The global gym industry is a $96.7 billion market

LA Fitness, Gold’s Gym, Planet Fitness (cue the lunk alarm!), Anytime Fitness and hundreds more gym brands generate $96.7 billion in revenues each year. Source: Statista

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Murray Hinton
March 20, 2022 11:17 am

Fitness as a pastime is incredibly popular. This could in part be attributed to the rise of the fitness influencer, encouraging a generation of young people to seek an aesthetic physique. In 2009 the market was ‘only’ $67 billion. As popular as gyms are, I am noticing a trend that’s shifting away from the pursuit of health and fitness within gyms.

Calisthenics is a prime example. It’s popularity is booming. THENX for example is a YouTube channel with over 7 million subscribers. Calisthenicmovement is another with almost 4 million subscribers. Maybe the pandemic facilitated this shift in popularity away from the gym as people looked for ways to workout without gym equipment. But as someone who has been working out in gyms for many years (probably before some of you were even born), I have seen the shift brewing even before 2020.

Around the mid-late 2000s the compound movements were the unassailable trinity of working out. If you didn’t squat, bench or deadlift, you were considered weak. Others actively encouraged you to get dizzy and see stars when you squatted. A leg day wasn’t a leg day if you could walk properly afterwards. There was an extreme mentality to it all.

Now the compound movements, while certainly beneficial, aren’t regarded as necessary by any means. If you are a powerlifter, the argument goes, then sure, go ahead and train the squat, bench and deadlift. Those movements are what a powerlifter is judged on. If you’re not a powerlifter, you don’t need to do any of those movements. In fact quite a lot of people argue that the risk-to-reward ratio of the deadlift is simply not worth it. More people are saying the deadlift isn’t good for hypertrophy, when 15 years ago it was an essential movement for muscle growth.

Another idea back then was the necessity of training to failure. If you didn’t train to failure, you were wasting your time in the gym. You weren’t stressing your muscles enough to make them grow. Now failure training is considered counter-productive. We are encouraged to train hard, but not to failure. We should keep some reps in reserve (RIR) so we can go hard in subsequent sets and we can recover better.

So things are changing. Gyms are still very popular. However I think we will see more movements that encourage health and fitness outside of a gym environment. Running, team sports, Tough Mudder obstacle-style courses and many more. Calisthenics also has a bit of a showboating side to it. Lifting a heavy weight off the floor in a gym is impressive. A planche, iron cross and handstand will get many more eyes on you.

March 22, 2022 3:20 pm

I agree with some of the responses about gym turn-offs. In some ways gyms can be a great place where a supportive community helps you achieve your fitness goals. Small gyms would probably be better at achieving this community element because patrons have more chances to recognize and get to know each other.

Most people I know are getting disenchanted with commercial gyms. The conversations about them are regularly one-sided. If I had enough space or money, I would set up a home gym. Waiting times for machines can be a real hassle. Or waiting for a free squat rack when there are only 1 or 2 in the entire premises despite having rows and rows of cardio machines. Most infuriating as alluded to are people taking up space in squat racks doing exercises they could do anywhere else. Curling in the squat rack should be a crime!

Lots of gyms don’t have member caps, which means they get extremely crowded at times. It’s impossible to have a proper workout when pretty much all the equipment is taken. These gyms seem to prioritize profits over customer experience. I guess a lot of members is great for revenue. Not so good for someone wanting to get a workout in after work.

Gym etiquette can get the blood boiling too. I’ve been to gyms where there are signs on the walls castigating people for not putting the weights back when they are done. But then I see personal trainers who work at the gym doing the opposite. At least set an example for customers to follow!

What about gym norms? I have no problem with people who slam weights down when they’re lifting heavy weights. You try deadlifting 500 lbs and controlling the weight on the descent – good luck with that. Not everyone appreciates that. It’s a gym, not a library. But I still take issue with people who unrack weights and drop them to the floor. Now you’re just trying to look tough.

The funniest exchange I saw a while ago were 2 people arguing because one guy wanted to work out without his shirt on. I still laugh when I think about it.

-You can’t workout like that. Put a shirt on!
-I work out how I want. Get away from me!

And what about recording. How sad is it that people try to record other people in the gym if they are doing something stupid? Gotta get those likes and shares, right? Think about the first time you joined a gym. It was probably an intimidating moment. How would you like it if someone recorded you and posted it up for all to see? No wonder some people want to get as far away as possible from commercial gyms.

March 19, 2022 5:47 pm

I, for one, applaud the size of the gym industry and its growth. Sure, there’s a lot to be pessimistic about. Ever bought a supplement at a gym? Might as well throw your cash out the window, son. They don’t work. Gyms know that. Manufacturers know that. But who cares, right? You did a tough workout, reading your newspaper on the Stairmaster, and you need to have your pro-isotonic, fast-acting, hydrolized, micronized, proprietary blend that’ll pack on 10 pounds of muscle in a week! Congratulations! You just paid 10 bucks for a bunch of useless chemicals mixed together. Good thing you had it within your 3 minute, post-workout anabolic window otherwise you’d have lost all your gains.

But I digress. Growth of gyms are a good thing. People are getting fitter and that’s a heck of a lot better than gaming for 10 hours straight stuffing donuts down your gullet. I have a theory, though. Hear me out. Gym entrances have a scanner. These scanners download your brain data, rendering you completely devoid of common sense in the gym. Why oh WHY are people so thick in the gym? No I don’t mean muscularly thick. I mean damn stupid. What is it about gyms that make you lose all, not just a bit, but ALL of your common sense?

Scenario. I grab a bench to do some dumbbell presses. Easy to see, right? There I am, sitting on the bench, dumbbells by my side, ready to be picked up and pressed. Wait a minute? What’s just happened? Some doofus has decided to pick up some dumbbells and do bicep curls RIGHT NEXT to me. Like, do you even lift brah? Or better yet, do you even have a clue? How in God’s green highly polluted Earth am I supposed to do my dumbbell presses if you’ve parked yourself RIGHT NEXT to me?

It’s not rocket science, is it? You could slide a few steps over and there’d be space for both of us. You could do that. But you won’t. You know why? Because you have no brain cells. Correct. The gym entrance scanner downloaded them when you waltzed in and now the gym is profiting by selling the data to Facebook, Meta, Zuckstagram or whatever they call themselves nowadays.

This isn’t the first time. This isn’t a one off. Yes, my dear friends. This has happened before. I’m quite frankly amazed at the LACK of common sense in gyms. Don’t be that guy. Don’t be that girl. In fact, just DON’T. Give some space. If someone’s sitting on a bench, guess what? They’re probably using it. That’s right, Einstein. So give the person some space, stop panting like you completed a marathon and do your curls somewhere else.

No, not in the squat rack…