You know the routine: You hit the elliptical every few days, press play on your workout playlist and count down the minutes until you can go home and check “go to the gym” off your to-do list.
But now there are more attractive options, thanks to the major influx of boutique fitness studios. Gillian Casten, founder of RateYourBurn.com, a user-generated review website that rates fitness instructors as well as classes, attributes the rise in boutique classes to one thing: “Teachers. Plain and simple,” Casten tells LivingHealthy. “SoulCycle started this revolution when Julie Rice co-founded a fitness studio and managed it like a talent agency,” she explains. (Previously, Rice had been an agent in Los Angeles.) “Yes, SoulCycle built a method, but more importantly, it built a culture of semi-celebrities,” Casten adds. “As clients started paying per class instead of paying per month, the teachers became integral in the purchasing decision—and also became more responsible for filling their own classes. The result is an industry where instructors double as unpaid marketing agents, and that’s a recipe for growth.”
The boutique fitness model has shown to be very lucrative for entrepreneurs like Rice, who charges $30 to $40 per SoulCycle class, depending on the location. Then, in spring 2013, ClassPass came along to make these kinds of pricey fitness classes more accessible to all. (SoulCycle doesn’t participate in ClassPass, but many of its competitors, like Flywheel, do.)
For a monthly membership of $79 to $125 per month, depending on the market, ClassPass allows access to an unlimited number of fitness classes. The sole limitation is that you can only frequent three classes at the same studio per month. “Our members can choose from thousands of classes; they can sort their options by date, time and genre; and they can make and manage all of their reservations, all through one booking tool,” ClassPass CEO and co-founder Payal Kadakia tells LivingHealthy. The program is a win-win for both ClassPass users and studios. “Sixty-five percent of ClassPass users are new to the boutique fitness market,” says Kadakia. “We’ve found that we’re often helping studios fill spots that would otherwise be empty, bringing them more business and more revenue.”
ClassPass’ $20 late-cancellation or skipped-class fee also gives users a financial incentive to follow through with their fitness plans. “When I belonged to a gym, it was always easy to let my gym plans slide,” Nora Stark, a Los Angeles-based ClassPass user, tells LivingHealthy. “I’m determined to never pay the fees, so when I wake up at 6:30AM and don’t feel like getting out of bed, I have a little extra motivation to make it to class. ClassPass also feels like it’s just the right price. It’s more expensive than the cheapo gyms I used to belong to, which means I’m always determined to make sure I’m getting my money’s worth by going to as many classes as possible. But the classes themselves are fancy—and expensive—enough that even though I’m paying more than I used to, I still feel like I’m getting a good deal.”
Since you can’t attend more than three classes a month at each studio, ClassPass essentially forces users to try new workouts; most subscribers end up exercising more overall. “Users who sign up for a monthly pass are locked into the subscription cost and more likely to transition their fitness from ‘some classes’ to ‘all classes,’” Casten explains. There is also an increased level of accountability from a nonfinancial aspect when you’re not just anonymously checking into the gym. “In an increasingly social world, the [teachers] keep us accountable. It’s not uncommon to receive Facebook messages after missing class,” Casten adds.
The variety of options for ClassPass users—there are more than 600 studios to choose from in the New York area alone—has also worked as a major push to excite people about working out. “I used to stick with spinning and yoga because I was familiar with them, but ClassPass got me into boxing and boot camps and even surfing,” Stark says. “There are classes near my house, near my office, even near friends in other cities when I go out of town. Plus, as more and more of my friends join ClassPass, it gives me an easy way to check out the classes that they like, and to combine catching up with working out by hitting up yoga classes that we’ve already paid for instead of spending more money on getting drinks.”
ClassPass might even make traditional gym memberships obsolete someday. While its business model is mostly focused on boutique group classes, you can also sign up for “gym time” just like you would for a fitness class. Just remember to bring your own playlist.