For a long time in this industry, the terms health club and fitness center have been fairly synonymous, but the truth is that there is a vast difference between the two.
Most folks attest to the mid-1970s as the beginning of the growth of the modern fitness era. Prior to that time, there were mainly racquet sports facilities and a smattering of hard-core gyms around the United States.
Three events changed that dynamic.
- The introduction by Arthur Jones of Nautilus equipment.
- The 1977 release of George Butler's epic fitness movie, "Pumping Iron."
- The sale of Gold's Gym by bodybuilding pioneer Joe Gold to the trio of Pete Grymkowski, Tim Kimber and Ed Conner.
Where we had previously almost exclusively seen the name "athletic club" tied in loosely with fitness, we now had athletic clubs, gyms and fitness centers. Seemingly overnight, fitness centers and gyms popped up all around the country. Gold’s Gym, World Gym, Powerhouse Gym, Bally Total Fitness and a few other national brands led the charge and were accompanied by mom-and-pop clubs.
In the early 1980s, a health club was a facility that had multiple services—mostly still centered on racquet sports. These folks led the way in electronic funds transfer (ET) dues collection and bundled memberships. The "fitness centers" were smaller facilities that generally had a workout floor and possibly some group exercise classes (then called "aerobics"). They usually collected membership fees in either quarterly or annual prepaid payments.
In reality, what has changed since that time is that the word "gym" has somewhat disappeared, "aerobics" is now "group fitness," and EFT is the norm for payment and collection of members' fees. Other than that, the industry still has a lot of same-old, same-old.
Which prompts me to ask the question: Are you a health club or a fitness center? What do you do? Do you run most of your members through some kind of fitness routine, be it circuit equipment, free weights or GEX classes? If so, I say you're in the fitness business--and the volume players and budget clubs will soon dominate that sector.
Or do you really operate a health club, where people can get health screenings, personal access to multiple levels of training, information services, technology-based feedback and even across-the-internet posting of the results of their activities (not only to themselves, but to doctors, medical services, insurers, etc.)? If so, I say you're in the health business.
The way the world is going, I think if you are only in fitness, you are pushing a big rock that is getting bigger up a big hill that is getting bigger. If you are in health, the sky may be the limit in the near future.
So, which are you? A fitness center or a health club? Share your answer in the comment section below.