Boutique gyms have exploded in popularity. The days where you showed up, scanned a gym pass, and worked out by yourself are quickly disappearing. Nowadays, boutique gyms offer quality coaching and community vibes that help keep members excited for their workouts.
But there are drawbacks to small, boutique gyms too. Namely, boutique gyms offer one specific fitness solution and it might not meet your needs.
So what’s the difference between boutique fitness studios and traditional gyms? What are the pros and cons? We’ll answer the debate, then suggest another solution that might better align with your health and fitness goals.
<h4><p style="color: rgba(20, 117, 135, 1)">What Is A “Big Box” Gym?</p></h4>
A big box gym is a chain fitness company that offers several fitness solutions under one roof. They are typically located in a warehouse and include weight rooms, studios, pools, and other options. You pay a flat fee each month to use the gym. Unless you pay extra for a trainer, your membership enables you to show up to work out by yourself and not much else.
<h4><p style="color: rgba(20, 117, 135, 1)">Cons</p></h4>
<h5><p style="color: #000000">1. Steep Learning Curve</p></h5>
Big box gyms are overwhelming. Hundreds of machines, trainers all over the place, people dropping weights. It can be a lot, even if you’re used to going to the gym. And hiring a trainer at a big box gym to teach you to use the equipment is not included in your membership.
<h5><p style="color: #000000">2. Commute Time</p></h5>
Between driving to and from the gym, changing and storing your stuff in the lockers, and getting warmed up, it might take you over an hour to start your workout! If your workout is only thirty minutes, you might be spending more time getting ready to work out than actually exercising.
<h5><p style="color: #000000">3. Big Box Doesn’t Care About Your Goals</p></h5>
Between equipment costs and facility space, big box gyms have a high overhead and operating costs. Memberships are how they make most of their money. Because costs are so high, most big box gyms think of their members as dollar signs. They don’t ask about your fitness goals, your training background, or anything else—unless of course you’re willing to pay more money.
This ties into the dirty little secret about big box gyms they don’t want you to know.
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<h4><p style="color: rgba(20, 117, 135, 1)">The Dirty Little Secret About Big Box Gyms</p></h4>
Big box gyms actually hope you don’t show up to the gym. This may seem like a big claim, but it’s true. In fact, most big box gyms actually build you not showing up into their business model.
Most big box gyms have thousands of memberships on the books. *Thousands*. It would be absolute chaos if everyone showed up for a workout. Next time you go to the gym, count how many treadmills there are. Then think about what would happen if two thousand people showed up on Saturday morning and had to share sixteen treadmills.
Big box gyms build what they call “ghost members” into their business model. These are the New-Years Resolution-type-folks that sign up for a gym membership and then never show up. Once locked into one-year contracts with steep cancellation fees, they pay it even though they aren’t using the gym.
The truth is that big box gyms plan for about *two thirds* of their members to become ghost members. Are these the right people to help you reach your goals?
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<h4><p style="color: rgba(20, 117, 135, 1)">What Is A Boutique Fitness Studio?</p></h4>
A boutique gym is a small, community-based fitness center—or studio—specializing in one or a few types of fitness. Even a big boutique gym usually has less than five hundred members. Popular examples of boutique fitness studios include: CrossFit, Orange Theory, SoulCycle, and the various types of yoga.
Each boutique gym has its own brand of fitness. For example, CrossFit builds their brand around “high-intensity constantly varied <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/exercise/what-is-functional-training-and-can-it-benefit-you/"><strong>functional movement</strong></a>.” Put simpler—CrossFit is a series of <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/exercise/4-great-functional-exercises-for-every-day-fitness/"><strong>full-body exercises</strong></a> performed quickly so you get your heart rate up. And if you ever go into a CrossFit gym, you’ll see tons of equipment designed just for their workouts.
Orange Theory is another boutique gym with both a brand and their own equipment. Their fitness model is designed around getting people’s heart rate monitors into the “orange” zone during workouts.
<h4><p style="color: rgba(20, 117, 135, 1)">Pros of Boutique Gyms</p></h4>
Boutique gyms have exploded in popularity recently. Here are some reasons why.
<h5><p style="color: #000000">1. Community</p></h5>
The biggest thing people going to big box gyms miss out on is community.
A good boutique gym is like a good church. You initially go for one reason, but the community and relationships you build with other members and coaches keep you coming back.
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<h5><p style="color: #000000">2. Coaching</p></h5>
Most boutique gyms have an experienced coach teaching class. A good coach makes sure members stay safe, get a good workout, offers modifications for injuries, and makes class fun.
The ratio is usually between 8:1 and 15:1. This means plenty of facetime with your coach and time to ask questions if you have some confusion or need help. Instead of feeling overwhelmed by all the machines in a big box gym (or paying for a trainer to teach you), you may want to check out a boutique gym. They include their coaching as part of your membership fee.
<h4><p style="color: rgba(20, 117, 135, 1)">Cons of Boutique Gyms</p></h4>
Still, there are some downsides to boutique gyms. Here are the two main ones.
<h5><p style="color: #000000">1. Each Boutique Gym Is Different</p></h5>
Because boutique gyms live and die on their coaches, no two gyms are the same. If the right coaches work there, you might have a good experience. But if someone opens a boutique gym with the sole purpose of making money (this happens more than we wish it did) the members feel it.
This inconsistency is a problem. Say your cousin loves the coaches at her CrossFit gym in Texas and is getting great results. So you sign up for a class in California, but the facility is dirty and the coach is unwelcoming. Still, both of those gyms are “CrossFit Gyms.”
<h5><p style="color: #000000">2. Each Fitness Brand Has Drawbacks</p></h5>
Each style of boutique gym offers it own specific fitness solution. You might find that the solution doesn’t meet your needs. Here are some examples of popular options.
There is a relatively high relationship between CrossFit and injuries<sup>2</sup>. If you haven’t worked out in a long time or don’t have great mobility for some of the exercises, you might hurt yourself doing CrossFit.
SoulCycle focuses only on one type of fitness. If you don’t like cycling or like to change up your workouts, you might get bored quickly. The same thing goes for boutique yoga studios, too.
Orange Theory is based on heart rate training, which is not actually the best way to get fit. You’ll burn a lot of calories but not add lean muscle, which long-term, is the key to <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/exercise/the-best-full-body-workout-for-weight-loss/"><strong>losing weight</strong></a>. The best way is to use proper full-body exercise progressions.
<h4><p style="color: rgba(20, 117, 135, 1)">So, What’s The Best Option?</p></h4>
If we had to pick between boutique gyms and big box gyms, the clear winner is boutique gyms. Big box gyms don’t care about you or your fitness goals and many actually hope you don’t show up. Boutique gyms at least offer community and coaching which will motivate you to show up and give your best.
If you find a good boutique gym, we encourage you to give it a try. Or consider a third option.
<h4><p style="color: rgba(20, 117, 135, 1)">What About A Third Option?</p></h4>
Comparing big box gyms versus boutique studios, we actually think there’s a third (and better) option: *at-home workouts*.
Why? Because at-home workouts make things simple. There are no trainers, commutes, or membership fees. All you need is some floor space and a little motivation and you can get a great workout right in your living. Warrior Made’s <a target="_blank" href="https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCZjFDJI4B4l16uujibduMFA/videos"><strong>YouTube channel</strong></a> and <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/exercise/"><strong>blog</strong></a> offers great full-body workouts twice a week that take thirty minutes or less.
Coach Tyler walks you through each exercise so it’s safe and you have some mid-workout motivation. Plus we give our workouts away <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/exercise/"><strong>for free</strong></a>, which you’ll be hard-pressed to find anywhere else.
Warrior Made’s at-home workouts solve the problems big box gyms—and to a lesser extent, boutique gyms—create. Learn more about how you can transform your body through <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/"><strong>Warrior Made</strong></a>.
<h5><p style="color: #000000">Resources</p></h5>
1. <a target="_blank" href="https://www.investopedia.com/articles/investing/082015/economics-crossfit-gym.asp">The Economics of a CrossFit Gym</a>
2. <a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28253059">Are Injuries More Common With CrossFit Training Than Other Forms of Exercise?</a>