts is a great deal.
- If you attend workouts at a consistent time you usually workout with the same people leading to new friendships helping you to expand your real-life social networks which can also help you stay committed to your goals.
- Some studios offer open-gym time when you can come in and use the equipment for your own workouts.
- Many studios will provide social opportunities for their customers outside of workouts by hosting education events or happy-hours.
- If you feel strongly about supporting local businesses, studios are often owned by one of your neighbors. Note that may popular studios like OrangeTheory Fitness or F45 are franchises owned by members of your community.
- Limited locker rooms with few to no amenities such as towels and many only offer changing rooms with no showers. Waiting for a shower only to get cold water can be a bummer at any time of the day, especially in the morning.
- It might seem that a health club with monthly dues of $50 and up is expensive but compare that to fitness studios that often charge rates of $20 and up per class which can get expensive rather quickly if you take a number of classes.
- It’s important to know that most studios strictly enforce a 24-hour cancellation policy so if you make a reservation and pay for a Wednesday class on a Monday but get stuck working late you are also stuck paying for a class that you can’t attend.
- Space can be limited, if you love that yoga instructor the chances are that other people do too meaning that the class you’re paying a premium price for is extremely crowded which can detract from the experience.
Exercise at Home
Exercising at home has always been an option, but the COVID pandemic MADE it a requirement for fitness junkies resulting in a shortage of equipment available for the consumer market. Here’s some insight: China shut down first, if equipment wasn’t on a shipping container in early 2020, it wasn’t shipped until late spring/early summer which led to the shortages. During the forced closures, many health clubs and studios entered the at-home market by offering online workouts in order to retain their members and generate cash flow creating a whole new category: facilities that allow members to exercise with a live instructor or through a virtual platform.
The challenge with exercising at home is that one is there to provide instruction on HOW to exercise which is why I wrote Smarter Workouts – The Science of Exercise Made Simple
- Convenience, no commute or search for parking.
- Perfect for self-motivated people who enjoy the solitude of exercising alone.
- While sharing is caring, there is no need to share or wait for equipment to be available.
- No risk of being exposed to someone else’s germs.
- A number of streaming services offer instructor-led workouts that attempt to recreate the studio experience from the comfort and safety of home
- Solo, no chance to interact with others.
- Can become boring with no one to socialize with.
- Distraction from family, pets or nosy neighbors.
- Requires an investment in equipment, streaming service or both.
How to decide
There is no right way to decide, each option provides a number of advantages, only you can determine which best suits your needs. If you are highly motivated, you may choose to exercise at home but still keep a membership to a HVLP health club for days you crave social interaction. If you enjoy a particular mode of exercise, like indoor cycling, you may pay drop-in rates at a studio when you want the live experience but do most of your workouts at home on your Peloton. If you join a health club, you may continue to use a streaming service like Apple Fitness+ for those days when your schedule does not allow you to make it to the gym.
This online course will teach you what you need to know for how to design great workouts no matter where you are: health club, studio or home. Fitness professionals, personal trainers and group fitness instructors can earn continuing education credits, CECs, from ACE – 0.4, AFAA – 5 or NASM – 0.5
Originally written in 2019, updated in 2021