Are Specialized Studios Worth the Extra Dough?

Not so long ago, workout experiences were more or less the same for everyone: You would go to the gym, churn out some miles on the treadmill or elliptical, try a few weight machines or take a one-size-fits-all exercise class. All of that has changed as the past few years have ushered in a fitness revolution of sorts, due to a growing number of people seeking a more focused, personalized workout—and willing to pay top dollar for them.

Don't let the name fool you—a boutique studio isn't a fancy or fussy place. It's a term used to describe a specialized fitness center where members get more exclusive, targeted workouts.
In addition to the ones you might expect—such as Spinning, Pilates, Zumba and CrossFit—more unconventional options are cropping up. At ANYA in New York, students get toned through aerial fitness. Orangetheory Fitness creates a competitive environment by displaying members' heart rates on a screen throughout their workouts, with the goal of hitting the "orange zone." Paddleboarding, Pure Barre, rowing and metabolic resistance training are just a few more examples of workouts that fall into the ever-widening boutique category.

The Appeal of Boutique 

According to news reports, boutique fitness membership has grown by 16 percent year-over-year, while large health clubs have only grown by 1 percent. With so many gym chains offering perks such as anytime access, convenient locations, fully equipped locker rooms and a variety of fitness equipment, why are more and more exercisers willing to fork over extra money for fewer services?
Reason #1: Personal Attention 
At traditional gyms—particularly the super-sized versions—most members are responsible for creating and following their own workouts. Without strong motivation and willpower, it's easy to fall off the wagon. Boutique studios offer more personalized services and a greater degree of accountability.
In 2012, Mark Fox left his medical sales career to open a Title Boxing Club studio in Loveland, Ohio. He and his wife, Mitzi, had been members of a traditional gym for more than 30 years. After watching countless members struggle to find their niche before quitting altogether, they were inspired to pursue their new fitness venture.
"It was a common theme," Mark says. "People wanted to achieve their fitness goals, but they didn't know where to start. They were intimidated by the machines, would eventually settle on a treadmill and then most of them would stop coming. I knew there had to be a better way."
Working with a personal trainer can be intimidating and expensive for many gym-goers. Mark feels that fitness studios like Title Boxing Club provide an affordable middle ground between big-box gyms and personal training. The instructors actively coach and motivate members, holding them accountable without overwhelming them.
Reason #2: Significant Results
Although an hour on the elliptical and an hour in a boxing class may burn approximately the same number of calories, the quality of the workouts will be much different. Many of Mark's clients have achieved life-changing results after switching from ineffective gym workouts. "In a boxing class, you work the entire body, while strengthening the core and improving your balance," he says.
After a few weeks of taking barre classes, SparkPeople member MISS_BEE saw improvements beyond what she'd achieved at a gym. "I've noticed that my thighs are already more toned, my balance is better and my core is much stronger."
While gyms may or may not be staffed by fitness professionals, boutique studios are typically owned and run by highly experienced and enthusiastic trainers who have a true passion for the activity. When you attend a class at a studio, whether it's Spinning or yoga or TRX, you'll likely get a lot more out of that hour than you would on a treadmill.
Reason #3: Supportive Community
At a traditional gym, it's easy to remain anonymous—but that anonymity makes it easier to slack off or stop showing up altogether. At a boutique studio, there tends to be a stronger sense of community. Mark describes the charged atmosphere at his club's boxing classes: "The music is loud, the room is packed and you can feel the energy. It makes you do more, push yourself harder. It's contagious."
As an added bonus, members of boutique studios often build friendships grounded in common interests.  It's also a commonly held belief that finding a workout buddy provides a huge motivation boost. In her barre sessions, MISS_BEE thrives in the team-oriented environment. "The camaraderie in the classes keeps me working hard and feeling challenged."
Reason #4: Specialized Equipment
With some exceptions, most gyms have pretty much the same type of equipment: cardio machines, weight machines, free weights and maybe the occasional punching bag. But at a boutique studio, you're likely to find specialized, state-of-the-art equipment geared to a specific activity.
Laura Colon, program director at ANYA in New York City, names this as a key differentiator. "Boutique studios tend to offer a unique style or apparatus that may not be offered in a gym setting. At ANYA, our students fly and stretch on anti-gravity hammocks that can't be found in chain gyms."
Reason #5: More for the Money
On paper, a traditional gym membership is significantly cheaper than regular boutique classes. For less than the price of a night at the movies, you get unlimited monthly access to equipment, weights and classes. Most specialty classes are priced by the session, which adds up fast if you're doing several per week. But that investment can be yet another motivator. If you're paying per class, you'll probably be less likely to skip, and may work harder to get the most for your money.
Laura maintains that most studios are reasonably priced for the quality of the workout. "Plus, you’re receiving personalized, quality instruction in a space that is welcoming, well-maintained and probably more beautiful than the chain gym."
If you're considering venturing from the gym and trying a more specialized fitness experience, Mark says the time is now. "You don't need to get in shape first. We have students of all shapes, sizes and fitness levels. No matter where you're starting from, you'll leave sweating and smiling."
Have you tried a class at a boutique fitness studio? Share your experience with us!