China is no stranger to fitness. In fact it has a long history of traditional exercises used to increase health and vitality. Some of these exercises evolved into military art forms known as wushu (武术) or what we in the “west” call Kung Fu (功夫). The most famous Kung Fu proponent is of course Bruce Lee pictured below circa 1972.
If you visit China you’ll see parks, squares, street corners and apartment courtyards filled in the mornings and early evenings with people partaking in all manors of exercise such as dancing, pingpong, tai chi, badminton as well as kicking around a feathered shuttlecock known as “jianzi”, which is similar to playing with a hacky sack. Also many apartment complexes come equipped with outdoor exercise machines. For those of you that have never visited China, I feel some visuals are in order…Enjoy.
As you can see, Chinese thoroughly enjoy making exercise an outdoor social event. However, the above referenced healthy endeavors are falling out of favor with China’s younger middle class. Over the last ten years, younger Chinese especially those dwelling in the larger cities of Beijing and Shanghai are more apt to engage in more traditional “western” types of exercises like aerobics, bodybuilding, pilates, cross-fit, spinning classes, boxing and mixed martial arts classes etc.
In the late 90’s and early 2000’s, China saw a surge of gyms popping up in both Beijing and Shanghai. Competition was fierce and by 2008, some chains closed and/or reduced the number of gyms they had.
This chaotic period for the chain gyms helped to spawn private fitness studios catering to a specific and core group of clients. Those with expendable income found these studios answered their fitness needs with person attention, custom workout plans and uncrowded workout areas.
The next logical step in the development phase was the expansion of the “home gym”. For China, the home gym makes a lot of sense in some ways and not so much in others.
On the pro side, having equipment in your home such as a treadmill is a great alternative to jogging outside. China’s pollution is an issue, so running at home with an air filtration machine is certainly better for the lungs. Also running outside can be dangerous with all the traffic, open manholes, uneven pavement, random objects sticking out of the ground and those silent killers “the electric bikes”.
On the con side, people lose the social aspect while exercising alone at home. Furthermore and more of a problem is space. Most Chinese in the cities live in apartments, which on average are less than 1500 square feet. With no garage or basement there’s not a lot of extra room to install equipment.
With so many people now exercising in China, sports nutrition should be a booming business. Unfortunately like the rest of the health product industry it too is not realizing its true potential. Sales are happening and the industry is growing, but it should be much larger than it is.
Many foreign brands can now be found in China, which is great. However, many of them arrive in China through various unscrupulous methods. Smuggling, counterfeiting and mis-management continue to plague the development of China’s sports nutrition industry.
The industry has huge potential and I for one hope two things happen. First, the government reforms its regulations for dietary supplements which will help brands enter the market through more legitimate means. And two, the management of the brands becomes more professional, so that distributors will be able to spread education and increase accessibility at gyms and other brick and mortars.
I’d love to hear your thoughts and/or experiences with China’s sports nutrition industry, so be sure to comment.
To add some more insight to the discussion above, CCTV’s English station just posted a video about the fitness industry. Click below to watch: