The Rise of Exclusive App-Only Gym Memberships

Remember when fitness enthusiasts had to wait a few months for their Pelotons to arrive? Or when cycling enthusiasts were outraged when SoulCycle courses filled up in 42 seconds? It was the good old days.

Today, those who covet a lavish workout experience can do anything but get on their knees and beg to be accepted into app-only gyms. Over the past four years, a dozen fitness centers (although some owners prefer to call them “wellness destinations” or “social wellness clubs”) have opened nationwide and require letters of recommendation, endless applications, interviews and a deep dive. through your social media to decide if you are fit to be fit.

In June, Cori Zigman decided she wanted to join Heimat, a fitness club that opened in Los Angeles that month. So the 44-year-old property developer went on tour and filled out an application that included questions about who she knew at Heimat and what her social media handles were. Then she waited. And waited. And waited.

Almost a month passed before Ms Zigman received an acceptance letter, but some of her friends who also applied did not.

“It was awkward,” she said. “It was like everyone wanted a membership, but they just weren’t handing it out.”

Ms. Zigman shelled out more than $350 a month for spin and Pilates classes, a coworking space, a pool, astrology workshops, a nap room, a salt sauna and more. His friends are still waiting to know their fate.

Sebastian Schoepe, President and CEO of RSG Group North America, which owns Heimat, said he was very specific about the types of people he wanted — and didn’t want — in his fitness center.

“For those who view a gym as a selfie opportunity, a place solely for performance-based training, or a workout that needs to be done, you can probably find a more affordable gym that can offer those things. “, Mr. Schoepe said. “We’re not looking to bring in people who keep to themselves and don’t see the point of mingling with like-minded people.”

Instead, he said, Heimat welcomes “people who cultivate this philosophy of mindfulness with their colleagues.” These people tend to be in their early to mid-thirties, as evidenced by Heimat’s primary constituent.

Prospective members of Remedy Place, a “social welfare club” that opened in West Hollywood in 2019 and New York’s Flatiron District in 2022, must go through an application process and interview.

Memberships range from $595 to $2,750 per month and offer everything from cryotherapy, intravenous infusions, hyperbaric oxygen chamber, lymphatic compression suit, meditation classes, sound baths and more.

“We’re looking for people who represent the brand well and who should inspire others to take care of themselves,” said Founder and CEO Dr. Jonathan Leary, who also described the average member as a young professional. in their thirties. Remedy capped memberships at 200 in Los Angeles and 300 in New York, but Dr. Leary declined to say what percentage of people who applied were accepted or to provide the number of people currently on his waiting list.

He did, however, attempt to describe what makes the perfect Remedy member: someone, he said, “who will shine and help teach people about the changes that need to happen.”

The “who” for the majority of these gyms tends to be “cool” people in general, said John Atwood, managing partner of Boston-based Atwood Consulting, which specializes in health clubs.

“If you make widgets in Akron, Ohio, they might not want you, even if you have an apartment in New York,” Mr. Atwood said, comparing the selection process to how exclusive club bouncers choose people to enter their places. “They’re looking for nice people.”

“Cool”, however, has a slightly different interpretation depending on the gym.

At Ghost, which opened in Williamsburg in 2019, members are accepted if they are “thought leaders, creatives, founders or executives,” said Aqib Mamoon, the gym’s chief executive and founder, though he added that his “wellness destination” is not exclusive. to any profession. Memberships, which cost up to $300 per month, are limited and require an application, in-person interview, and internal review process.

And at Forma Pilates, a studio with locations on the Upper East Side, SoHo and Los Angeles, where membership is by referral only, the goal is to have a “close-knit community of like-minded individuals , including but not limited to entrepreneurs, executives, athletes, celebrities, prenatal and postnatal mothers and more,” said Liana Levi, Owner and Founder.

Mr Atwood, the consultant, said the exclusive gym concept emerged after the evolution of discount gyms from boutique clubs. Low-cost gyms such as Planet Fitness and XSport Fitness, which charge around $49 for monthly memberships, are very profitable business models because they will cram as many people into gyms as possible. Then came fitness centers like Barry’s Boot Camp (about $40 per class) or Orange Theory (about $150 per month), which paved the way for exclusive high-end clubs.

Another example is Monarch Athletic Club, based in West Hollywood. To join, an applicant must have a medical evaluation and a physiotherapy and training evaluation – all done in-house – which Dr. Ryan Greene, Monarch’s managing partner and senior medical advisor specializing in osteopathic medicine, describes as “a few layers of dots control “.

Once a candidate passes these “checkpoints,” they may be asked to pay a membership fee of $595 to $2,000 per month. At the top level, members get unlimited personal training and physical therapy, IV therapy, access to their doctors, ice baths, group fitness classes, and saunas.

Dr Greene said while health is a universal right, he decided to make Monarch, which opened in January 2020, an exclusive club because he wanted its members to be proactive. Some people, he said, think that since they’re paying a premium, they can just show up and assume their sessions will be booked for them with premium service. These are not the kind of people he wants, he says. Instead, Monarch seeks a community of like-minded people who are motivated to recover. And register for their own sessions.

Some have tried the exclusivity model, however, only to find that inclusivity draws a bigger crowd. The Ness, a boutique trampoline and cardio fitness space located on the outskirts of Tribeca and Chinatown in New York City, opened in 2019 as a referral only.

“If you were hosting a dinner party, you wouldn’t put your address on a flyer and stick it all over town like an open invitation,” said Colette Dong, the founder. “You would organize a group of friends who you think complement each other well.”

But two years later, Ms. Dong said, she opened some of her classes to the public.

This spring, when the Ness plans to launch its second physical location in Bridgehampton, NY, Ms. Dong said she will try again by invitation only.

“It creates a better community and environment, which is really important when you’re training for the first time, getting back into your routine, or trying to stick to a goal,” Ms. Dong said. “You just don’t want to do it in front of a bunch of strangers.”


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