Welcome back! This month we’re taking a closer look at the experience you get from a big box gym vs. a studio gym. If you missed the infographic from last time you should check it out here,
(it’s really quite nice.)
My friend, Ben Dreyer, is a certified personal trainer and owns Studio Melt in Madison, Wisconsin, along with an incredible lady named Mona Melms.
The two of them live the lifestyle that they try and instill in their clients every day: total body health.
I asked Ben to pinpoint the top five benefits of a studio or small gym. The following is taken from that conversation.
First of all, a small studio is more likely to offer a high-quality environment and aesthetic. This is something we pride ourselves on at melt.
We have always said that we’re not a gym, we’re a studio. Our clients really appreciate that they don’t feel like they’re going to a conventional gym when they workout with us. We create a more welcoming environment where everyone feels like they belong. There is art on the walls, a social atmosphere, and *hopefully* good music playing. There also aren’t any creepy dudes staring at you when you’re just trying to get a workout in.
The largest differentiating factor, though, is expert advice. Having high quality, educated trainers improves everything from health outcomes to studio culture.
A small studio is more likely to have career-focused trainers who typically have a kinesiology degree and possess a gold-standard certification through NSCA, NASM, ACSM, or ACE. There are certainly exceptions to this statement, but this has been my general observation. Big gyms tend to have a lot of trainer turnover and much more relaxed certification requirements – if any.
Ben and I have talked about required trainer certifications in the past and it’s a great topic, but definitely worth its own article so I won’t get into it here. If you want to do a bit more reading, however, I encourage you to check out the links in the previous paragraph.
A subtle, yet important point to make from an employee standpoint is how a studio values its trainers. It’s been my observation that at a larger gym, the goal of the organization is for clients to identify with the brand. They want clients to say, “I train at ABC Gym.” This makes the trainer replaceable and contributes to higher trainer turnover.
At melt, the idea is to place high value on the trainer. Each of our trainers are career-oriented experts, so it’s ok when a client says, “I train with Brian, Kristin, or Erica.” That simple change of valuing, rather than devaluing the trainer has a profound effect on the overall culture of a studio.
I believe small studios are more equipped to place a high value on the trainer, thus improving their overall culture.
This ties in closely with the third benefit: high quality, personalized programs.
From the client’s perspective, the goal of any program is to help you reach personal goals and improve health. Every gym claims to do this, but few are able to combine all of the pieces of the puzzle for each unique individual, such as prior injuries, health concerns, medications, and kinesthetic awareness.
Every trainer is not right for every client, yet a larger gym is more likely to pair clients and trainers based on availability, rather than fit. A client may say they’re available at 4:00 pm on Tuesdays. To which the gym responds, “Great, you’ll be training with trainer X.”
At melt, we begin by having a conversation with each new client about his or her health/exercise history. This information then helps pair them with the right expert. It’s one more way of avoiding cookie-cutter programs.
Smaller studios are more equipped to create a successful, personalized program because it is 100% of their focus. Larger gyms are more focused on “hitting their numbers.”
This is true. In fact, large gyms don’t want all of their members to show up. To balance out the amount of equipment, space available, and staff, the average large gym can only service about 18% of their members at any given time. This means that on average, 81% of members are not using what they pay for. (yikes!)
No hidden costs
Which brings us to Ben’s next point. With a studio, there are no hidden costs!
With a small studio like melt, 100% of the clients are regulars. We don’t have any membership fees: you simply pay for your class or session. If someone takes a break from the studio, their package is still available when they get back (rather than expiring). Smaller studios are much more likely to function in this way.
I also heard a story recently of a client who attended their first yoga class at a big box gym. When they went to grab a towel, the person at the desk said, “That will be $1.” There are typically no hidden costs at a smaller studio.
One common argument against small studios and personal training is that it’s expensive. I argue that when you add it up, it’s far more expensive to have a monthly payment for a membership you don’t use and doesn’t provide any improvement to your health.
This is why Americans are seeing an increase in health insurance companies and in some cases, employers, who are willing to cover costs of gym memberships. It’s become increasingly clear that those who remain active are less likely to develop chronic diseases like diabetes and heart conditions.
The final benefit is philosophy.
A studio’s philosophy on health and exercise plays a significant roll in the training environment and programs they design. At melt, we align ourselves closer to the healthcare industry, rather than the fitness/bootcamp industry (although not all small studios are like this). Our overall goal is to improve health outcomes, rather than just get a “kick-ass” workout in. It’s a science-based approach that informs all program design choices.
For instance, how hard a person works out can be looked at on a risk/reward basis. If you workout at a 9/10 or 10/10 exertion level, the risk for injury is extremely high. Whereas if you consistently workout at a 6/7 or 7/7 level, you get nearly the same health improvements as the harder workout, but your risk for injury goes way down. So the more pain more gain approach really doesn’t work – there’s a point of diminishing return
I would say an over-arching theme, or litmus test for all of these points is whether a studio/gym improves a person’s happiness, likelihood of success, and freedom.
Here’s a quick recap. The top five benefits of a small studio gym include:
- High-Quality Environment/Aesthetic
- Expert Training
- High Quality, Personalized Programs
- No Hidden Costs
- Strong Philosophy
Do you agree with the points above? Are there any points we left out that you want the world to know about? I’d love to hear from you; leave a comment below!
Next time – a closer look at the benefits of a big gym.