News broke just a few months ago that Pure Gym are now the biggest gym operator in the UK, with 90 gyms in just 6 years of operation. And now, within the last week or so, it’s also been confirmed that they have also just bought out LA Fitness, taking over another 47 gyms in the UK. As more budget gyms open up, the pressure is on for their competitors to drop prices. After all, if you could pay from just £9.99 per month (up to around £24.99 in London) for a gym membership, wouldn’t you?
But just what does that mean for the future of UK gyms?
Pure Gym said that they will give the sites a “no-frills makeover”, which, like all their other sites, means ripping out swimming pools and saunas and using front of house and back office space to fit in more machines, equipment… and members.
The recent purchase of LA Fitness has already been twitching ears over at the Competitions and Markets Authority (CMA), which turned down a proposed merger between Pure Gym and The Gym Group just last year. Until the CMA approve Pure Gym’s plans the two businesses will run separately. However, it is likely that any individual gyms that are not approved by the CMA will just be sold on.
According to Pure Gym’s chief executive, Humphrey Cobbold, approximately half of the members of gyms bought by Pure Gym have stayed in the facility following the switch-over. This highlights a very clear divide in consumer expectations of having a self-service gym, and a more supported, personal experience. Those gyms that can offer the personal touch are that much more likely to survive the takeovers.
So what about Pure Gym?
I was given a free trial at my local Pure Gym (currently Enfield) in anticipation of an even closer site opening near me in Harlow soon. Being used to the strong, community feel of CrossFit, it was a strange experience walking in the front doors and being confronted not with a group of smiling faces ready to chat, but with a PIN pad and two cylindrical entry doors which I felt for a moment might transport me down a river of chocolate.
Once through the doors (it took me a few minutes while I struggled to remember my 8 digit PIN). I was straight into the gym space. Some lockers on the right hand side offered space to keep your kit of you’re on a fly-by visit, while changing rooms on the first floor were available for showering, changing and storing kit. My fiancé had asked me how they controlled people going in to the other gender’s changing rooms if there were no full time staff working at Pure Gym, and at the time I didn’t know. But when I got there I realised that the changing rooms were also PIN controlled, meaning you could only access the relevant changing rooms for you (at least I assume so, I didn’t try entering my PIN for the men’s changing rooms!).
I tried a bit of everything, using the cardio machines, weights area, functional fitness zone, etc. and it all seemed fine. The only thing missing for me was a dedicated space to use a free-weight bar – there were plenty of benches around, and a couple of squat racks, but no platform space at all, though I know some sites do have Olympic weightlifting platforms (like the Harlow one will, for example). The machines all have QR codes stuck to them, and you can download a Pure Gym app which allows you to track your training by scanning the QR code and plugging in a few statistics from your training. Quite a neat touch, and more convenient than the little plug-in things you get in some gyms.
I didn’t get to try any classes unfortunately, but I saw one taking place in the studio area on the first floor of the Enfield branch and it looked busy but spacious. The spin section was huge with probably around 30 bikes in the space. There was even a little weights room in the very top floor (fourth floor) where there were quite a few women doing kettlebell and dumbbell workouts, so there’s definitely a space for everyone in the Pure Gym model.
On balance – my Pros and Cons of Pure Gym
- Plenty of space to train – there will always be a piece of equipment for you to use, even if it’s on a different floor or in a different room to where you usually train.
- Variety of equipment – from rowing to stair climbing, functional fitness to weights machines, they even had a grappler which I’ve only seen in one gym before.
- Open all hours – if you want to train super early because you have to catch a train to work, or if you fancy a quick spin late at night, Pure Gym is there for you 24/7.
- Affordable – at £22.99 for the Enfield branch, or £10.99 for my local gym in Harlow once it opens, I would be hard-pressed to find an excuse not to be able to afford it.
- PIN code entry would take some getting used to, especially with an 8 digit PIN to remember.
- Staff members are few and far between – I only spotted one member of Pure Gym staff in the 90 minutes I was at the gym, and she was giving a personal training session.
- Intimidation factor – even as an experienced gym-goer I felt a little intimidated walking into Pure Gym for the first time. I’m also not sure how I’d feel training in there on my own late at night or early in the morning.
- Social experience – a lot of people go to the gym and socialise, whether that’s with each other or with a smile and a “hello” to the receptionist as you walk in, it adds to the social experience of training. I get the feeling that Pure Gym could be quite a lonely experience.
- Accountability – while they post challenges on boards as you walk in, the low cost and lack of social interaction bring down the level of accountability you might feel from another gym. You’re more likely to train and keep going back if you feel accountable to do so.
Overall, I think Pure Gym was fine. Budget gyms have their place and bring fitness to a wider market with their affordable prices and 24 hour access. While I prefer my training to have a more personal and social aspect to it, I can understand the need for places like Pure Gym, and they are perfectly acceptable places to train for those who want a more self-service, in-and-out option.
You can find your nearest Pure Gym branch here.
Disclaimer: I received a free trial at Pure Gym but, as always, my opinion is my own and not affected by free trials or products.