Carla Zuniga is punching a heavy bag as if she were preparing for a title fight, although she’s a 35-year-old hair stylist doing her regular workout.
Zuniga isn’t sweating at some low-fee, big-box fitness chain. Prevail Boxing is a 1,500-square-foot studio in Los Angeles that charges $250 for 10 classes.
“I think people in my generation are more willing to invest in what challenges them and makes them healthy,” said Zuniga, who grew bored with cheaper, traditional gyms. “It’s expensive to be healthy, but it’s more expensive to be sick.”
Costly coffee and artisanal avocado toast may be getting the blame for millennials’ inability to afford a house.]
But those expenses pale in comparison with what a growing segment is willing to spend on fitness, abandoning $30-a-month gyms for trendy studios where classes for cycling, boot camp or yoga can run $30 a session.
Boutique fitness studios have become the only growth segment in an otherwise stagnant gym industry, according to separate research reports from the Association of Fitness Studios, fitness technology firm Netpulse and financial services firm Stephens.
“When it comes to the younger generation, consumer items like car and home purchases are at an all-time low,” said Greg Skloot, vice president for growth at Netpulse, a San Francisco company that creates mobile apps for health clubs.
“They don’t want an annual gym membership commitment and a contract,” said Skloot, who co-wrote a recent report on fitness industry changes titled “The Club of 2020.” “They want to be able to make physical fitness choices on demand, and they are willing to pay for it.”
Spurred by popular start-up ClassPass and other online middlemen, young fitness addicts say their days of mindless treadmill workouts tied to just one gym are over. With a limited number of spots per class and advance reservations generally required, there’s a mad rush to get into the hottest classes.
Bart Kwan, 33, has 472,000 Instagram followers and 674,000 YouTube subscribers. Kwan regularly posts comedy and power-lifting workout videos that garner more than 1 million views each. Kwan’s “Justkiddingnews” YouTube channel has nearly 1.7 million subscribers.
Kwan, a former athlete who also practiced mixed martial arts, wasn’t happy at traditional gyms. So he and his wife, Geo, opened Barbell Brigade near downtown Los Angeles in 2013. It’s not as expensive as some boutique gyms, with a day pass costing $20 and the monthly fee for regulars running $100.
Kwan said he wanted to re-create the atmosphere he once found in a mixed martial arts training facility.
“We were paying top dollar to go there,” Kwan said, “but we considered that place our temple.”