After another exhausted and prolonged workweek, Tang Xue, a 30-something office worker who lives and works in Beijing, finally gets a chance to relax over the weekend. Getting up late, she heads to the gym for a good workout before dressing up and meeting with friends for a nice lunch. What makes things convenient is that she doesn’t have to head far at all, as she and her friends will eat at the gym’s cafeteria.

Tang’s life is typical of a growing number of young people in China, especially in first-tier cities. Different from traditional gyms that function only as a place to exercise, new multipurpose gyms that are popping up across the nation are changing the way young people work and socialize. Instead of regarding a gym as just a place for losing some weight, people like Tang treat it as a second living space and social hub where they can socialize and make friends.

More than a place to sweat

“It’s the perfect fit for my daily routine. I noticed that some of my friends have also started to arrange their ‘gym lives’ as well,” said Tang, who goes to a gym named Mode-L in Beijing at least three times a week. Apart from providing the exercise rooms and equipment found in traditional gyms, the 24-hour gym also has its own dining lounge, social space, laundry room, showers and dressing rooms among its other amenities.

For Tang, an upgraded gym is a place where she can spend her entire day. After a workout, she often arranges some social events with her friends at the dining lounge where they can snack on vegetarian diet dishes made according to the nutritional guidance provided by trainers. Driven by the good environment and quality service, she sometimes takes her laptop so she can get some work done in the gym’s cafe.

“The gym is like a social hub where you can find people with common interests in sports and, more importantly, similar life attitudes and healthy lifestyles,” Tang said.

Multifunctional gyms have been getting increasingly popular since they began to emerge in 2017. Some of them have even become well-known names online such as the Trainyard and GYM ESSENCE for their star-hotel-quality environments, entertainment venues with DJs and bars and organized social events.

“Young people’s lifestyles are changing very fast in China and what they want from a good gym is not just a place to work up a sweat, but also a place that can increase their quality of life,” said Clifford Weiner, general manager of Hotel Jen Beijing, which runs the Trainyard. He noted that a comprehensive gym works like a golf club in that it brings people with similar lifestyles together and creates a community that allows people to define themselves.

Rocky Wang, co-founder of the Essence Group that runs GYM ESSENCE, echoed Weiner’s opinion.

“It’s not just about appearance management, but also the pursuit of a better quality of life,” Wang said. He pointed out that some “Internet celebrities” have live-streamed from the gym, which helped bring in their fans, while social events held at the gym helped to build up a sense of belonging for young members.

Li Wen, founder of Mode-L, stressed that besides being a social space, “efficiency” is another key word that explains the rising popularity of “gym life” in China. Since these upgraded gyms combine different needs together, it saves their members time.

“It’s like a one-stop service and it creates a ‘third space’ [in addition to home and the workplace] where you can basically do everything, such as work or relax, which is important for young professionals in busy metropolises,” Li said.

A Fit Future

The fitness industry in China has presented a vibrant picture over the past few years. According to a 2017 report by China Renaissance, a domestic investment bank, China’s fitness market grew to an estimated 23 billion yuan ($3.6 billion) in the year 2016 and is expected to reach 54 billion yuan by the year 2020. Looking at the upgraded gym sector, both Li and Weiner noticed some interesting growth that echoes the popular concept of the “She-conomy.”

“The data surprised me in that it seems women are more willing to invest in high-quality gyms and show more initiative when it comes to pursuing quality service,” said Li, who noted that the number of female customers to his gym surpasses that of male customers by an obvious margin.

Weiner has noticed a similar trend.

“Maybe it’s because women pay more attention to their bodies and appearance,” said Weiner, adding that young Chinese professionals aged 25-40 are the most important demographic for quality or luxury gyms.

Weiner predicts that multipurpose gyms that combine various needs, including retail and medication, will be the future of gyms in big cities in China, just like the US’s Equinox brand.

Meanwhile, Wang predicted that traditional gyms will soon face difficult times as customer-oriented boutique studios and big gym clubs become major trends in the future.

“Moreover, while many gyms and clubs nowadays serve individual customers, I think there will more and more gyms that aim to serve companies as they pay growing attention to the health of their staff.”

Source: Global Times

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