Join the Club: Boutique Fitness Trending Up in New York City

Join the Club: Boutique Fitness Trending Up in New York City

Among fitness fanatics in New York City, long gone are the days when everyone was either a “runner” or a “gym rat.” Now there are CrossFit junkies, SoulCycle converts, Row House addicts, Yoga lovers, and Zumba enthusiasts burning calories all across New York City.  “What is the new, different way to work out? That’s the name of the game here in New York. It’s all about redefining the wheel,” says Heidi Jones, general manager and coach at BRICK in Chelsea.

With innovative workouts popping up all over the city, Jones believes a fresh presentation is often more appealing than the actual workout dynamic. “Nothing is new, it’s just the repackaging of it. And New Yorkers eat it up,” she said.

There might be nothing new, but for New Yorkers, that doesn’t stop them from branching out and sampling the abundance of options. “I think people aren’t just sticking to one thing like they used to,” says Velma Maynard-Jacobs, head of personal training at New York Health and Racquet Club in Cooper Square. “There were class people, there were gym floor people and there were cardio people. Now, they are starting to dip and dab.”

New York City ranks third in the country for average monthly spending on gym membership at just over $130 a month. Most other major cities, including Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Washington DC, Atlanta and Miami, average less than $90.

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On average, New Yorkers spend $130 each month on gym membership

With spending so high, boutique gyms must pitch their workout as new and different. At the end of the day, how much physical innovation is really taking place? “Honestly it’s squats, push, press, pull and lunges. It’s not that hard, but you’re always looking for ways to make it exciting for people,” says personal trainer Shayne Staley. “A lot of these things are basic workouts just jazzed up to make it cool.”

For the past decade, Staley has taught spin, dance, total body, abs, and yoga classes, as well as 1-on-1 training at the New York Sports Club off 62nd and Broadway. “New Yorkers expect the best of everything,” she said. “They want to be stimulated all the time, and so I think the classes have just gotten extreme. You go to SoulCycle and they have lights and candles and images in the back. It’s now just a full experience.”

The morphing landscape and picky gym goers are impacting traditional stand-alone gyms, forcing them to step up their game. “They’re just trying to keep up with the trends. I know they are feeling the heat from it too, there’s just so much competition out there,” Staley says. Recently, all New York Sports Clubs added an area with green turf, kettle bells, battle ropes, weight sleds, and TRX (Total Body Resistance Exercise) machines.

Traditional gyms are more than “feeling the heat,” according to Maynard-Jacobs. “They’re going to die out because having a 10 dollar a month membership just isn’t going to work. You’ve got to be able to offer more,” she said.

Yet Maynard-Jacobs believes in adapting, rather than overreacting to the popularity of boutique fitness movements, such as CrossFit. “I think you have to be versatile. I don’t think you can be a stand-alone just machine gym and I don’t think you can just be CrossFit, because right now CrossFit is a trend,” she said. Boutique gyms may be popular now, but Maynard-Jacobs suggests that won’t last forever.

As an example of a passing fad, the rock wall at the Health and Racquet club came down to create open space for high intensity workouts, similar to the areas in New York Sports Clubs. In addition to kettle bells and TRX machines, they’ve added plyometric boxes, resistance cables, and jump ropes as members shift from machines to whole body workouts. Maynard-Jacobs says more customers prefer small apparatus work and high intensity training now, rather than the traditional “big clunky machines” so often associated with open gyms.

For the non-committal, indecisive dabbler the answer is ClassPass. With several hundred participating gyms, ClassPass offers members thousands of group fitness classes every day. The membership allows for unlimited classes at $125 a month, with a cap of three visits each month to an individual studio. Since it’s a month-to-month commitment, ClassPass can be used to find a new favorite workout as well as limitless variety.

Physical activity can help contribute to overall wellbeing, so finding an enjoyable workout is important in sustaining exercise, according to Dr. Laura Blitzer. An Associate Professor of Kinesiology at Brooklyn College, Blitzer has studied links between physical and emotional health. She points out that many boutique fitness workouts are often more concentrated and allow for precise targeting of muscles and body parts, which appeals to those with limited time. “The niche markets appeal greatly to the overscheduled among us who are driven in most layers of life; they find themselves working a lot, needing to book time to do just about everything,” she said.

Blitzer believes expert marketing has played a significant part in the success of boutique workouts. “Lures that include promises of really good results without extra-human effort will always have a market,” she says. “Whether that population sticks with the plan is another story.”

About author

Zac Howard
Zac Howard 5 posts

Zac Howard is a FSU alum and NYU grad student. He loves classic lit, the Miami Dolphins, and Kristen Stewart. For more of his writing, visit his website

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