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Are New York’s boutique fitness class prices out of control?

Exhale

Exhale’s Core Fusion is one of the most expensive classes in the city, at $37 for a single class. (Photo: NBCNewYork.com)

 

Today is a funny day for a conversation about pricey fitness, Jamie, a 35-year-old lawyer, tells me. “I’d signed up for one SoulCycle class in the morning and one class at night and was going to cancel one depending on my schedule, but I forgot to do it,” she explains. “So I ended up going twice in one day because I didn’t want to lose out on 30-something dollars!”

Jamie worked for a major law firm for many years, but since she decided to go freelance, she’s been stressing out about how much she’s spending to sweat. She’s not alone. When people find out I write about fitness classes, their first question is often, “Why are they so expensive?!” Everywhere I go, New York women complain about the price of getting fit. “Even with my corporate discount it’s not worth it!” one 26-year-old working at a major media company told me. “Two classes at SoulCycle is the same price as my monthly Crunch membership, and I can spin and go to yoga there.”

In New York, 45- to 60-minute classes that cost more than $30 a pop are now the norm. A single class at SoulCycle or Barry’s Bootcamp costs $34. At Exhale, it’s $37. And it’s not just the crazy popular, pioneering brands that are charging premium prices in hot Manhattan neighborhoods anymore. (Barre studios opening in Cobble Hill are now charging $33.) It’s a fact: working out in a boutique studio will trim your body fat and your bank account.

SoulCycle

SoulCycle is often credited with setting the standard when it comes to high class prices. (Photo: Facebook/SoulCycle)

Questions abound: Why is the cost so high compared to other cities? Are the prices justified by the luxury product offered? And will people be willing to keep shelling out more or will the bubble burst? Here’s what we found:

Blame it on the real estate

One thing that drives New Yorkers crazy is that class prices in other cities are often discounted by a third or more. A Flywheel class in Los Angeles is $25 compared to $32 in Manhattan. Studio owners, of course, blame the market. “New York is just a harder place to do anything. The pricing is astronomical,” says one national barre studio executive currently shopping around for space. “The rent can easily be three times what we pay in most markets.” (Although she’s quick to point out that the potential to make big bucks is also exponentially greater.)

“Over the past several months, boutique fitness tenants have leased spaces anywhere between 2,500–7,000 square feet,” says Amy Zhen, a representative from real estate firm Savanna, which has been involved in recent deals in Chelsea and the Flatiron. Zhen says rents are typically $75–$95 per square foot for spaces bigger than 5,000 square feet and $95–$125 for smaller spaces. So a 5,000-square-foot studio could pay about $475,000 a year, and small studios are disadvantaged with higher rents.

Many class-goers sympathize. “Living in Manhattan is expensive, so the prices of boutique fitness classes don’t give me sticker shock,” says Louisa, a Tribeca mom of two. “I get it. Space is at a premium. It’s expensive to pay rent and run these studios, so I don’t see it as a greedy grab by fitness owners.”

Refine Method

Single classes at Refine Method cost $32, but most clients opt for a $300 monthly membership, says founder Brynn Jinnett. (Photo: Facebook/Refine Method)

Small classes, quality service

Boutique studios based on classes also point to the fact that they don’t have the over-booking benefit big-box gyms (and airlines) rely on. New York Sports Club may have thousands of paying members who never show up, while Flywheel can only sell space for one bottom per bike. And many, like Refine Method, offer a level of service that requires them to pay instructors to not only teach the class, but to create playlists, take measurements, offer member feedback, and more. “The level of individual care that goes into our programming translates into costs that you don’t have at a gym, where a teacher shows up, teaches, and leaves,” says owner Brynn Jinnett.

“The classes where you have have personalized attention, that’s where I’m willing to pay,” says 31-year-old Vanessa Chu, who hops between classes at Barry’s Bootcamp, Flywheel, yoga studios, and more. “But I think there’s room for prices to come down in classes that are really packed.”

A New York state of mind

While most proprietors won’t deign to admit it, it also has to do with the fact that New Yorkers have dough to spend, even if it is just the one (or five) percenters. “There’s a certain mentality in New York where people will pay anything to get what they think is going to benefit them—whether that’s a $1,000 oxygen facial or a $45 barre class or a $2,000-per-week meal plan dropped off at your door,” the barre executive says. Even many on the lower rungs regularly spend a day’s income on dinner at the hottest new restaurant or a sample sale of Rebecca Minkoff bags.

More responsible spenders have started to swap said dinners for late-night sweat sessions. “To me, it is worth it, but I have to keep track of my weeks and think that if I’m going to a $35-workout today, I’ll go to a free workout tomorrow,” Chu says. “Or I’ll think ‘I don’t want to go to that show that’s $100 because that can get me five workout classes.’ I kind of think in workout currency.”

Are the prices worth it?

It’s the $375 per month question (and the price of an unlimited month at Physique 57). Happy spenders say: if a particular class motivates you to get healthy and makes you a happier, sane person, why not? “As a whole, the country has become a lot more conscious of health and fitness and keeping your body going for a lot longer and boutique fitness and finding a workout you love is part of that,” Louisa says. It’s cheaper than personal training. It’s way cheaper than therapy. A class is the same as what you’d spend on two cocktails, says SoulCycle co-founder Julie Rice.

Of course, “boutique” obviously wasn’t conceived to help the masses get healthy. Flywheel clip-in cycling shoes are Louboutins; old sneakers in a foot cage at New York Sports Club are last season’s Kenneth Cole pumps you got at DSW. Why would owners lower prices if people want the Louboutins? Says Jamie, “People say to me all the time, ‘Why are you paying all that money? Why don’t you run outside?’ But it’s just not the same.” —Lisa Elaine Held

What do you think? Are boutique classes worth the price tag or are prices skyrocketing out of control? Tell us in the Comments, below.

16 Comments | ADD YOURS

  1. November 7th, 2013 at 8:35 am

    If you can fit it into your budget, I think it’s worth it. The high price is actually a motivator. Paying $80 a month for a gym membership is a waste of money if you can only drag your butt there three times (it’s always easy to come up with an excuse that you’ll go tomorrow). But I’ve come home at 3 in the morning and gotten back up at 5:30 am to make my soul cycle class because goddamnit I’m not wasting the money! Also, let’s be real, the yoga and spinning classes at gyms are just not the same.

  2. November 7th, 2013 at 10:01 am

    I understand that the higher prices for boutique fitness classes are due in part to the higher costs of rent in NY. But I’m still not convinced that the premium should be attributed to instructors who teach the class, create playlists, take measurements, offer member feedback, etc. I’ve had memberships at gyms of all price tiers throughout the years, from Bally’s to Equinox and (briefly) Reebok and I can say anectdotally that many of those gym instructors care and offer that personal advice, as well. Conversely, I’ve been rushed off after asking questions at a particular spin studio in Brooklyn and have endured snobbery at some yoga studios.

    In my opinion, boutique fitness studios are not necessarily better. I think the booming boutique fitness industry here in NY, is a brilliant marketing scheme, designed to allow New Yorkers to flaunt their wealth. So, if you have the means, go right ahead, but I’m pretty certain that those without who can’t afford the luxury can achieve results just as successfully and have similarly personal attention.

  3. November 7th, 2013 at 10:05 am

    I run a fitness-boutique classes finder. I don’t think that it’s about the price. It’s about the quality.

    $99 membership for a big-gym-full-of-people, is not cheap if you only go 4 times a month.

    Gym membership is a great option for people who can attend on a regular basis, but not everyone falls into that category.

    $99 for 3 almost personal classes in awesome fitness boutiques + 3 or 4 free outdoor activities a month sounds like a good plan, isn’t it?

    The market is big enough and there is a big chance to find what fits you better.

    Miguel

  4. November 7th, 2013 at 10:18 am

    The prices are very expensive, but they are also relative to other things in the daily NYC life.

    If you are willing to spend $16 on a single cocktail, you should be willing to spend $30 on something that will benefit your mental and physical being. Not that I particularly like to spend $30 to work out regularly, but it sure does motivate me to not skip that workout and it also makes me make smarter choices through out the day.

    The thing I do not like about these prices, is that it alters people perspective and leads them to believe that other gyms or classes are not as good just because they are not as “exclusive.” That is not true, if you are self-motivated and you don’t need the shower facilities or equipment, then you can get a great workout for less. But, as we all know, the motivation factor is what we really need. And, $25-$35 for a somewhat personal trainer plus positive peer pressure is much more cost-effective than $100+ per hour for a one-on-one session.

  5. November 8th, 2013 at 9:37 am

    Revolve is an indoor cycling studio in Union Square with AMAZING TEACHERS & CLASSES. Better yet – An individual class is only $25 and there is an unlimited intro month for only $149. Student rates range from $10-$15 a class depending on the package. CHECK IT OUT!!!!!! Also, there are amazing donation-based yoga studios like ABC Sanctuary in the East Village that feature highly trained teachers.

  6. November 8th, 2013 at 10:47 am

    I agree that classes can be a little pricey but there are some smart ways to save money especially if you’re the type of person who likes to switch up your workouts. http://www.whereineedtobe.com/fitness-on-a-budget/

  7. November 8th, 2013 at 10:50 am

    The question is not “Is it worth it,” but “what needs to be charged for teachers and businesses to make a living wage and a profit?” The Yoga world, for example, has set itself on a downward spiral of discounted prices in an attempt to attract students and compete with each other, in effect suggesting that no no one should pay for the true value of a class in a space for which rent must be paid and for which teachers are needed. Yoga Teachers in France were charging $20-$30 a class thirty years ago! They took what they were doing seriously, had to pay rent, eat, raise children and save. No Yoga teacher in NY can afford to do that unless they teach a staggering number of classes. More needs to be charged. Not less.

  8. November 8th, 2013 at 11:03 am

    This is why I’m a member at of Equinox. They have amazing high quality classes (spinning, yoga, boxing, intensati, and the list goes on) and its much more affordable compared to boutique classes. My friend gasp at Equinox dues but end up almost paying twice as much for 10 classes.

  9. November 8th, 2013 at 11:04 am

    Truly, it’s unsustainable, unless your lifestyle and/or income support consistent carefree spending. I’ve been teaching reformer and barre classes for 14 years, and I’ve had many diligent clients check out after a period of time due to budgetary constraints (job change, new baby/babies, etc.) and it always breaks my heart not to be able to offer them a more realistic price structure. Studios would be meds greatly from offering “gold level” memberships, or tiered memberships that clients could graduate into after attending, say, 100 classes, where a discount might be offered. It would incentivize the truly devoted to keep coming and still leave room for new clients.

  10. November 8th, 2013 at 11:17 am

    I agree with the person who said that I’ll only pay for personal attention. I go to As One regularly and I justify the price based on the fact that I no longer need to see a personal trainer. A (good) trainer once per week cost 30-40% more than my monthly membership at As One. I don’t compare NYSC/Equinox with boutique studios, I compare it to personal training. When you look at it that way, I’m getting a pretty good deal.

  11. November 8th, 2013 at 11:49 am

    I agree with Vix in that boutique fitness classes are a brilliant marketing scheme. The best classes I have ever taken were included in a gym membership (the class is now an outdoor boot camp class). Individuals who go to boutiques place higher value on the exclusivity and posh accommodations. It’s their right to that opinion. However, from my experience, boutiques do not meet any of my requirements for a healthy lifestyle. The boutique classes I have tried are a walk in the park, the environment and people perpetuate values different from my own, and the instructors are no more knowledgeable than gym trainers.

  12. November 8th, 2013 at 3:41 pm

    I lived in NYC/Bklyn for 12 years and joined Crunch after 5 years of watching my bank account hover over 0$ as my addiction to yoga & Pilates classes increased.
    I found the classes at Crunch were very high quality! – often the teachers also taught at well known specialty studios. Gyms also offer variety; I could take yoga b4 work and a cardio/ strength/ abs/ African dance… In the eve. And hop on the machines or use free weights. If I wanted.
    When I wanted to ‘ treat myself’ I would spring for a $20 class at Jivamukti – and emerge myself in the spirituality & culture not offered in the gym.
    HOWEVER!!! I have now lived in LI for 3 years. Here I bop around yoga studios, take 2x weekly a cardio/ strength class- 10 classes for 135, run in the woods, swim and kayak in the sound, ride my bike. But recently I nearly sent us to the poor house again bc I discovered 35$ reformer classes 2or 3 x a week. I justified the spending on Pilates bc I felt sooo good after! ….
    Ok. The point is: You can get quality work outs at the gym, outside your front door, or from the 1000′s of free videos & step by steps offered on the internet. What works for you & where you decide to spend your $ will change as often as the seasons or the trends … Well& Good will tell you what is Hot right?
    On one of my recent weekly trips into the city, I decided to again Treat myself with an Exhale Core Fusion class.
    The class was a joke!! It was basic basic, easy, teacher had No pizazz and more than 1/2 of the LuLu Lemon class ladies were doing the moves with poor posture and/ or incorrectly!
    I wanted my money back!
    All in all- sometimes you get what you pay for, and sometimes you don’t. Just like when you pop into a deli for a cup of cheap coffee & the cashier asks for 2.50! Deli coffee!!
    Shit! I could have walked 1/2 a block and payed the same for a dam good cup of coffee. You only know works (for you) with trial & error.
    And the bullshit artists out there will eventually go out of business.

  13. November 18th, 2013 at 4:31 pm

    I think it’s worthy only in the places it’s worthy. I`ll explain that. Here in Spain you can become a Personal Trainer in one weekend or in five years at college. People think that with a one weekend course of personal training they know everything about fitness, health, anatomy, etc.
    The problem is that people who has never trained before, don’t know the trainer knowledgement level (he trust him/her). As the fitness class will be 1&1, the trainer prices are 50€/hour.
    Is it worthy? I don´t think so. But, on the other hand, someone who has study for five years, evaluates your fitness, ask you to fill a Par-Q, and study every movement you have to do during the program….that`s worthy! Don´t you think?

    Sorry for my english.
    Álvaro Pedroche
    http://www.consejosfitness.com

  14. February 25th, 2014 at 11:19 am

    It’s not about the price of the class or small group training, it’s about the price of the results. You can pay a membership to a gym and lets face reality, most people will look and feel the same 6 months later. (I worked at NYSC and EQUINOX) The same statistics show that over half of people who purchase memberships will never come back….even though they pay monthly.
    However, if you attend a small group class, the trainer will force you to perform exercises and you will attend because you paid to go and you will get the attention and motivation needed to truly accomplish your fitness goals.
    Thats why places like Just Train and Barry’s are able to have so much social proof. You can see before and afters, and when you visually see who is attending these classes they look and feel great. You may pay more, but you are getting results so the actual cost is less.
    Also, if we are using the same logic, that $37 cocktail is really $150 because of the negative results and time needed to rectify the damaging effects.

  15. September 19th, 2014 at 11:23 pm

    I agree with the person who said that I’ll only pay for personal attention. I go to As One regularly and I justify the price based on the fact that I no longer need to see a personal trainer. A (good) trainer once per week cost 30-40% more than my monthly membership at As One. I don’t compare NYSC/Equinox with boutique studios, I compare it to personal training. When you look at it that way, I’m getting a pretty good deal.

  16. September 19th, 2014 at 11:24 pm

    From Spain. The article is great I love it and hope to return soon .

    The problem is that people who has never trained before, don’t know the trainer knowledgement level (he trust him/her). As the fitness class will be 1&1, the trainer prices are 50€/hour.
    Is it worthy?

    Article Congratulations and greetings from Spain

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