We already know boutique fitness is booming – and Sweat 2018 was proof that high-end fitness is here to stay.
Earlier this year, The Guardian published an article called ‘Pounds to shed: the rise of the luxury workout’. I felt conflicted about the piece on a number of levels.
Yes, in general, boutique fitness classes are more expensive. This is pretty well recognised. But the rise in boutique fitness users was attributed to the growing number of people having more ‘money and energy to burn’. This explanation is reductive. It fails to contextualise the boom of the boutique fitness sector within the wider growth of health and fitness in the UK as a whole. And this growth in turn shows that people are beginning to prioritise physical activity and make lifestyle changes to improve their health and wellbeing.
It also assumes that all consumers of boutique fitness are ‘cash-rich’. Again, I’m not denying that a larger portion of boutique studio users will be wealthier, but it’s ignoring the possibility that people from a variety of economic backgrounds are willing to invest more in their fitness as their priorities change.
On the whole, it suggests an impenetrable divide, a black and white distinction between luxury and low-cost fitness – making a consumer feel they have to choose one or the other. It’s almost as though people don’t have the option to use both. It also implies that the sectors, worlds apart, have nothing to learn from one another.
As a regular user of boutique fitness studios, I can testify as to why I personally keep going back. It’s not the straighteners, the ‘salubrious surroundings’ or the swanky shampoo (although these are admittedly great perks). It’s about feeling part of a community. It’s about seeing familiar faces and knowing the personal trainers remember your name. It’s about an open atmosphere that offers a personal workout experience.
The fantastic thing is that I’ve experienced this in a large chain gym too. One trainer in particular delivers about a million classes every week and still remembers people’s names. She still stops to ask how her group members are doing in the changing rooms. And her classes are always the most packed.
Maybe it’s not about having money to burn. Maybe it’s about feeling part of a community, one that’s built on physical activity and shared goals.
Evidence suggests that physical activity can do wonders for community cohesion. Perhaps one way towards shaping an active community would be to build communities from within: among the people who are already active in gyms, clubs, centres and studios across the UK. Because let’s face it: fostering connections with real people is the best way to promote leading an active lifestyle.