Fitness Landscape: Specialized Workouts In, Health Clubs Out

specialized workouts

photo credit: Adrian Valenzuela, Flickr

Walking into my Pilates studio these days shows the difference just a few years can make on the fitness landscape. I used to pass by a health club and that was it. Now I go by a barre studio ... and a yoga studio ... along with the health club before getting to my door. That doesn't include other specialty training centers like CrossFit™ "boxes" and group cycling-only gyms. Both also just a stone's throw from my little space. The "be all, do all" gym doesn't seem to be hacking it anymore. People are willing to pay for a quality workout from quality instructors. And there's good reason for this ... Here's a little insider industry scoop. Generally speaking, health clubs pay lower salaries than specialty spaces.  Yes, there are definitely exceptions, but generally speaking, gyms pay their employees less. A lot of these health clubs are pretty big businesses and they watch every penny. Keeping payroll lean is one of the best ways to do that. Employee turnover is built into their business plans, so at gyms, you tend to get new instructors who are looking to gain experience before moving on. Gyms hire generalists. Your Pilates instructor might also be your yoga instructor ... your group cycling instructor ... maybe even your Zumba™ instructor. And who knows what else. Group ex teachers have multiple certifications and tend to collect them like spoon collectors collect spoons. This means they're usually pretty good at what they teach, but if you don't have true passion for a particular discipline, then you're probably not an exceptional teacher for that type of movement. I love passion. I live, breathe, eat, sleep, and teach it ... and only that. That gives me an edge over someone who teaches only one mat class per week along with all of her other classes. Boutique studios can offer more attention.  A big group exercise class could have as many as 30 people. What kind of personal attention can you expect? Most boutique studios charge a bit more, but you're way more likely to get an instructor to pay attention to you. They'll know your name, they'll know your cheats, and they'll know how to challenge you. A few more dollars is well worth the difference for the workout you'll receive. Boutique studios tend to be a lot cleaner.  I only have about 120 people come through my doors every week (most of them twice a week). A gym can easily have that before lunchtime on Monday morning. The sheer volume of humans means some of them aren't going to be as neat and tidy as others. I've also noticed the local yoga studio is meticiously clean with their mats (I bring my own anyway), but the local health club? They just stack the sweaty, dirty yoga mats back into a pile at the end of class. What's growing on those things? To me, this explains why boutique fitness enterprises are flourishing and gyms are floundering.  Health clubs are expected to grow about 2.5% in membership this year, spurred on mostly by the growing concerns about obesity and health. That sounds impressive ... but by itself CrossFit™ is up 2.8% just in the first quarter of last year (the most recent numbers I could find) and likely has grown even more since then. The money is clearly shifting to specialized training versus wandering around a loud, crowded floor hunting for equipment and hoping it's not drenched in sweat. But yeah, that's me ... clearly I'm biased ... I prefer my instructors smart and my butt kicked hard. What do you think?  Have you been doing more specialty classes and less gym workouts? Are you noticing the shift too? Cheers, Lisa  

About Lisa Johnson

Lisa Johnson here. I've been a personal trainer since 1997, a Pilates instructor since 1998 and the owner of Modern Pilates since 1999. I'm hoping to give you some good ideas to get or stay in shape with a healthy dose of humor and reality. Thanks for joining me.


6 Responses to Fitness Landscape: Specialized Workouts In, Health Clubs Out

  1. Jennifer Lyons August 20, 2013 at 7:21 am #

    Love this article! I’ve noticed the same trend and it was part of my inspiration when writing the business plan for my new studio opening in downtown Boston, ProConditioning Studios, at the end of September. As an avid Pilates and Yoga enthusiast, I wanted somewhere to go to do “conditioning training” (no stationary biking or running for me!). We’ll be offering Pilates equipment, mat, yoga, and clinical massage! Please keep the good tips coming on what you like in your boutique over a gym. We want everything top notch :)

  2. Suzanne @WorkoutNirvana August 20, 2013 at 2:55 pm #

    You are right on all counts. I cut my teeth as a trainer at a big-box gym and very nearly reached complete burnout due to their focus on the bottom line. Now I’m an independent contractor at a small fitness studio that trains per appt only. Tough to be independent but will never work at a big-box gym again.

  3. Vicky August 22, 2013 at 11:11 pm #

    I want to learn to share first and foremost because with teh turnaround I am on my only trainer now and my kids.

    The more I know the more powerful I become

  4. JoAnn August 28, 2013 at 10:48 am #

    Amen! After years of struggling I have finally had weight loss success (115 lbs and counting) along with fitness and health success at a small company called The Exercise Coach. I get personal attention and training specific to me. I feel like my coach has a personal investment in me doing well. I don’t think I could ever go back to a big box gym. I’m happy to pay for exceptional quality. And yes, it is meticulously clean.

  5. Lisa Johnson September 8, 2013 at 4:45 pm #

    Suzanne, I’m glad you like what you’re doing. :)

  6. Lisa Johnson September 8, 2013 at 4:50 pm #

    JoAnn, you’re after my own heart with the clean … I’m a stickler at my studio.

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