¥300 billion gym industry looks to novel exercises to entice new users

by

Kyodo

Fitness clubs are increasingly diversifying the activities they offer in a bid to make a workout as fun as possible.

Far from having to bicycle through puddles and traffic, exercisers at one gym are working up a sweat on stationary bikes in a darkened room, under a mirrored disco ball and to the throb of pumping music. They lurch wildly and punch the air in time with an instructor’s commands.

That is the scene at Feelcycle, a chain of seven cycling fitness studios across Japan operated by Tokyo-based Venture Bank Inc.

The program is so popular classes are sometimes fully booked at peak times. It appears to draw mainly women in their late 20s to 30s.

“We pedal in dim light, so I can really get into it without feeling embarrassed,” said a woman in her 30s.

“Time flies in the 45-minute class and it’s not so tiring,” the woman said. She attends a Feelcycle studio in Tokyo four days a week.

Many people come after work, but there are also those who enjoy a morning blast before the workday begins, said a Feelcycle spokesman.

“Our members say sweating in a morning workout even helps boost their efficiency in the workplace,” he said.

A recent study by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry shows that the fitness industry recorded revenues of ¥299.7 billion in 2013 and that about 3 million people were registered users. Both figures were up 2 percent from the year before.

But competition among the gyms is intensifying and they are eyeing novel ways to attract clients and keep them engaged.

One popular exercise is known as “slacklining,” which involves balancing on and bouncing on a taut, thin nylon strap. The 5-cm-wide webbing offers a workout akin to exercising on a tightrope.

In April, Tipness Ltd. in Tokyo started offering slacklining at its Tip.X Tokyo Ikebukuro studio. It says the class now has a waiting list.

Beginners find it tough just to stand on the strap, Tipness says. But after some practice they can change direction and even stretch out one leg while bending the other.

“Members can both enjoy it as a game and burn belly fat” as the exercise works muscles such as those in the abdomen, an instructor said.

Some sports clubs are installing an exercise known as “Ubound,” which began in Argentina. It comprises a tiny, one-person trampoline on which a person jumps and runs in place.

“The exercise is popular among a broad range of people, including those who are serious about losing weight and those who just want to improve their fitness in a comfortable way,” said an official of Sports Club NAS.

Since the exercise on the trampoline puts a smaller burden on the knees, it is recommended for the elderly as well.