Johannesburg – The world of exercise may be largely monopolised by Virgin Active and Planet Fitness, with all their bells and whistles, but the “dry” gym concept has been quietly muscling in on the act, attracting members with no-contract, no-frills deals at more affordable fees.
The first dry gym concept – which means no swimming pool or steam rooms – was introduced by Viva Gym, a UK-founded gym chain that expanded into Spain and launched in South Africa last February with three Viva gyms, in Roodepoort, Fourways and Port Elizabeth.
Viva has done well enough to warrant another two openings scheduled this year, in Rosebank’s The Zone, which is being redeveloped, and Montana Park in Pretoria.
“We invested a significant amount in the equipment, the facilities and the technology in order to provide a state-of-the-art gym, but we have cut out some of the really expensive extras, such as a pool, meaning we can charge members as little as R220 a month. We also don’t require a commitment to a contract when joining,” says founder and managing director Chase Emson.
The look and feel of Viva gyms, even though they are highly affordable, is upscale. Design Partnership was tasked with the interiors, and “we didn’t want the space to look ‘cheap’, so we created a premium and polished look with good finishes and urban feel that would appeal to everybody”, says architect Justin Saker.
A Viva gym is set over 2 000m2, with changing rooms, an aerobics and spinning studio and over 1 000m2 of gym floor.
Table tennis features at the one at Fourways Crossing, which gives it a quirky, sociable aspect.
And yes, there are showers, so you don’t have to walk out with the sweat you just acquired.
Adopting the same dry gym concept is the new kid on the block, GO Health, which opened with its first offering at Northview shopping centre in Northwold, Joburg, on May 15.
The technology of the equipment is also highly advanced, set in a highly contemporary environment similar to that of Viva, with laminate flooring, clean grey surfaces lifted with splashes of colour and plenty of flatscreen TVs.
Each GO Health club covers between 1 750 and 2 000m2, and the emphasis is very much on the individual member.
“We focus on providing a highly personalised experience uniquely tailored for each member, using the latest fitness and mobile health technology,” says Justin Williamson, GO Health chairman.
The membership fee is between R259 and R300 a month, depending on the site.
“The big existing health clubs have become expensive, and consumers are faced with rising costs of living. The expense at these clubs are the swimming pools, which are expensive to install, maintain and keep heated, and use significant electricity.
“Yet, only five percent of their members use them. So we decided we’re not putting pools in, to significantly reduce fees to the member,” says Williamson.
Backed by Grindrod Bank, GO Health is bullish about its future, planning to open 40 gyms by 2019 to gain 20 percent of the market share.
“We are opening two in Pretoria, one in Durban and another in Cape Town within the next six months,” says Williamson.
Not to be outdone, Virgin Active and Planet Fitness also compete in the dry gym space. Virgin Active has its Red clubs, for a fee starting at R209 a month, but these are in the outlying areas of Brackenfell in Cape Town, Little Falls near Krugersdorp, Boksburg, Soweto and Alberton.
Planet Fitness has its JustGym clubs, starting at R179 a month, and these are also outside the main hubs, located in Arcadia near Pretoria, Belville near Cape Town, Pietermaritzburg, Rustenburg, Pinetown near Durban, Newtown and Carlton Centre in Joburg, with one opening soon in Hammanskraal near Pretoria.
Suffice to say, if you’re a city slicker, the Viva and GO Health clubs are a good option if you can give the pool and steam rooms a miss.
Moving to more specialised exercise concepts, there’s also been a proliferation of gyms that offer group classes only.
S.W.E.A.T. 1000 (which stands for Specialised Weight Endurance Athletic Training, and 1000 represents the calories burnt in a one-hour session) has two studios in Joburg, in Sandton and Bryanston, and one in Cape Town, while more recently, Movement X opened in Bedfordview and Norwood, as well as in Durban.
S.W.E.A.T. and MovementX offer state-of-the-art equipment used in a group training environment, with limited-sized classes so as not to detract from the personalised attention from an instructor to each member. A wide variety of classes are offered, with intensity levels suited to every need, but essentially the exercise is a combination of interval-style training incorporating specialised treadmills which incline to 30º, with floor work using resistance bands, and other high-intensity exercises.
To give you an idea of classes at MovementX , the choice is Xtreme (high intensity interval training), apeX (athletic conditioning circuit), boXer (boxing), aXis (Pilates), barreX (ballet bootcamp), fleX (yoga), rebound (trampoline workout) and aerobiX (aerobic toning and cardio).
However, the costs might be the offputting factor here. At MovementX, the fee is R1 250 a month on a 12-month contract, or R160 a class. At S.W.E.A.T. 1000, it costs R1 650 for 10 classes, or R180 per class.