The rise of multi-purpose gyms and why I’m not an advocate

Yo yo!

The lack of recent posts is due to me having been relaxing (with the odd family dispute as happens on every family holiday) in the South of France on holiday. I spent a few days with a best friend in my old University city of Bordeaux, followed by a surprise trip for Dad’s 70th with my brother at our parents’ house in South West France. Bless him, he thought he was seeing things.

Outside by the pool at parents' cottage in South West France.
Outside by the pool at parents’ cottage in South West France.

Whilst on holiday, and sat in the garden under the sun with a blistering temperature of 37 degrees (contrary to the storm in London whilst writing this), I was reading Le Monde Diplomatique.  In the August edition, there was a very interesting article on fitness titled Jus détox et cardio-training, le nouvel esprit de la bourgeoisie (you have to be subscribed to have full access) by Laura Raim (“Raim”).


The article discussed numerous points including:

  • the rise of luxury gyms in France which are meticulously decorated, and offer restaurants, hairdressers, cinemas, work places etc;
  • being healthy and physically active is the new wealth, meaning that being unfit is a sign of poverty; and
  • obesity being a sign of both laziness and unwillingness.

The core argument is therefore, that being physically fit is a sign of being of a “superior class” and thereby representing one’s social status. Through the rise of luxury gyms, fitness has become yet another way of the wealthiest distinguishing themselves from us normal chaps.

In this post, I am going to discuss the first of the three points and in a later blog cover the social class argument.

The rise of luxury fitness

First things first. From my time in France and from time spent with my French friends, the spread of fitness fanatics is less extensive in France compared to the UK. This is particularly noticeable with regards to female weightlifting. In any gym I have trained in whilst in France, I have always been the only female in the weights areas.

However, I have noticed this beginning to change and indeed this article would support such a view.

Blanche, salle de sport en France
The home page says it all.

Raim discusses the Benzaquen family, described as the “pioneers of luxury fitness” with their gyms in Paris called Klay and most recently Blanche.

For the price of around 1810 euros per year for a membership at one of these gyms, members have the following:

  • ultra-contemporary design (marble, granite etc);
  • pool with jets;
  • spas;
  • hairdressers;
  • bars and restaurants;
  • places to work and places to have meetings (say what???!);
  • conferences; and
  • private cinema amongst others.

My opinion

First thing to say is that, at least in the UK, health clubs have been around for a looong time. Indeed that is where my parents met and my dear Mother always tells me of the social aspect of her club (dinners, parties etc). Yet this club offered classes as opposed to individuals going to train.

Having a contemporary design, pools and spas is fine by me but introduce hairdressers and especially PLACES TO WORK, and you’ve lost my interest.

Now I am all for whatever it gets to get people to the gym. Yet, I fear having multi-purpose gyms, and especially places to work, takes away the core purpose of going to the gym – a temporary escape from the real world.

I think I have made it clear in my previous posts that for me the gym is an escape. The gym is one the place I have to 100% decide what I do and when; to completely empty my mind; to forget work and personal issues; and to de-stress. It is my place for mental and physical regeneration.

And I ask myself if the same would occur if it became “mainstream” to have multi-purpose gyms. And my answer is no.

Diminishing mental returns

Whilst such other features of a gym may attract more people, again I fear these people will not fully take away the benefits of exercise. The mental benefits of exercise arise from spending time alone, clearing one’s mind, and crucially learning how to concentrate solidly on the task in hand without outside distractions.

Stretching after a HIIT session in the countryside in South West France.
Stretching after a HIIT session in the countryside in South West France.

This is something I fully benefited from on holiday as at my parents I had to train in the garden in the middle of nowhere. No distractions, only the birds signing (and my excessive panting).

Eliminating outside distractions is something that in the technology and social media age, are becoming harder and harder. We are all victim of being constantly distracted by our phones causing us to be permanently connected to the outside world with less focus on ourselves.

And this is why the gym can offer an escape from outside distractions and the chance to improve our ability to fully concentrate on the task in hand. Of course, this is only if we choose to do so. I choose to put my phone on airplane mode or silent whilst training to permit such concentration, and although during a session I smile and acknowledge people I know at the gym, people have learnt to only talk to me at the end of my workout (lol).

I ask myself how having multiple facilities at the gym would improve our concentration whilst training. Would we not rush our workouts? Miss the last set to meet a friend in the restaurant? Miss our end of workout cool down to make our hair appointment or work meeting?

There would simply be too much going on around us to permit us to completely empty our minds. We would be too aware of what else is on offer, what else we should be doing and as a result diminishing the mental benefits of exercise.

Social aspect

I am not arguing that people at the gym should not socialise, in fact the contrary as I love having a little community at the gym, knowing others and the PTs. Yet this never takes away from my training – once my session has begun I am 100% in it until it ends.

Socialising is incredibly important and equally brings mental benefits. Both are possible at the gym but like anything require moderation and knowing when you need to focus.

Nevertheless, I still hold the belief that we all need some alone time in order to reconnect with ourselves and know ourselves. Personally I get this from the gym but it is true that others may find it easier to train with a friend and get this reconnection and mental regeneration from other things such as mediation, going for a walk, reading etc.

Pure endorphin-high after an outside sweaty workout.
Pure endorphin-high after an early outside sweaty workout.

What’s important is that at the end of some alone time, you feel reconnected with yourself and happier – like me on a pure endorphin high after another very sweaty session at my parents’ house in France.

Is it just a phase?

I do question whether such multi-purpose gyms will continue to rise and become mainstream. Cross fit for example, has taken training back to basics with gyms stripped to their bare core: ropes, tyres, rings etc. Here, there are the necessities – nothing more, nothing less – which I personally believe provide even more of an escape.

So there we go. I am not an advocate for such multi-purpose gyms as for me it would take away one of the core reasons I go to the gym. Then again, I don’t have to go to one of these, and to be honest, even if I wanted to I can’t currently afford the crazy membership prices.

Is this a blessing in disguise? Je pense que oui.

Z x




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