What is a gym? When I started out at Men’s Health in 2005, it meant one of two things. The first was a spit-and-sawdust temple to boxing or heavy lifting, invariably located under a railway arch, where admission was granted with a grunt and a grimace. The other was a softer, more sanitised affair in the form of a Fitness First or Holmes Place: an update on the community leisure centre of old, where a free, logo-embroidered rucksack was the dubious badge of membership. Having always been more of a runner and a team-sporter, I didn’t really feel at home in either. Besides, I preferred my own bag.
Nowadays, the health and fitness landscape is a more invigorating and democratic vista. From boutique fitness emporiums that more closely resemble luxury hotel spas, to outdoor spaces that substitute tractor wheels for dumbbells, to cardio studios with the ambience of salubrious nightclubs, to Crossfit boxes redolent with the salty odour of chalk and sweat, there are now countless ways to train your body and test your limits. In the process, gains have become big business. A recent Mintel report calculated that the UK health and fitness market is now worth £3.2bn, having grown 20% between 2015 and 2018. That’s a lot of crunches.
As a result, it’s no longer enough for us simply to show you how to train; also important are where to train and to what end. For the plodding keep-fitters and old-school lifters, there are still the same old destinations, unchanged by trends or capital investment. But now there’s also a whole new genre of class-based fitness outfits, designed to function as social hubs as much as rooms for improvement. Meanwhile, the explosion of functional fitness spaces reflects a changing attitude in the way people want to exercise, and their objectives for doing so. Building muscle is now seen as the pursuit of a body that is fit for purpose, rather than simply a matter of looking hench in a shrink-wrapped T-shirt. All of these things are undeniably positive developments.
This month, we launch the inaugural Men’s Health Gym Awards: a celebration of this flourishing UK fitness scene. We’ve chosen venues that we think reflect the best and the unique. You may be familiar with our selections; you may be angry at our omissions. That’s OK, because it shows there’s healthy competition. Either way, we’d love to know what you think. And if we’ve overlooked any worthy contenders, we want to hear about them. There’s always 2019. #Mhbestgyms