Class Wars: the fight for exclusivity in modern gym culture.

How the gym industry is fighting for exclusivity.
How the gym industry is fighting for exclusivity.

How the gym industry is fighting for exclusivity.

A lay-person  waltzing into a gym class,  has no idea of the back room  wars being waged to earn their attendance. Think the world of fitness is only about making people feel better?  think again! There is a bucket of money being made from each euphoric sweat session and some of the industry’s biggest players are getting ferocious in making sure their golden buckets stay full. But is it worth if the end result is that fitness becomes less inclusive for both staff and member? Let’s see what is at stake. History Joseph Pilates (1883- 1967) : Joe Pilates was first in line to popularize a specific method of fitness in NYC during the early 1900s through the 1960s.  After Pilates and his wife opened their studio, the Contrology method became beloved by dancers and therefore exclusive in its limited access. Once wealthy NYC socialites learned about its benefits, the exclusivity factor rose and they flocked to Pilates for help. The current recognition of the Pilates name is based not just on the effectiveness of his core-centric method but also on his efforts to  preserve his method via instructor training many years ago. Jack Lalanne (1914-2011)A fitness story cannot be told without first mentioning the “GodFather of Fitness” . Back in his heyday, Jack was one of the first proponents of good nutrition and exercise as well as one of the 1st gym owners in the mid 1930s. Although his target market was female, he was also well-respected by men in the body building sphere and so his gyms were egalitarian. It would seem that Jack was more interested in educating and helping the masses to turn their lives around through healthy lifestyle choices as he did. Lotte Berk (1913-2003)Lotte Berk was a contemporary of Lalanne’s and like Joe Pilates, developed her own dance based, core focused method of exercise that shared her name. Berk licensed her method and a Lotte Berk studio opened in NY’s Upper East Side in 1970. The studio closed its doors in 2005 after competition increased namely by CoreFusion, Berk based method and studio opened after an epic “falling out” between Berk and former Lotte Berk students, Fred DeVito and Elizabeth Halfpapp. Fast forward to present day, 11 years in the future since CoreFusion & Exhale Spas began their sprawl, and we now have over 400 different types of boutique gyms in the NY area alone.


Specific methodologies abound among cycling, interval training, dance based classes, and body/sports conditioning just to name a few! To some, this is the simple nature of fitness: an ever evolving beast built upon the imperfections of all who came before it. To others, especially those with the most dollars invested, this rise in competition is a call to batten down the hatches and protect what is theirs. This begs the question: what is “theirs” really? Doesn’t fitness belong to everyone and is it possible to harness its inherently volatile nature of change? That question becomes even more interesting when you consider that all modern fitness styles are derivative of the ones that preceded them or other modes of movement (dance). The human body does have a finite ability for movement and improvement, after all. So if you can’t control the public’s rampant need for change in fitness, their obvious need for a sense of  community or make them bionic through their workouts then what can you change? Well, you can (try to) control  access and your “people”  meaning your public and your staff…maybe. At the time of this post, SoulCycle, Equinox Gyms (SoulCycle’s owner), FlyWheel, and Barry’s Boot Camp have been the leaders in exclusivity marketing. Each cater to the same class of clients:  mostly white, well-heeled, well-connected, energetic and affluent – in short, the type that can afford and have come to expect access.  Since each offers complementary approaches to similar modalities,  it would seem that there would be room for all in the current market. Not all would agree, as the fight to retain the client and mystique of “specialness”  has heated up with this recent exchange proves. It has also become normal practice to expect reciprocal devotion from the instructors that these members are devoted to via non compete clauses.

So, is the answer to keep creating extremely specific workouts that target the fit and affluent few or to become more accessible to everyone else? Well, it depends on the end marketing goal. Community marketing by definition allows expansion and inclusion for all who see themselves reflected in said community. Built on a sense of belonging, it encourages loyalty from all included even through changes. Cults, however, are hyper-focused communities built on the premise that no one is special outside of that community and so emphasize exclusion of the “unspecial”. The danger in cult marketing is not that it happens, this is business after all and it does yield dollars. No, the real danger in cult marketing is its limitations for growth because, well,  if you continue to tell others they aren’t worthy and that you have all of the answers they will resent you.

Lastly, although client retention is the gold standard in the fitness club business so is client conversion, staff satisfaction and the rarely mentioned: word of mouth referral marketing. As such and in a predominantly service based industry like exercise delivery, public perception trumps current client perception. Why? because fitness is both aspirational and inspirational. The potential client becomes the real client based on their current socio-economic identity AND who they want to become; they want a tribe they are proud of and  can refer their loved ones to. In short: they want to belong and feel good about it. Change is inevitable especially now that pristine environments, skilled and beautiful staff, and the buzz of specialness are par for the course in fitness. Since the rate of change is becoming faster and more unpredictable it might be smarter for gyms to go back to the root of the thing, the effectiveness and feeling that fitness inspires. Aren’t those the 2 things that every member and  potential member chases?

Making people feel capable can be far more valuable in the long term than fleeting exclusivity. Love it or hate it, one brand that has done this well is CrossFit whose credo seems to be “yeah, but can you do it?”. CrossFit itself is a perfect example of an amalgamation of training with an open door policy AND cult marketing genius. There is a groundswell coming and I think it will be back to the basics of the overall fitness consumer very soon. “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did but people will never forget how you made them feel” ` Maya Angelou


  1.  “Lotte Berk in last stretch;; 2005
  2. ” SoulCycle bans fitness instructors from its classes”;; 2014

Introducing: The WOW (Workout of the Week)

Workout of the week

Are you ready to workout with me?

The days are getting longer and we’ve sprung forward! Time to put the workout pedal to metal and revive those sagging resolutions. Enter: your weekly WOW: a sequence of full body exercises that get you moving for a minimum of 10 minutes per day for health or more for weight management . 

Complete the circuit 2x for health or 4-5 for weight management; Beginner: 30 seconds of work/30 seconds of rest between exercises; Intermediate advanced: 45 secs/15 secs rest

* If you are a beginner start with 2 days per week but for best results aim to sweat at least 10 minutes a day!

W/U: jumping jacks/ jog in place/ toe taps ( 30 seconds each; 2 rounds )


  • Beginner- walk down into a push up position and back up ( no push up)
  • Intermediate/Advanced: Regular burpee ( no push up)


  • Beginner: Push up on your knees
  • Intermediate: Full style Push ups
  • Advanced: Full style push up to side planks

Belly Break:

  • Bicycle –On floor: hands behind head, nonstop bicycles for 1 minute
  • Total crunch- on floor; hands behind head, lift head and shoulders towards legs and hips and vice versa for 1 minute


  • Beginner- basic squat (knees hip width apart, toes and knees facing forward)
  • Intermediate- Squat jump (add a jump in between squats)

Side to side shuffle squat

  • Beginner: Start in basic squat position, step to one side, back together and then to other side
  • Intermediate advanced: Squat position hopping out to squat from side to side.

5 ways to stay ON the exercise wagon


Stay focused. Stay on track.

Ruh-roh. It’s the end of January and some of you are feeling it; by “it” I mean, the aches and pains of your new exercise program plus that lazy little voice telling you to give up. Wait a minute, Sparky: you’re totally normal! I’ll bet that millions of people feel exactly the way you do right now but here’s the thing: only some of you will actually see the results you placed your hopes and efforts on in this new year. The rest? well, the rest will feel that sinking feeling again a few months from now when they realize that they’re not even close to that goal. In short, they will wish they’d never stopped. So ask yourself: who do you want to be in June? The person who quit or the person who kept at it? If it is the latter then these tips can help you stay focused.

  1. Set alarms: Alarms are great reminders for everything so set them for important points throughout your day. How about programming that favorite class  and when you should eat into your calendar?
  2. Buy flattering exercise gear: Even bargain stores have cute fitness clothes now so how about upgrading to look your best? Buy a piece at a time and go work it OUT!
  3. Lay your fitness clothes out or WEAR them: I even keep my sneakers along with my cycling shoes in a bag just in case I want to hit the gym floor between classes. Being unprepared is lame excuse if you have a goal. 
  4. Join a group to SUPPLEMENT what you do: That running group should be a fun way to motivate you and improve upon your current efforts, not replace your workouts. Otherwise, you might find that you forgo your favorite activity due to bad timing (preaching to myself here)
  5. Set a goal event: This is especially true if you’re a goal oriented person. How about running a race in a few months or planning a trip to go show off your new physique? whatever it takes to keep you focused on the present effort can make a big difference  in your training plan. 

So there ya go. If you’re hanging by a thread during this resolution take heart and reach for who you want to be a few montha from now. 

Want to age well and live longer? Practice these 3 exercises


Long story short, there are only 3 real reasons why you exercise ( yes, you can add to the list): 

  1. To live longer and minimize health risks
  2. To look better to yourself
  3. To feel better in your skin

Your progress towards all three will be fairly evident but how do you know if you’re really minimizing health risks with all that jumping, sweating and stretching? Instead of launching an avalanche of advice I thought it would be more helpful if we thought about  exercise as a preventative tool. We all agree that exercise can lower blood pressure, help your heart and keep your brain lively, right?  Well, here are 3 specific fitness markers that you can work on that prove your ticker and brain will stand the test of time. 

The One Mile Walking Test

Purpose: To determine heart health over the long term.

Do it because the average pace for a  30-39 year old woman to walk a mile is in the 14:37-15:36 minute range and that a 40-49 year old woman should be able to do the same in the 15:07-16:06  range. 30-39 year old men should be able to walk a mile in 13:31-14:12  minutes while 40-49 year old men should complete theirs in the 14:01-14:42 range. Don’t worry: SparkPeople has a whole chart of all age ranges and acceptable paces. 

Practice:  Set your watch to see how long it takes you to walk a mile and then improve from there. Take weekly walks with friends and family and set a game of friendly competition. 

The 1 Minute Pushup Test

Purpose: To test your upper body endurance and muscle strength.

Do it because being strong enough to push your own body weight can come in handy in daily living. The ACSM chart below shows the numbers you should aim for. 



Practice: This could be another fun activity to do with your loved ones. Who can do more pushups? set a goal and work towards completing more push ups every 2 weeks. 



Purpose: To preserve the range of motion around your joints and help make daily movements easier. 

Do it because nothing makes you feel older than creaky, old bones and ligaments. You don’t have to be a Yogi (unless you want to) but you can prevent many injuries and lessen those feelings of physical age with flexibility training. The authors at HumanKinectics have written a great post highlighting the factors of flexibility to focus on. 

Practice: Light stretching in the morning and stretching after exercise. Caution, stretching should not hurt so be careful and start slowly. 




The Self Magazine & FitMapped FitCrawl


FitCrawl Map

My friends at FitMapped are geniuses! Why? because from July 8th-August 4th they will be teaming up with Self Magazine to showcase studio fitness to NYC residents via their 1st ever FitCrawl. Imagine a “Fashion’s Night Out” for the fitness crowd (without the booze) and you’ve pretty much got the idea; studios will be opening their doors for a reduced price to invite people to come and see what they are about. As a wellness professional and fitness nut it really excites me to see health become the focus for a day. Will you be there trying something/someplace new? 

Some of the awesome details include a sweepstakes listed on the FitMapped blog as: 

 FiTMAPPED will be sponsoring a sweepstakes where FiTCRAWL participants can enter to win awesome prizes by rating and reviewing their favorite studio(s). Stay tuned as details will be announced on July 8th.

and the Self Magazine “Songs of Summer” raffle as described below:

SELF Songs of Summer will be part of the #FiTCRAWL and you can Vote for your favorite summer jam to help CRUNCH and SELF raise money for disabled athletes.


Muscle group of the day: blast the “bra” fat!


Today we’re targeting that area that may or may not hang over the back of your bra. Underneath it lies your lats ( long muscle along your side), rear delt ( back of shoulders) and rhomboids (middle back). Bent-over rows are a great exercise for these. If you’ve been diagnosed with back trouble use the seated row machine.

please consult a physician before all exercise. These tips in no way replace a doctor’s advice.



The “mini work” workout


Stuck in an office for most of the day? Wish you could squeeze a few exercises into your day so that you could ease up after work? Well, yes, you can! Here are a few exercises you can do in the office that won’t necessarily make you look like a crazy person ( at least not more than usual)

  1. Butt squeezes: These are great because you don’t have to leave your chair. Simply  sit up straight and clench your buns together, hold for 20 seconds and release.  Repeat  2 sets of 20 repetitions.
  2. Wall sits: You should probably do this away from prying eyes. Find a flat wall and stand with your back against it with your feet hip width apart.  Slide down until you’re in a sitting position and your knees form a 90 degree angle. Hold that position for 30 seconds. Repeat 3 sets of 30 seconds.
  3. Wall push-ups; Stand approximately an arms length away from the same flat wall. Make sure your arms are extended in front of you chest width apart. Place your hands flat against the wall and lean forward so that you’re on your tip-toes. * Your body should be leaning diagonally towards the wall* Bend your elbows and lower your body, chest first, towards the wall until your chest is parallel with your elbows. Push the wall away from you and straighten your arms. Repeat 2 sets of 15 or 3 sets of 10.
  4. Leg lifts: Stand sideways while holding onto a  chair. Straighten your outer leg, flex your outer foot and lift your leg away from your body using your hip and glute muscles.* Make sure the foot of the lifting leg stays flexed and the toes point forward and NOT up towards the ceiling. The knee of the supporting leg should be slightly bent.  Repeat 2 sets of 15 reps on each leg.
  5. Tricep dips: Sit on the very edge of that same chair with your hands gripping the edges very close to your hips. Your knees and heels should be together in front of you. Lift your toes so that you’re on your heels. Slowly inch your hips off the chair so that you’re approximately 2 inches away from it and your elbows are bent behind you at a 90 degree angle. Lower yourself towards the ground and then straighten your elbows to bring yourself back up. Repeat 2 sets of 15 reps * The degree of difficulty increases the straighter your knees so so choose bent knees if you’re a beginner and straighter to straight legs if you need more intensity. Remember to stay on your heels with your toes up.