As a personal trainer and fitness enthusiast I closely follow any changes and new developments in the industry. Sadly, for every helpful change or breakthrough there are ten times the amount of cringe inducing products or money grabbing schemes that either confuse Joe Public or empty their wallet.
But what about budget gyms? These chains have expanded rapidly over the last few years, offering the general public a chance to get into shape at rock bottom prices with their clean, state of the art facilities. With offers such “$4.99 every two weeks” it seems like a fantastic deal, but is it too good to be true? As with many things in life, the answer is “it depends”. Context is everything.
Let’s first look at the business model. Of course, as with any business the ultimate goal is to make a profit. I can respect that. As a one-man band personal trainer, I am trying to build a business. But my other goal and number one focus, is to get people results. If someone comes to me with a goal in mind I have a laser-like focus to help them achieve it. They are paying me to get them results, and because I love what I do, I get a kick out of helping them reach their destination. Yes, personal training, whether in person or online, costs a lot more than a gym membership, but it’s a win-win relationship. The client actually gets results. Isn’t that ultimately why people show up to a gym in the first place?
Assuming that to be true let us now return to the cheap gym business model. My city, Nanaimo BC, is about to see the opening of another budget gym location. It’s rumoured to be a $2 million-dollar facility. The first question that comes to mind is how do they make any money? If every new member is only charged approximately $10 a month, plus whatever fees lie in the small print, how do these big chains make a location profitable? The only explanation I can come up with is that each location needs a lot of people to sign up. But how many do they need? At these prices they need THOUSANDS of members to make a location sustainable. Now, there is no way on this earth that any of these facilities want thousands of people showing up to use the equipment. Ultimately, they know that many members will not make regular use of the facilities, but they will likely leave their membership intact. Hey, it’s only $10 a month, you’ll barely even notice it! All things considered, this business model seems to me to be unethical. A fitness franchise whose focus is not on the fitness of its members. That’s not right.
Business model aside, what about you, the customer? Can you get results at rock bottom prices? It really depends. I envisage four types of customers at the budget gym, and only one of these types will actually get the results they’re looking for. But what are the four types?
Type 1: The no-show
The no-show signs up for a monthly membership and feels good that they have a taken the first step towards achieving their goals. Maybe they show up a few times, but then life gets in the way and they stop going. The payments keep coming out and they either forget about them, or decide it’s only $10, “I’ll start going again next month”. Next month never happens. Ultimately, this type of customer gets zero benefit from their budget gym membership.
Type 2: Shows up, but lacks knowledge
This customer is a little different. They are full of enthusiasm. They are motivated! After sign up they are quick to hit the gym. With a quick circuit around the machines, a “fat-burning” elliptical session and a free slice of pizza on the way out the door, this deal seems too good to be true! It is. Without clearly defining what they want to achieve and lacking basic knowledge like how to design a training program, or how to manage their diet, they fail to see any measurable results. The type 2 customer becomes frustrated and their motivation begin to waiver. It’s not long before they morph into type 1 and no longer attend. Ultimately, it’s 2 for 2 as this type of customer also gets zero benefit from their budget gym membership.
Type 3: Shows up, has some knowledge and has modest goals
This customer is an interesting one. They have the recipe for success. They have more than motivation. They have discipline. Going to the gym is a habit. Perhaps they can write themselves a basic “progressive” training program? Maybe they understand that energy balance and calories, play a bigger role in weight loss than “detox tea”? This is a recipe for success and to top it all off their goals are reasonably modest. They just want to get in better shape and be healthy. For this type of customer, a budget gym membership may be a great deal.
Type 4: Shows up, has some knowledge and has serious goals
But there’s one final type of customer who may try their luck at the budget gym. They have everything necessary for success. In fact, they already train at a regular gym, and have done so for years. They are the serious gym trainee, with serious goals. Maybe they are an amateur athlete, a lifelong gym rat in the continuous pursuit of bigger strength numbers, or maybe they just want big biceps. They enjoy their training and are serious about it. When the budget gym opens its doors the price is just so damned tempting! They cancel their existing gym membership and sign up straight away. $10 a month. What a deal! When they actually start training at their new venue, it’s a rude awakening. What, no squat rack? A sign reads “please only add 4 plates to the leg press”. The dumbbells are not heavy enough, but they make the best of it. During a tough set of shoulder presses they accidently let out a small grunt on the final rep. An alarm goes off and a member of staff comes up and explains “that’s not the sort of thing we encourage here”. Ironically there is a large sign on the wall saying “judgement free zone”, but they could not feel more embarrassed. Realizing they are not the right sort of clientele this customer cancels their membership and goes back to a “real” gym. Oh, wait a minute it’s closed! The gym down the street has closed their doors after being in business for many years. They simply couldn’t compete with the rock bottom prices. All in all, for this type of customer, the budget gym is a disaster. They didn’t get the results they wanted, they didn’t feel welcome, and now their alternative has closed down!
In conclusion, I feel that whilst there is a very small subset of the community who benefit greatly from the rise of the super cheap gymnasium, most people lack the knowledge to make it work. As much as I dislike these types of gyms they seem to be here to stay. With that in mind, I would give two pieces of advice. If you are a serious gym trainee, stick with your local gym, or failing that buy your own equipment and train at home. If you are like a big chunk of the population, have zero knowledge and have never set foot in a gym, realize that a $10 “equipment rental” does not guarantee you results of any kind. You need an intelligently designed training program in line with your goals. You need knowledge of nutrition and lifestyle factors, how to make it all work, and how to stick to it. Right now, I charge my online clients $99/month to bridge that gap between showing up at the gym and actually making progress. For them, at least, it is worth the extra cost.
When it comes to budget gyms and getting in shape, the old adage “you get what you pay for” certainly rings true.