How to make fitness culture more community-centric

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      In the ever-evolving fitness landscape, a new trend is here to stay—one that goes beyond the conventional concept of gyms as simply a space for physical exercise. Now, more than ever, we are in an era marked by isolation, and gyms have become a vital location for fostering a sense of belonging.

      Today, community-focused gyms prioritize member satisfaction by building strong, inclusive communities. Members are not just attendees; they are integral parts of a shared journey toward health and social fulfillment. Within these community-focused gyms, individuals form connections over shared fitness interests, breaking through barriers that exist in other social spaces.

      I have identified three essential elements that gyms can focus on to build an engaged gym community: group activities, personalized training, and active involvement in local community outreach.

      Big-box gyms have commonly provided group classes as a secondary feature, but this new era of community-focused gyms has made group fitness and connection a core offering. There is not only greater diversity in the type of group fitness classes, but also a vibrant social calendar with inclusive events that members are encouraged to join.

      The impact extends beyond the gym floor, creating a dynamic community network that contributes to member fulfillment. Research shows that group exercise can lower stress levels by as much as 26 per cent, as well as significantly improve our quality of life. We see this play out in real-time at Fitness World, with our class attendance rising significantly year on year, and we continually add more class types and increase frequency in response to member demand. Additionally, social events, including weightlifting seminars and fun fitness challenges, transform our members into a community, fostering camaraderie that goes beyond the typical gym experience. This communal engagement translates to higher loyalty, retention, and brand advocacy, providing members with the accountability and motivation to make fitness fun—a key factor in sticking to a healthy and active lifestyle.

      Personal trainers are another core part of cultivating a communal, welcoming, and trusting atmosphere. Trainers connect with individual members, providing support for each client’s unique fitness goals, strengths, and challenges. This tailored approach fosters rapport, instills trust, and establishes a supportive bond between the trainer and each member, contributing to the broader community spirit within the gym. Personal trainers also foster accountability and motivation by leading by example and cultivating solidarity between members and clients. When members feel supported and valued, they are more likely to continue to return to the gym and feel more connected to the community.

      Community-focused gyms can extend their impact beyond their walls through active engagement in local outreach programs and social initiatives that resonate with their members. Collaborating with local charities, organizing fundraising events, and participating in community service projects not only fosters a sense of shared purpose and social responsibility among existing members, but also attracts prospective members. In this way, community-focused gyms transcend the traditional fitness model, becoming not just places for physical transformation, but also hubs for fostering a collective sense of social responsibility and community pride.

      Gyms have begun to redefine what success looks like as more and more businesses recognize the power of a strong community in the fitness landscape. Recognizing their role as facilitators of the local community, gyms create a sense of belonging that both reduces isolation and sets members up for success in reaching their goals. Through strategic investments in group activities, personal training, and local community outreach, gyms encourage fulfillment, connection, and shared purpose—all of which contribute to this new and improved era of the fitness industry. 

      Chris Smith is president and CEO of Fitness World Canada.