Boutique gyms packing in members

Niche market: Grit is a no-frills, bare-bones fitness facility that is among the newest to join Singapore's burgeoning boutique gym scene.
PHOTO: Boutique gyms packing in members

The workout at local gym Grit begins even before you set foot inside: It is an 80-step climb to the fitness facility, located on the highest floor of a shophouse in North Canal Road.

Inside, training equipment like kettlebells and battle ropes occupy part of the small, bare-bones space - also the training ground for its "warriors".

The gym, which opened in May, conducts classes based on a training system from the United States called Training For Warriors.

Each class is capped at four people, said co-trainer Allan Ng, so everyone can expect "individual attention".

"Fitness is not about smashing yourself during a workout, but about improving your life in some way," he explained.

"And because this is different for everyone, it's important that we take care of even the smallest details during a person's workout, and make sure it suits his or her particular abilities and needs."

Like several other gyms here, Grit is part of a trend that has landed in Singapore: Small, specialised and intimate fitness centres that forgo cookie-cutter programmes and services.

And this niche market - comprising centres that offer anything from high-intensity interval training to Power Plate classes - looks set to grow.

A My Paper check with six boutique gyms found that all are seeing membership numbers climb, with some even doubling those from a year before.

"These days, people want personalised service and to feel part of a community," said Brad Robinson, chief executive of Ritual, known for its "in and out in 30 minutes" model.

"It's simply not possible to feel like anyone even knows you exist when you share a space with thousands of other members (in a big gym)."

Boutique gyms tend to afford users more exclusivity as well, said Ghaneswaran Sukumaran, founder of Kinetika Xtreme, which opened in Turf Club Road in June.

"Members who book a slot know they have a spot reserved in a particular class for them," he said. "So there's no need for them to jostle with others over space or equipment."

Erik Gunawan, who owns Designed Fitness, said that the setting in big commercial chains can be intimidating.

"For some people, the bright lights and blaring club music are just sensory overload," he said.

"Imagine after a long day at the office, you're at a place where it's crowded and loud. Instead of feeling energised, you'd end up feeling even more exhausted."

But even as this niche market is set to grow, experts cautioned that not everyone is suited for such specialised classes.

Power Plate machines, for instance, are not recommended for pregnant women, said Tommy Yao, national fitness manager at Fitness First Singapore.

"Those with spinal injuries need close supervision and a doctor's clearance before using these vibrating machines," he added.

Such individualised programmes and services can come with a hefty price tag, too. Membership fees at Ritual, for example, start from $369 a month.

But for 29-year-old Rohaizatul Azhar, it is a premium worth paying.

"The staff know you by name and the trainers give you the attention you need, even suggestions on the kinds of food you should eat. They're very friendly and it makes working out fun," said the freelance writer.

He had joined the gym about seven months ago, after leaving a big gym chain because he "didn't know what to do in there".

Added Mr Rohaizatul with a laugh: "When you're paying that much (for a boutique gym), it really motivates you to get out of bed and go to the gym."

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