Flashing lights. Sweaty bodies. Banging beats. Think we’re talking about a nightclub? Think again. Walk around any Australian city at 6am in 2020 and you’re more likely to see patrons exiting boutique gyms than thumping discotheques.
However, though they have similar operating hours, gyms and nightclubs have not suffered equally from the pandemic. Though both were hamstrung by lockdowns early on in 2020, Australia’s nightlife was already weak when the pandemic hit, and its fitness industry was undergoing something of a renaissance.
Now, as restrictions have eased around the country (with Melbourne, bar any major setbacks, set to follow), Australia’s gyms are once again working up a head of steam. They may also have an extra advantage coming out of 2020 – as Australia’s nightlife scene struggles, boutique gyms around the country are providing patrons with much more than a workout.
Not to mention: with fewer Australians partying late into the night, early morning gyms now have a larger potential customer pool to draw from.
So: after for years being mocked for being ‘cultlike’, boutique gyms like Crossfit and F45 may now get the last laugh, as more everyday Australians turn to them for a sense of purpose, community and socialisation.
Sparked by your correspondent’s realisation that, from 6am to 9am, (almost) every second building in his neighbourhood is either a boutique gym blasting reggaeton or a bakery full of gym-goers having a post-workout coffee, DMARGE put the question to Ben Lucas, Director of Paddington based gym Flow Athletic: are gyms the new nightclubs?
“Absolutely, we see our members congregating all the time at Jackie’s, Orchard Street all the time. Our run club is especially social… and of course they sign up to a lot of the events together. We are waiting for them to start kicking off again!”
Mr. Lucas said Flow Athletic has seen an uptick in customers since lockdown, “both in the studio and our online classes.”
“We actually had to launch a pop-up studio across the road… because we couldn’t fit all of our members into our spin room.”
Mr. Lucas also told DMARGE Flow Athletic has seen a boost to its community feel (despite such an atmosphere already existing pre-COVID), and a broader range of customers: “There certainly has been an air of excitement since we were able to reopen.”
“We have had quite a lot of new members, we have also had a lot of friends of members who want to join the fun and have signed up too.”
Aaron Warburton, Director and Co-Founder at The Sponsorship Department & FAN+, and client of Flow Athletic agreed, telling DMARGE he had noticed more socialisation since lockdown.
“Yes definitely. From the moment the gym re-opened, Flow was full of happy smiling faces. Not that the gym wasn’t a happy place prior to lock-down, I just think it just made people more grateful for what we had. In turn, people were more chatty and open to say hello.”
That said, Mr. Warburton isn’t quite ready to call gyms ‘the new nightclubs’…
“I wouldn’t say gyms are becoming a nightclub replacement per se. It’s nice to be able to go to the gym and focus on your training and focus on the reason you turn up in the first place. For me that’s to improve my physical and mental state.”
“I’m not sure mixing romance and working out is a smart move. Happy to be proven wrong, however!”
Andrew Blake, co founder of Co Houz and a member of Virgin, told DMARGE he too has noticed a lot of new people lately at his gym, which brings a “fresh vibe” and has led to inspiration, new friends and even some new business clients.
“The gym has always been a second nightclub; the healthy nightclub. You can really see what a person looks like at the gym, [rather] than a dark night club.”
“Plus you can sweat with a towel, [rather] than sweaty balls in jeans on the dance floor of a night club…”
DMARGE also spoke to Michael Jordan, CEO of 12RND Fitness, a fitness studio with clubs all over Australia.
Mr. Jordan told DMARGE that in the states that have reopened “there has been a significant uptick in new members and a very strong reactivation of existing members.” Overall membership numbers across the network have “exceeded forecasts” too, Mr. Jordan told us, “and in many cases are above pre-Covid levels.”
“There are however localised conditions that are still affecting the speed of recovery for some clubs.”
Another element to the attraction, Mr. Jordan posits, is that – unlike nightclubs – gyms allow you to kill two birds with one stone, boosting your health and socialising all in the same breath.
“With Covid-19 causing a reduction in social gatherings at sports clubs, churches and pubs, gyms are becoming the ‘third space’ in people’s lives, other than home and work, where they can get a regular in-person social connection. Our members come to have a laugh, and catch up with their fellow members who are also driven to improve themselves, while having a good time while doing it.”
“This is a big appeal in a society that has a greater focus on health – so you get two really important things in your life (social connection and improved health) from the same place.”
As for the clientele, Mr. Jordan told DMARGE, “I would say that there hasn’t been any difference to the actual ‘customer’ we’re seeing in the club, just a change in behaviours where the social aspect is becoming more high value, potentially more so than the training.”
“Our style of training and our club environment has always attracted a certain type of clientele that values a sense of community, a team training environment and the sports-style feeling you get with the camaraderie and support between both members and coaches.”
Despite, then, the ‘we’re all going to come out of 2020 low key alcoholics’ stereotypes, could it be that the pandemic is inspiring everyday Australians to get healthier than ever before?
“I think there is something to [that],” Mr. Lucas told DMARGE. “Having something as normal as going to the gym taken away certainly inspired a lot of people to sign up in my opinion.”
“Then having the gym limit the spots to create some competition added to the demand.”
Mr. Jordan told DMARGE: “I believe the lockdowns in particular reminded us of how important social connection and physical activity is for our mental health. We live in an age where technology draws us away from these two critical elements we need in our life, and then by also taking them away by closing gyms during lockdown, Australians realised how important these facilities are for fulfilling this factor in our lives.”
“As much as fitness operators, including ourselves, pivoted to provide digital training programs to support members while they were at home, there is no way the online training platforms will ever takeover the bricks and mortar facilities. We are social creatures. We need to connect and boutique gyms are becoming the common spaces for people to come together outside of their work and home.”
Now Australians appear to be over this perception that boutique gyms are little more than overpriced injury factories, what’s crucial is to ensure said fitness clubs get the balance right between motivating clients to push themselves, and stopping them from going overboard when trying to impress a new crush (or simply in the heat of the moment).
On this topic of balance, F45 Training’s Chief Athletics Officer, Nathan Mago, told DMARGE, “At F45 Training we know the importance of community and this flows from HQ all the way through the studios. Team Training is at the very core of F45 and we strongly believe in making our workouts for all different types of people – no matter their age or fitness level.”
“There’s something about the in-studio vibe that helps you push a little harder in your workouts and enjoy the sessions, and this is why our members consistently see great results.”
“All of the equipment is ready to go with different weight options, you can see the movements on screen and our trainers walk everyone through all of the exercises before class, so even if you’re new to HIIT training – we can get you started. Our trainers are highly skilled and can modify any of the exercises to suit any injuries or limitations, and can also do 1:1 consults to assess each member’s fitness goals. From there we can make a plan with our members to get them on track to where they want to be.”