From barre3 to SoulCycle, boutique fitness studios now make up more than 20 percent of the U.S. health club market. Despite high price tags, these specialty studios give big box gyms some healthy competition, in part because they promise more than just a good workout; attending them is an experience or, for some, an all-out lifestyle.
Experience or not, regularly attending $20 to 35 studio classes costs more than most gym memberships, which average $40 to 50 a month and offer unlimited access. Even at a meager two classes a week, you’d be spending an easy $160 a month, and many find themselves spending quite a bit more. Then there’s the problem of variety. You can change the resistance and speed of a stationary bike all you want, but it will always be a leg-powered workout with minimal strength training. Yoga is a powerful tool to improve functional muscle strength but will never truly be a cardio activity. Both provide phenomenal workouts, but there’s only so much innovation you can build into them individually. Not only does mixing up your workout routine make sense to avoid a fitness rut, but it’s also crucial for it to be effective. Our bodies adapt to repetitive movements, and without a shake-up here and there, the same workout can actually burn fewer calories two months in than it did that first session. We have to challenge our bodies if we want to get the most out of our exercises. I worry, too, that there might be a dark side to the sense of community bred by these niche studios. When do we cross the line from social fitness phenomenon into a cult-like preoccupation of “fitting in” and keeping up with The Joneses? This almost tongue-in-cheek, but all-too-resonant article from Racked brings up some legitimate concerns about the culture of some of these studios.
That being said, I have been attending classes at a boutique SurfSET studio since December, and there is none of that competitive, brings-you-back-to-the-high-school-lunchroom obsession with status and appearances discussed in the article above. The workout itself really hooked me, but it’s absolutely the environment that keeps me coming back. I’m now friends with the instructor. I see the same people every week in my classes. We laugh together, we sweat together, and no matter how brutal the session is (it’s usually pretty brutal), I have a great time. I also get more individualized attention. It’s almost like having a personal trainer, only I share him with a small group and pay much less. I don’t get lost in the shuffle of a large class or disappear in a sea of weightlifters. The instructor is always there to adjust my form, tell me to push harder, and modify the routine to best suit my goals and abilities. Even if the higher cost of these classes seems more justifiable when compared with the services of a personal trainer as opposed to the offerings of a big box gym, it’s still an expense that some may not be able to afford. If that’s the case, there are other options. Companies like Fit Reserve and ClassPass pull together many of the top boutique studios under one convenient monthly fee. You get unlimited monthly access to your favorite studios but for a fraction of the cost. They also help you explore new studios and workouts, which all but eliminates the concern of getting stuck doing the same workout over and over again. Perhaps that is, ultimately, the greatest draw of these boutiques. Fitness can be fickle; or rather, a person’s preferences for physical activity can be. There is no such thing as One Perfect Workout for everyone (or even one person!), and the more boutique studios that crop up, the more we can all explore new modes of fitness to find what works for us as individuals and what doesn’t. Having the freedom to try out a spin class one day and a barre class the next can help you find your own niche in the broad expanse of fitness options and actually get excited about your next class.
BOTTOM LINE: FIT!
Studio classes don’t have to be an all-or-nothing activity, and in fact I wouldn’t even recommend it as the ideal. I’ve found that taking a class or two a week, in addition to at-home routines and the occasional warm-weather run or tennis match, offers good variety without costing me an arm and a leg. Take a class if you’re feeling in a fitness rut with your current routine. Sign up for one with your best friends as a healthier alternative to getting drinks at the end of the week. Really, with so many types of studios out there, the question isn’t should you try them out, but which will you choose first?