Once upon a time, scantily clad California Fitness members running on the treadmills overlooking Orchard Road used to be a hallmark of the junction between Cineleisure and The Heeren. Sadly, after a few years California Fitness moved that famous branch elsewhere, and a few weeks ago the chain closed down completely.
It’s not like they didn’t already have this coming. For years, Singaporeans’ exercise patterns have changed. 10-15 years ago, a fancy gym membership was a very desirable thing to have. People who didn’t like team sports like basketball or racket sports like tennis or badminton didn’t have too many other options for regular exercise other than the usual swimming and running. And gaining access to a buffet of exercise classes with names like Abs Butt Thigh made gym memberships even more attractive.
But all that has changed, and despite a glut of gym chains like True Fitness and Virgin Active flooding Singapore, it appears the fitness landscape has evolved. Here’s why a gym membership isn’t as desirable as it used to be.
There are more free and cheap group fitness options than ever before
Even before California Fitness ever existed, Singaporeans knew they could strap on a pair of running shoes and hit the pavement. Or they could buy an exercise bike or some dumbbells and work out at home.
One big reason people still preferred to pay for gym memberships was because exercising on your own can be boring and isolating. They were willing to pay over $100 a month to be able to exercise with professional equipment in the company of others.
These days, there are so many free or cheap group fitness options that will get you out of the house and interacting with other human beings that it seems a bit senseless to pay $100 a month to run on a treadmill. For instance, the Health Promotion Board offers K-pop dance, yoga, kickboxing and other classes for free through the Sunrise in the City programme. Here are some other ways to attend free sports and fitness sessions.
More significantly, the way we use the Internet has evolved considerably since year 2000, and there are now hordes of local groups that meet up to run, practise parkour, play tennis, ride their longboards or train for the next triathlon.
Rise of boutique classes
Gyms used to be popular not just for their workout equipment but also for their classes. But the allure of generic fitness classes has taken a hit as Singaporeans become more serious about their fitness-related hobbies, and demand classes dedicated to them.
We all have that friend who’s so crazy about krav maga he’s spends more time training than he does in his actual job. Or that yoga addict who’s always posting photos of the latest post she’s mastered on Instagram.
People no longer want to join a huge gym where they have a zillion classes to choose from. Instead, they are opting for smaller, more specialised classes where they can deepen their practise and hang out with other fanatics.
People no longer want to commit to one gym
While there are people who are extremely committed to one sport and spend all their time practising it, there are others who like to try out different things. These people no longer need to turn to gyms in order to sample a range of sports.
Thanks to KFit and Guavapass, you can pay a monthly fee in exchange for being able to try out classes from a long list of studios and gyms. The fees these apps charge are comparable or even less than what gyms are charging.
People are more wary of paying so much upfront
In the past decade or so, Singaporeans have realised that businesses here come and go. Whenever you sign up for a spa package or gym membership, there is always the danger of the business packing up and disappearing with your money.
It is thus understandable that the idea of paying one or two year’s worth of fees upfront, as most big gym chains force you to do, is not that appealing. Many studios enable customers to purchase passes of, say, 10 classes, which is much more reassuring to the commitment-phobic.
Do you think gym memberships are becoming obsolete in Singapore? Tell us why or why not in the comments!