As early as 5 years ago, there were a surprisingly small number of boutique fitness studio concepts outside of Los Angeles. Yoga and Pilates studios had penetration but there were almost no other specialized, dedicated studios in many markets. Today, top boutique fitness studios are everywhere. A drive down any main street sees a vastly different scene. Here is an overview of some fitness studio concepts that have “blown up”.
A staple in health clubs for 20+ years, CycleBar, Soul Cycle, FlyWheel and others have seen dramatic growth. 10 years ago, only a few dozen cycling studios existed; they were primarily in LA and a few other urban spots. Today they have spread to virtually every state, big and small cities as well as suburbs. There has also been dramatic international growth.
Bootcamps & HIIT (high intensity interval training)
Years ago in Southern California and elsewhere, you could find groups meeting at a park or on the beach being led through a variety of cardio and strength drills by, you guessed it, a ‘drill sergeant’ type coach. Those still exist but the idea morphed into more formalized programs conducted at studios. Often a treadmill is combined with weight training, increasingly there is performance metrics (heart rate or power) associated. Classic examples are Shred415, Orange Theory, CrossFit and Barry’s Bootcamp.
Rowing on water has long been known as a tremendous cardio workout, and indoor concepts have sprouted up quickly in the past few years. There are relatively few (compared to yoga, barre, or cycling) studios around the country, some of the early successful ones have been in the New York area: GoRow, CityRow, Row House, EngineRm, Current, East End Row, and others. Row House has recently announced a franchise initiative so you will likely begin to see the concept spreading outside the urban cores. Row House has established locations in New York City at Columbus Circle and in Chelsea.
This is the granddaddy of boutique fitness and in some ways foreshadows where popular group exercise concepts are likely to evolve. There are more and more ‘flavors’ of Yoga, and a variety of different approaches targeting different demographics. You no longer say you just do Yoga without some explanation of the type or style. Low cost of entry has spawned a strong independent presence, as well as multi-unit franchises and private operators.
Like Yoga, you cannot mention this venerable long time fitness philosophy without more details on what flavor and what style. Reformers were once ‘one on one’ devices but now medium to large size groups work on them under the guidance of a coach. Not all reformer-based workouts even use the word Pilates, but a number have built cult followings. Club Pilates is one example of a concept that offers reformer-based, dynamic classes to multiple levels — and has experienced success in literally hundreds of locations.
A relative newcomer, the ballet barre workout class idea has exploded into virtually every major market and there are a strong group of franchise options. Almost exclusively female, barre classes tout a low-impact, full-body workout. Barre classes are often combined with cardio-focussed classes that may or may not take place at the same facility.
Yes, there are still gritty boxing gyms like the one you saw in “Rocky”, but the conditioning and drills used by boxers have now made it into mainstream fitness. There are several major boxing franchise companies with locations in virtually every major city, as well as a variety of independents that use specialized equipment and programs to create unique workouts.
The most successful boutique fitness concepts have historically tended to focus on one thing: cycling, yoga, barre, boxing, etc. Some studio owners are combining complementary workouts (ex. Yoga and Cycling). Frankly, the jury is out, but there are many examples of studios providing multiple offerings in an attempt broaden their appeal. If you take any of the workouts noted above and combine them in one facility, you have a hybrid or ‘mashup’ model for fitness studios.
Specialty & Sports Specific
Some boutique fitness studios focus heavily on a particular piece of equipment that forms the foundation of the classes. TRX, and Kettlebell are examples. Others are sports specific such as rowing, climbing, and boxing. An interesting new concept is “stretch” where participants are guided through stretching in a systematic way across muscle groups. Like stretch, there are other workouts that focus on recovery.