What’s the Difference Between a Gym and a Fitness Studio?

Gym or fitness studio? Fitness studio or gym? If you’re thinking of starting a fitness business, you may be looking at these two options and wondering which is right for you. After all, they’re both kind of the same thing…right? Not so fast. Let’s look at the real difference between a fitness studio and a gym so you can make the right choice. Ready? On 1, and 2, and 3, and 4, and…

 #1. Gyms generalize, fitness studios focus

One gym, millions of workout routines—all as different as the people who are there. You might have the same kettlebells, barbells, mats, and punching bags, but the gym is a place where everyone can come in and do a little bit of anything (and everything). A fitness studio, in comparison, is much more focused. You offer set classes or instruction, for example, and the equipment isn’t out for everyone to use at any time. Instead, you usually focus on doing one thing together. This can be a great thing: if you have a particular area you’d like to double down on (for example, martial arts, CrossFit, yoga, or Pilates), then you can design your entire fitness studio space around that practice. But if you just want to provide the equipment and let people do the rest, then a gym’s your choice.

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#2. Gyms are about access to equipment, fitness studios are about access to expertise

As a gym owner, you’d want to offer a robust mix of weight machines, free weights, cardio machines, and other auxiliary equipment like mats, balls, resistance bands, and so on. In fact, the success of your gym would probably depend on having a good enough range of options for people to use. Nobody’s going to pay for membership if the equipment is two treadmills and a weight rack. But if you own a fitness studio, you could have just those three things and still be wildly successful. That’s because people look to fitness studios for expertise. They want the specialized instruction or classes only you or your team can provide. That means you can go lighter on equipment but make up for it with the range of personalized classes, private instruction, and training.

#3. Gyms are larger and less personal, fitness studios are smaller and more intimate

It makes sense that gyms would be larger: you need space for all that equipment! But with a lot of equipment, a lot of space, and a lot of members comes a less personal experience. Sure, you could get to know the people who come and work out there, or even offer the same types of classes a fitness studio might, and in doing so create a more personal experience within the larger gym environment. But the real personal attention tends to happen in a fitness studio, which lends itself to group or one-on-one instruction and tends to work well in a smaller, more intimate studio space. Ask yourself whether you prefer to be more hands-off when it comes to customer interactions, or if you prefer to curate the fitness experience from start to finish. This will help you decide whether a gym or fitness studio is a better choice.

#4. Gyms run on memberships, fitness studios run on registrations

This may be an obvious point, but it’s important. Most of a gym’s revenues will come from memberships and perhaps a small portion from personal training or group classes/instruction. In contrast, while some fitness studios are also set up on a membership model (for example, monthly or yearly class membership), there is also the flexibility to allow people to sign up for one-off classes, class packages, or personalized instruction or training.

The revenues will flow in very different ways. You might find that gym ownership lends itself to a more hands-off approach, whereas with a studio, your ability to create an enticing and well-balanced schedule of offerings will often influence how many people sign up—and how much you earn! 

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Choosing to open a gym or a fitness studio

These are some of the broad differences between gyms and fitness studios, but they give you a sense of what’s possible in both domains. Whether you choose to open a gym or a fitness studio will depend on how you want to structure your own experience as a business owner: more hands-on, or more hands-off? More personalized instruction, or more generalized equipment? Smaller space and more control, or bigger space and more equipment? One choice is not necessarily better than the other, and your own interests and priorities will help guide you to the right decision.

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