24-hour fitness clubs growing in popularity
NEW YORK (AP) — With two small children and a business that requires face-time with clients, Brian Eyster wants to work out when everyone else is going to sleep.
So earlier this year, Eyster, 32, of Royal Oak, Mich., joined Anytime Fitness, a 24-hour franchise where gym members use a pin number or key card to get into an unstaffed gym.
“Someone like me, the only time that works for me is 10, 11 o’clock at night when the house is quiet and I know I can step out for an hour or so,” says Eyster, a wealth strategist.
Watch out, mega health club. The 24-hour fitness center is one of the fastest growing fitness franchises, billing itself as an alternative to oversized and overpriced health clubs. But the explosion has also raised concerns about whether people should be working out in a fitness facility unsupervised, especially late at night.
Anytime Fitness, which was founded in 2002 in Hastings, Minn., opens a new club each business day and is on target to have 1,000 clubs operating before the end of the year, says spokesman Mark Daly. Snap Fitness has 700 clubs open and another 800 sold, according to spokesman Patrick Strait. Revenues from last year were around $18 million.
Members of these clubs with “absentee” owners are choosing convenience over frills. Eyster says he’s not trying to win a body building contest. He has no use for spinning classes. And he doesn’t want to beg the big guy in front of him to let him use the bench press in between his sets.
But the clubs have raised objections from fitness experts and even some state and local officials. Earlier this year, two Anytime Fitness franchisees in St. Paul, Minn., were fined for violating an ordinance that requires an employer or manager qualified in First Aid and CPR to be on duty at all times a business is open. Anytime Fitness is working with the St. Paul mayor to change the ordinance, passed in the ’80s to crack down on prostitution.
New York state law requires health clubs with more than 500 members to have a defibrillator and an employee or volunteer who is certified to operate it and administer CPR during business hours. In recent years other states, such as Indiana and Arkansas, have made exemptions in their laws to allow card-key gyms outside of hotels and apartments.
Anytime Fitness clubs generally have a staff member from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., says Daly. Snap Fitness clubs are only staffed between 15 and 24 hours a week, according to Strait.
“If there were to be some type of accident or, God forbid, heart attack, you need to have someone else in the building that is CPR certified and trained to assist,” says Angela Green, the director of Fitness and Programming at University of Toledo. She adds that people who don’t have proper instruction on how to use a piece of equipment increase their risk of injury.
The clubs counter that their facilities are safe, with video surveillance cameras, panic buttons, 911 phones, defibrillators and “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!” lanyards.
“You are safer working out in an Anytime Fitness center than you are your own home,” says Daly. “If you are alone in your basement, get short of breath, drop a weight on yourself, you don’t have access to a panic button on the wall.”
Key-card fitness clubs tout their convenience and affordability as their main attraction. Many of the clubs are located in small communities where the big clubs won’t go. Center size ranges between 2,500 and 4,000 square feet — some cardio and lifting machines and free weights.
While there are few country club amenities, such as rock climbing walls, saunas, classes or even locker rooms, the members aren’t looking for those bells and whistles.
“I was looking for somewhere I could go, do my workout and be on my way,” says Courtney Birmingham, 25, of Somers Point, N.J., a member of Snap Fitness. Birmingham admits that, at first, she was a bit apprehensive about working out late at night alone. But she says the security is adequate and she has her cell phone with her. “I’ve never felt unsafe,” she says.
For people like Jeremy Bowen, who works a swing shift at a steel plant and has three children, such clubs are a refreshing option. Bowen, 37, of Greenville, Ind., and his wife, a registered nurse, never worked out until an Anytime Fitness opened near them.
“If we were going to start any consistent exercise, we had to have something that was there when we needed it,” he says.
Some 24-hour fitness centers see a staff person as essential to their success. Tony Wells, chief marketing officer for 24 Hour Fitness, which has 400 locations, points out that there is always someone in the centers to greet members, answer questions about equipment or give them socks or a T-shirt if they left theirs at home.
“We also believe it contributes to the safety and security of our members while they work out,” he says.
Still, despite the concerns, 24-hour key-card clubs show no signs of slowing down. Anytime Fitness has expansion plans for Australia. Snap Fitness envisions 2,000 clubs open and sold before the end of the year. By comparison, Bally Total Fitness has about 400 locations.
“I don’t think you’ll see one take over the other,” says Jesse Cannone, a certified fitness trainer in metro Washington, D.C., referring to traditional health club versus key-card.
“A regular health club may be more suited to the beginner, someone who is out of shape, or wants amenities that a 24-hour no-night-staff club doesn’t have.”
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Published in The Messenger 5.26.08