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Pounds to Shed: The Rise of Luxury Workouts | Access to expertise


There’s one new year’s resolution that always seems to be at the top of the list: get fit. New exercise equipment is purchased, fitness regimens are developed, and diets (however temporary) are started. But while people tend to sign up for larger gym chains at this time of year, more and more are now opting for more upscale workouts.

Boutique studios, such as iconic cycling chains SoulCycle in the US and Psycle in London, are becoming increasingly popular. Smaller than regular gyms, they often specialize in one type of exercise and allow you to work out in a more wholesome environment. What makes these gyms unique is their cost: while the big chains can cost between £50 and £100 a month for unlimited access, studios can charge as little as £20 per workout.

with one in seven people in the UK now a gym member, it’s a boom time for the private health and fitness club market, which has been rated was worth £3.1bn last year and is expected to grow to £3.9bn by 2022, according to Mintel.

While the low-cost market – led by PureGym, which offers membership for £14.99 a month – flourishingthe past few years have also seen the rise of boutique gyms targeting a more affluent clientele.

Frame was one of the first boutique fitness studios when it opened in Shoreditch in 2009. “The decision to open Frame was made because we couldn’t find a place to work that was fun, had a strong sense of community and offered something a little different from the norm,” says Frame co-founder Pip Black. Since then, Frame has expanded to four studios in London, with plans to open two more in the city this year.

One of the key advantages of these studios is the calculated approach. While most major chains offer annual memberships, many boutique gyms offer pay-as-you-go classes or bundles of classes at a lower price for clients who don’t want a long-term commitment.

“People want flexibility without having to have a gym membership,” says Sophie Bickerdyke, founder of Harrogate’s Go Yoga and Go Revolution cycling studio. “By offering a variety of classes at different times, people have the option of switching to the class that suits them for a particular week. With a gym membership, there’s always an excuse to go tomorrow, whereas if you’ve paid and booked a class, you’re much more likely to come and therefore see results.”

According to Black, boutique gyms have something else that big chains don’t: community. “Our members are known as ‘Framers’ and they identify incredibly well with our brand values,” she says. “The variety of class genres we offer at the expert level is also something we really pride ourselves on … One day you might want to do two classes back to back and the next you might want to curl up in a ball doing yin yoga.”

Trib3 Studios in Leeds. Photo: Joey O’Connell

“Boutique studios offer an experience that feels more personal and creates a sense of community,” says Mintel analyst Simon Moriarty. “The cost can be prohibitive, but the growth in this segment suggests that it is not a major obstacle for many people who believe that the value of a new type of exercise in the gym is worth it.”

Kevin Yates, former COO of London studio 1Rebel, set up a HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) bootcamp called Trib3 in Sheffield after returning to his home city in 2016. Replicating the model – which often has a hefty price tag – outside of London has been a challenge.

“It was not an easy trip,” he admits. “When we opened and charged £10 a workout, people were like, ‘Why should I pay more than I pay for PureGym?’ He says it took months for people to stir. The company has since expanded into Meadowhall in Sheffield and Leeds and launched a franchise model, with Trib3 gyms already open in Moscow and plans to launch in Spain and Finland.

With the rise of high-end competition, are studio owners starting to feel the pressure? “As competition increases, the quality of studios and classes must increase to succeed, and that can only be a good thing as far as we’re concerned,” says Black. “We have been first to market with many concepts over the years and pride ourselves on pushing the boundaries. Healthy competition won’t hurt anyone.”

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