The Cooper Institute

Founded in 1970 by the "Father of Aerobics"
Kenneth H. Cooper MD, MPH


Fitness Clubs Examined

Written by
Karyn Hughes, MEd
Posted in
Move more

Saturday, Jun 09, 2012

I don’t know about you, but I enjoy visiting new fitness clubs.  The new aesthetic look intrigues me and really draws me in. I find myself wondering: how did they design the floor layout for the for the cardio equipment and the area for strength training; is it clean and organized; does it have any natural light; do they have a juice/snack bar to support healthy eating and time efficiency; does the club offer specialty classes and have qualified and experienced personal trainers; what are the hours of operation and is the environment friendly and meet my preferences?

Yes, I know this is probably more than what most people wonder about but this is my passion! How about you? Do you ever find yourself wondering about some of these things when you see a new fitness club? I drove by a new club the other day and it prompted me to look into some of the recent trends in fitness clubs. This is what I found.

How many people belong to a fitness club? An estimated 45 million Americans currently have a club membership which represents 37.5% of the Global market. Total worldwide memberships are approximately120 million.  So what are we willing to pay for our fitness and health club memberships? The average monthly dues paid in the United States are approximately $60 per month, which is comparable to monthly fees charged in Europe.  The most expensive memberships are in Russia with a U.S. equivalent of $85 per month.  Emerging new markets in China, Japan, and India are considerably less expensive.

What are the demographics of club memberships? U.S. club members are 51% male and 49% female with 23% of all members being over the age of 55. Worldwide the trend is different however. For example women account for a larger percentage of memberships in U.K., France, Italy, Spain, and Russia.  In Germany however the trend is predominantly male.  Education level is a strong determinant of membership viability as well as household income. Approximately 59% of club members in the U.S. have a college degree or graduate level degree.  This is interesting if you also look at the fact that approximately 36% of these members have a household income in excess of $100,000 dollars.  An estimated 27% of club members have a household income of less than $50,000. To capture more members and appeal to those with lower household incomes smaller clubs offering 24-hour access via a security card for a lower monthly fee with still some access to programs, personal training, and other fitness/nutrition professionals are on the rise.  These are become popular because of the cost savings, which is most likely due to the smaller square footage of the club and fewer amenities. Also, these facilities are not manned the entire 24-hours of access further decreasing costs.

Why do people drop their club membership?  The research shows that members are looking for high levels of satisfaction in these areas:

  • Good social interaction/connection with exercise partners
  •  Feel comfortable with the environment/”fit in”
  • Variety and quality of programs
  • Fitness staff responsiveness
So the most common reasons for giving up a membership are if these needs are not being met.

What are clubs doing for programming?

Clubs are vying for prime real estate and your dollars.  They want to keep on top of the fitness trends with the hope that it will bring members to their facility and keep memberships high all while supporting a brand that people have confidence in from city to city and from state to state. The current trend is to create programs similar to the at-home workouts that are popular like INSANITY® and P90X®. Zumba and boot camps are also quite popular. With an increasing older membership, however, you are also starting to see programs targeted specifically for them like balance classes and functional fitness.

So are you one of the 45 million? Do you belong to a club?  If so, why do you like it?  What keeps you there? What programs do you take advantage of?

1)    Peterson, J. (2012). Wouldn’t-you-like-to-know facts about health/fitness clubs. ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal 16(3): 50.