Health to wealth: Òtness is our business
THE UK health and fitness industry is in good shape. If it were a person, it’s the sort who joins a gym in January, uses its membership and is now at the point where it is posting pictures on Instagram, wearing “strong not skinny” tshirts. With 7,038 gyms in the UK boasting 9,900,000 members and an estimated total market value of £4.9billion, fitness is big business.
But take a look at those figures. The business model is based on all those people who join a gym and then don’t go. Now, newcomers to the industry are offering something different. Instead of vast factory-type gyms, or pricey personal training, their business plans are based on offering a more personal experience.
“We focus on a full transformation process,” says Adam Murad, 30, of fitness studio SW3AT which opened in September. “It’s not just ‘in, out and bye’”. He describes SW3AT Studio as “group personal training” — a new generation of gym where you get the camaraderie of a group class with the attention and personal focus of a one-on-one training session.
“There are six people maximum to a class and everyone gets the attention they deserve and need to be able to do exercises correctly.” And this attention doesn’t end once the class is over. “We have clients messaging us saying ‘What should I eat for breakfast and dinner?’ and sending me pictures of their food. It’s pretty cool to have that sort of interaction.”
His business partner Jess Becker, 28, agrees. “We want to know everyone’s name; we want to be able to relate to them personally. It is goal-orientated as opposed to just coming in and leaving,”
The SW3AT studio in West Hampstead looks like the weights section of your standard gym. There are kettlebells and dumbbells, Smith machines and TRX ropes hanging from the ceiling. No treadmills. “Anyone can run on a treadmill,” says Becker. “It’s so easy to plateau.” SW3AT Studio focuses on bodyweight exercises that should lead to visible and sustainable body changes, fuelled by the pair’s years of experience in the fitness sector.
Murad trained as a personal trainer at 19 and, after a bad experience at a “big commercial gym where I got lost in the abyss” decided he wanted to start a fitness revolution.
He takes his fitness very seriously and is fasting on the morning I meet him (although he does tell me that he holds an eating record at a chicken wing restaurant in Islington — so there’s hope yet for all of us). Becker had a change of career five years ago, qualifying as a trainer after working in events. She’d been spending all her free time — and money — going to fitness classes.
“I think I could say I’ve been to every class in London now”, she laughs. However she found that she didn’t see a real change physically by going to one-off classes. When she invested in a personal trainer, the results were tangible, but it was just too expensive. Becker and Murad met at a JLE Halloween party 10 years ago, became friends and eventually decided to go into business together.
Danielle Gabay, 24, has no formal training but has always been into fitness. She credits this to her upbringing in Israel, where she lived until she was 12. “In Israel everyone has to be in the army, which forces you to be fit.”
But, she says, Israeli fitness is different to the UK. “People will go for a run on the beach,” she says, rather than commit to gym membership. She believes that getting children and young people into a fitness routine early is the best thing — both for physical health and psychologically.
“I believe that fitness is forever and if we establish excellent fitness habits from a young age it will lead to great health benefits and habits.” Her spin studio, BURNR, offers teen-specific spin classes and teen and parent classes.
She says she wants to encourage teenagers to enjoy fitness and prove that “it’s not negative”. If you have horror-film memories of PE classes at school, you’ll wish that Gabay had been around for you. “A lot of kids don’t like PE lessons but here they will have a lot of fun with loud music, everyone taking it at their own pace.”
And the disco-y atmosphere of BURNR — neon strobe lights, pumping music and instructors who lead the class from a podium at the front ,working an iPad like a DJ with a deck — means that spinners can be tricked into forgetting they’re working hard.
Both SW3AT Studio and BURNR — yes, they have names that boggle the eyes — aim to offer a work out service that works for their customers. When I spoke to Gabay, BURNR had just completed its launch week. “We learned a lot. For example the 6pm class was too early to get to
after work, and the teen class that was at 5pm, we found that most kids aren’t even back from school then, so we’ve amended the timetable.”
A lot of religious women attended the Friday morning class, “so we decided to run some women-only classes with a female instructor — so the women would feel comfortable.” This was an unexpected but welcome side effect of being conveniently located between Mill Hill and Hendon.
All these fitness start-ups take their jobs very seriously. Currently Becker and Murad lead all the classes at SW3AT Studio, while Gabay goes to the BURNR studio every day after her day job.
Fast-paced circuit classes or sweating it out under bright lights isn’t the only way to be fit, though. Jen Landesberg from
Blessed Yoga takes a calmer approach to fitness — but is no less rigorous. I’m a little scared by her Instagram page — featuring her demonstating beautiful, complicated and intense looking poses – but she says she posts them to encourage non-yogis to give it a try. “A year ago I was a beginner. I preach to clients you can do anything.” Landesberg, 23 says she went from inflexible, gym-phobe to yoga teacher after being inspired by her very first yoga class. “I’d always had a fascination with yoga from afar but I never thought I’d love it as much as I did,” she enthuses, admitting that she started looking at teacher training courses on a whim.
She was a student at the time and had long summer holidays stretching out in front of her. Wanting to learn a skill and having been sufficiently inspired by her handful of previous yoga classes, she took the plunge.
Studying psychology at Bath University, Landesberg had always had an interest in mental wellbeing “but I’d approached it from a scientific point of view.” One of the reasons she thinks she felt such an affinity to yoga came not from the physical effects alone but “also the mental things that come from it. Yoga gave me a safe place and break from the stressful environment [of university] and to be able to share that peacefulness and calmness with other people is great.”
She says she often gets comments from shocked clients who say that her class changed their mood drastically. “Yoga is way more than stretching — you only have to watch someone who is really fit do yoga to know that yoga is exercise — the sweat, the shake. I’d be really shocked if you didn’t sweat after a class.”
Currently most of Blessed Yoga’s clients are Jewish. Landesberg built up her business by word of mouth — and despite not doing any PR now receives yoga equipment from companies who have spotted her on Instagram. She credits the Jewish community for her success. “I’m so grateful for the community I’m part of — I genuinely don’t think my business would be the same.”
Practicing a mix between Vinyasa and Hatha, Landesberg describes her classes as focusing on strength and flexibility — and also fun. “Let’s not take anything too seriously!” she laughs. “I don’t love exercise, I struggle to get myself into the gym, so finding yoga was amazing”.
Just as being inflexible or unfit is no bar to starting and enjoying yoga, neither is gender or age.
“I have a lot of young men as clients, which I wouldn’t expect, and they’re probably more into it than my other clients!” she tells me. “And older women who say to me: ‘I thought I’d give this a go as my last shot to keep me active’ —and they love it.”
Blessed Yoga is based in a studio in her garden in Arkley, Barnet but she also travels to clients’ houses, so if you’re thinking of starting a healthy habit for the new year, this one can fit around your timetable.
Traditionally, fitness articles in January are all about the “new year, new you” but these experts agree it’s better to find an exercise you can continue to love once January is over too. “It’s good to set goals,” says Murad “but there’s got to be a journey — it’s a new lifestyle, not a new you.”
Jen Landesberg strikes a pose (above), (left) Danielle Gabay and a colleague from BURNR
Get on your bike at BURNR
Working out at SW3AT
Jess Becker and Adam Murad of SW3AT studio