Big Box Gyms in Good Shape to Take on Smaller Competition

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By Dorene Internicola

NEW YORK -- Cut-rate clubs and small studios catering to niche tastes from barre classes to yoga have crowded the U.S. fitness landscape, but big box gyms that can keep up with rapidly changing trends may be in a better position to flex their muscles in the future.

A brightening economy, public health initiatives and fitness-conscious consumers boosted U.S. gym memberships to 54.1 million in 2014 from an estimated 40.3 million in 2009, according to the market research company IBIS World.

The report predicts the industry, which generated $26.5 billion in sales in the United States last year, revenue is projected to grow 2.8 percent annually over the next five years.

%VIRTUAL-pullquote-The industry has certainly grown. We have more members now and there's certainly more competition than ever before.%"The industry has certainly grown," said Jeff Bodnar, vice president of operations at New York Health and Racquet Club. "We have more members now and there's certainly more competition than ever before."

Fitness boutiques, small studios that specialize in one or two activities such as spinning or yoga, capture 21 percent of the U.S. market, the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association reported in 2014.

Bodnar said all-purpose gyms are always adapting to members' changing tastes and needs by introducing boutique-like group fitness classes, such as barre and indoor cycling, and adding trendy "functional" fitness tools like monkey bars, TRX resistance bands and medicine balls.

"We're replacing selectorized equipment -- weight machines where the placement of a pin determines resistance -- with loaded movement that simulates what you do in everyday life," he said.

Shawn Perine, editor in chief of Muscle & Fitness magazine, said Gold's Gym, a 50-year-old chain with 700 locations in 38 states and 23 countries, is reconfiguring many of its gyms to incorporate the bands, cables and ropes of the breakout trend CrossFit, an ever-changing, demanding, back-to-basics regimen.

"Training styles have become more sophisticated," Perine explained. "In [the] '60s, '70s it was all just theory. Now we do studies in labs."

The bigger gyms, he added, are in a position to deal with the changing trends.

IBIS said the market share of smaller-budget, low-amenity gyms such as Planet Fitness, with membership fees as low as $10 to $19 dollars a month, are also expanding.
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