7 Interesting Facts about the U.S. Gym Industry

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The U.S. gym industry is a bit of a mystery to many of us. We go to our local gym, we workout, we leave. Beyond our own experience, there are some awe-inspiring, as well as surprising, facts. Here are 7 interesting facts about the U.S. gym industry.

1. There are twice as many gyms in the U.S. as McDonald’s locations

Score one for health. In 2012, there were 30,500 health clubs in the U.S., compared with 14,000 McDonald’s restaurants. U.S. growth of McDonald’s and other fast-food locations has slowed significantly in recent years, while the number of gyms is up over 10 percent since 2005.

2. 50 million gyms members is a lot, but there’s a ton of growth potential

Over 50 million Americans are members of gyms, with nearly 20 percent growth from 2005 to 2012. Despite this large number, this leaves almost 200 million adults without a membership. It turns out many people go through gym cycles, with about 30 percent of members cancelling their health club membership each year. Higher retention, a shift of some of the eight million non-member patrons from visitors to full-fledged members, and capture of a portion of the 75 percent of adults who are not members, all would increase membership significantly.

3. Group fitness classes and trainers drive membership growth

22 percent of gym members report that they renew their membership in order to attend group exercise classes. 19 percent say that retaining access to fitness professionals is a key reason for staying at their health clubs. Jay Ablondi, executive vice president of global products for IHRSA (International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association), says, “Clubs offer group exercise and instruction in a non-intimidating setting for new exercisers, and at the same time provide advanced training and workshops for athletic-minded patrons.” Bottom line: many people greatly appreciate their personal trainers. This is excellent news for the 232,000 class instructors and fitness coaches in America. It’s no surprise then, that there has been a 44 percent increase in personal trainers in the last ten years. This field is expected to grow by another 32 percent in the next 10 years.

4. High intensity and body-weight training continue to fuel gym activity

Group fitness classes and personal training sessions are key for many gym-goers. What type of classes are hot now? One big category is High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) workouts, which are multiple sets of alternating short bursts of all-out effort – whether it’s running or weight-lifting – followed by brief rest periods. Jillian Michaels, personal trainer and host of weight-loss TV show “The Biggest Loser,” says, “Based on current research that suggests high-intensity interval training is the best way to achieve training improvements and body change results, metabolic training will continue to top the list of trends.” Body-weight training – versus weights and machines – is also a popular form of exercise. It is expected to continue to be a staple of classes in the years to come. HIIT and body-weight workouts are popular in large part because they allow for short, efficient, and convenient ways to stay in shape.

5. Most members do not attend

Sadly, but not tremendously surprisingly, 80 percent of Americans who have a gym membership do not use the gym. Health club utilization is very low and the cause is often disingenuous, post-holiday signup. The typical person who signs up for a membership in January, following the indulgent holiday season, stops going to the gym just 24 weeks after signing up.

6. … And many who do attend go for non-fitness reasons

Apparently, the gym is not just a place to go to exercise, it’s also a social destination. A recent study found that 50 percent go to the gym to either “check out the opposite sex or meet with friends.” In fact, one third of the 2,000 participants in the study report never working up a sweat while at the gym. Next time you’re in the gym, find these social butterflies and encourage them to work out!

7. The gym is used to cover up other activities

Perhaps even worse than attending the gym and not exercising is lying about going to the gym. 13 percent of Americans admit they have told others they were at the gym, while they were actually somewhere else. Where did they really go? My guess is we don’t really want to know.

We'd love to hear from you. Which of these facts are surprising to you and why? Comment on our Facebook page at facebook.com/flytefitness or tweet us at @flytefitness.

Be Flyte Fit,

Jeremy Greenberg

Co-Founder & CEO
Flyte Fitness