Fitness trends in Athens, GA, reflect strong want for community
By Eleanor Stubley
Ruby Chandler sits on a bench outside and greets individuals as they arrive, calling each by his or her name. It’s as if they’re meeting Chandler for drinks downtown, but they’re actually there for her “Hip Hop Flow” class she teaches every Wednesday at 7:15 p.m.
Chandler, the owner of Shakti Power Yoga, opened the studio, or what she calls, an “intimate and friendly yoga community,” in 2017. Located on Prince Avenue in Athens, Georgia, Shakti is just one of the many single-exercise and boutique fitness studios in Athens.
Other popular boutique fitness studios in the community include Creed Fitness and nationally-known studios Pure Barre and OrangeTheory Fitness, both of which grew by 70% between 2012 and 2015.
The fitness studio industry is the fastest growing segment of the fitness industry, according to a 2015 fitness industry fact sheet published by the Association of Fitness Studios. Increasingly, people are choosing to pay significantly more for boutique studio memberships rather than go with the cheaper options offered by most traditional gyms.
In 2014, 54 million Americans claimed membership to a health club, and 42 percent of those were attending boutique fitness studios. This statistic speaks to changing desires among consumers who are seeking specialized, engaged and community-centered approaches to fitness.
“Looking at fitness as more of a lifestyle and as a community endeavor has become the leading trend, as opposed to fitness for the sake of fitness,” Chandler says.
More people prefer to engage in group fitness activities facilitated by an instructor than in individual exercises to do on their own. Clint Watson, owner of Creed Fitness in Athens, GA, says the “Globo Gym mentality” that many traditional gyms have has significantly contributed to this shift.
“Most of the time these gyms will sell hundreds and even thousands of memberships a year, but they don’t even have enough parking,” Watson says. “So, really, they’re counting on people to sign up for these annual memberships but to not actually come.”
Traditional gyms often provide vastly bigger spaces and offer a wider variety of equipment to accommodate larger groups of people with different fitness preferences. Due to the influx of members coming in at one time, however, many of those gyms fail to make personal connections with their members. In contrast, boutique studios like those in Athens are significantly smaller, typically holding no more than 30 to 35 clients at a time. This creates an intimate environment that, unlike that of a traditional gym, fosters face-to-face interactions and instructor-client relationships.
“It’s just a much more personal approach,” Watson says. “When a member comes into [Creed Fitness], I’m going to say, ‘Hey, so-and-so! How are you? How are you feeling today? Are you ready to crush this workout?’ Then when you go to a Globo Gym, you go in with your key card and you swipe it.”
In a report by the American College of Sports Medicine, group training was found to be the second-most popular trend in the fitness industry. The report states that group programs, such as those offered by Shakti, OrangeTheory and Pure Barre, are designed to be effective sessions for different fitness levels and are motivational with instructors having leadership techniques that help individuals in their classes achieve fitness goals.
While boutique fitness studios do focus on the individual, the ways they incorporate group activity into exercises is something that appeals to many individuals looking to fulfill their fitness goals. “It’s because misery truly does love company,” says Watson.
“People love community,” says Shakti Power Yoga instructor Maggie Scruggs. “Coming to a class and really feeling like there’s a beginning, a middle and an end, solidifies a workout, and that’s part of the reason people show up to Shakti and [other studios], to feel some kind of fulfillment.”
People show up to boutique fitness studios to feel a sense of accountability, too. Boutique fitness memberships cost significantly more than traditional gyms, so this often motivates individuals to attend classes. However, perhaps a more significant motivating factor than the cost is the community. Boutique studios lend to more face-to-face interactions and personal relationships, and when there are other people you know, and who know you, doing the same workout, “you don’t want to slack off,” Pure Barre instructor Kaitlyn Nunnelly says.
“[Boutique studios] are places where you meet people,” says Chandler. “I think that’s a huge motivating factor in a healthy lifestyle, that unspoken accountability. It’s like ‘These people are showing up, and I’m showing up. So, that means it matters when I’m not here.’ It’s just not something you get at a huge gym.”
Pure Barre, Shakti and OrangeTheory keep clients engaged with the variety of classes each offers throughout the day and on various days of the week.
Shakti’s classes, some which focus on body while others focus on mind and spirit, include Prana Power Hour, iRest, Shakti Strength and Restorative.
Pure Barre’s classes give clients “the best total body barre workout.” Classes range from high-intensity to low-intensity, and they also include total body workouts.
“One big thing that appeals to OTF clients is that the workouts are constantly changing from day-to-day,” says OrangeTheory trainer Thomas Carroll. “We’re open 364 days a year, and every single day features a new workout.”
Boutique studios also engage with clients outside of workouts. Many studios host events outside the studio and in the community. Shakti, for example, recently held a class at Creature Comforts and participants grabbed a beer after they were done with their workout. “It’s like, ‘Why not spend my Sunday afternoon doing that,’” says Scruggs.
“I just think you kind of start to build…a different section of your lifestyle,” Scruggs says. “Then it may become less about working out and more about the whole experience of it. I think studios [in Athens] are really great about having really fun and creative events.”
“I think as far as the health side of things and lifestyle, we’ve also trended in the last five to 10 years to a more holistic view of health and what that means,” Chandler says.
Boutique fitness studios offer members an element of community both inside and outside of their workouts, a key factor that most traditional gyms fail to provide. The shift from traditional gyms to single-exercise studios can be heavily attributed to consumers’ demands for fitness that fosters community between like-minded individuals with similar goals. By forming personal relationships with others through exercise, people feel more motivation and accountability to complete their workouts.