Global fitness trends: New York City

GSN visits New York City to experience some of the latest developments in the world of fitness

Global fitness trends: New York City
27 September 2012

The Reebok Sports Club on New York City’s Upper West Side casts a long shadow in the fitness industry.

For 18 years, this has been one of the world’s premier gyms – 140,000 square feet spread over six floors; over 8,000 members and 350 staff. As well as large numbers of cardio and weights equipment, plus all the standard classes, the gym includes an Olympic-size pool, a full-size basketball court, a running track, a climbing wall, a kids club, and an outdoor terrace (where in summer you can enjoy ‘Sunset, Spin and Sangria’ classes).

General Manager Rob Kram is justifiably proud of the slick operation that he has been running for the last three years – as far as careers in the fitness industry, this is a flagship role to have on your CV. Having begun life as a personal trainer, Kram understands what’s important to his members: ‘What sets us apart is our customer service – providing a five star service to our members.’

What does this mean in practice? Kram explained that when hiring personal trainers he would recruit the trainer with better interpersonal and customer service skills over a trainer who on paper may appear more qualified or experienced.’

Kram is also investing in the club’s facilities – the swimming pool and changing rooms have both recently been renovated – and keeping the club’s equipment up to date is also important.

Two recent purchases that Kram is particularly excited about are the Wood Way treadmills – which have slats instead of a belt so offer enhanced shock absorption; and the Espresso exercise bikes – where you can race against other riders or against your own performance from previous sessions.

This is the kind of gym I could happily move into – working out here I felt a bit like a movie star, trying out the different machines, working on my tan on the sun-deck, relaxing for a while in the cafe. Also for a premium you get access to the executive change rooms where they will also wash your gym gear for you so it’s ready for you to work out whenever the mood takes you.

From Kram’s perspective, there are two key trends that they are currently seeing at Reebok Sports Club.

Firstly there is a general shift towards higher intensity training – whether it’s ‘boot camps’, circuit classes or bar classes; extremely intense classes are the most popular. This makes sense as we are seeing a lot more research and publicity regarding the benefits of interval training generally – forcing the body to work at maximum capacity for short periods of time (with only a quick recovery period) will deliver the best results in terms of fat loss and cardio fitness.

The second key trend that Kram is conscious of (and loses most sleep over) is the growth of small, boutique fitness studios. There’s two aspects to this:

  • High-end residential apartment complexes have been upgrading their in-house gyms, and New Yorkers are increasingly utilizing these facilities to bring in freelance personal trainers – meaning that not only do they not need to leave their building to work-out, but the hourly rate for a freelance personal trainer will be significantly lower than a major gym such as the Reebok Sports Club;
  • Specialist fitness studios are offering niche classes such as boot camp workouts (such as Warrior Fitness) or spin classes (such as Flywheel) at more convenient locations (closer to home or work).

One of the market leaders in creating a boutique fitness offering with a point of difference to mainstream gyms is SoulCycle. In many ways an evolution of the traditional spin class, SoulCycle describes itself as delivering ‘a full-body indoor cycling workout’.

It’s a long time since I’ve done any sort of spin class, so I was a bit nervous rocking up to the stylish TriBeCa studio for my SoulCycle experience.

For the casual gym user or out-of-town visitor, one of the attractions of SoulCycle is it’s non-membership or ‘pay-and-play’ model. There’s no up-front membership fee and you pay per session – giving you maximum flexibility and enabling you to choose whichever session, instructor or studio that works best for you.

With its candlelit studios, there’s a slightly new-age edge to SoulCycle – marketing manager Kelsey Kyro, describes the classes as: ‘…more than a workout, it’s a community and a pack who have come together to ride, sweat and improve both their minds and bodies.’

Building on this sense of shared experience means that SoulCycle’s marketing relies heavily on word of mouth and customer experience.

You get to select which bike you want to ride on as you’re checking in for your session – I went for one near the back. Our instructor was Bethany and she totally rocked. Instructors choose their own music and design the structure of the workout – Bethany was part DJ, party instructor, part dancer and mainly a great motivator. The hand-held weights used in the workout (while still pushing the pedals on the bike) at first felt quite light but my arms and shoulders were soon burning.

User loyalty is obviously key to the pay-and-play business model. Understandably, users will follow instructors that they connect with and so SoulCycle actively build the profile of their instructors.

A bit of celebrity endorsement also helps – Lady Gaga regularly tweets about her love for SoulCycle.

Using social media platforms to proactively engage with members is another key strategy – after the class I tweeted @soulcycle to say that I’d enjoyed it. They were quick to respond, copying the instructor in and encouraging a return visit. Very slick.

Social media is also becoming important for traditional gyms also – Reebok’s Rob Kram confirmed that they’ve recently outsourced all of the social media communications in a commitment to drive member engagement and loyalty.

The fitness industry is constantly evolving and changing as operators look for new ways to attract and retain users that are increasingly sophisticated, largely time-poor and looking for the best value for money. Reebok Sports Club and SoulCycle are very different examples of two businesses that are getting it right. 



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