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Fit for Purpose – Music & The New Generation of Gyms

Insight Archive

Woman exercising

All over the world, the culture of exercise has transformed. Fitness has become a statement of identity to the millennial audience – and music is the heartbeat of the revolution…

Travel back in time five or six years, go to the gym and close your eyes. It doesn’t matter if you’ve travelled back to a Fitness First or a Virgin Active, to a luxury members’ club studio or a low-rent independent above a garage – chances are it’ll sound the same. You’re probably hearing something mainstream with a high bpm – standard-issue workout music. With your eyes shut, you could be anywhere.

Things have changed. Gyms are no longer interchangeable spaces. They have varying demographics, distinct identities – not just different logos, but clear and differentiated brands. All over the world, the fitness scene has evolved dramatically as the millennial generation has come of age, swelling to a £4.7bn industry in the UK alone, and ambitious challenger brands have carved their way into this lucrative market.

What was once a generic service has become a branded lifestyle statement – for today’s consumers, fitness has become a core part of their identity. The Guardian recently reported that ‘millennials claim to enjoy working out as much as going out; gyms have become stylish, social spaces where people spend their Friday nights and Saturday mornings.’ Once people hung out in nightclubs; now they go to the gym.

Uninspired gyms that don’t tap the new community of social-media-smart, fitness-focused self-improvers are on the way out. The brands that have seized this opportunity – like Equinox in the US, VI LAB in Shanghai and Gymbox, KXU or Third Space in London – are thriving. They’ve rejected the mainstream and built an enthusiastic army of fans – and they couldn’t have done it if they didn’t put music first.

The need for music to act as an atmospheric energiser for a workout or fitness class hasn’t changed, but it’s no longer enough just to give people a beat to move to. Today’s consumers expect a fitness soundtrack that forges a clear emotional connection and gets them into the right mindset – fitness music needs a personality.

From boxing-club beginnings, Gymbox has successfully positioned itself as a rough and ready-to-rumble outsider and built a cult, cutting-edge reputation. Gymbox found the roots of its brand identity in the anything-goes London club scene, and needed to translate that into a raw, urban and authentic sound that kept its members coming back for more.

Third Space makes a different proposition – bespoke fitness classes to fit around the busy lives of city professionals – and dips into the characteristics of the luxury lifestyle sector to radiate boutique appeal. Where Gymbox is grit, sweat and exuberance; Third Space is goal-orientated effort, elegance and wellness. Different brands, different audiences – and completely different sounds.

This shift has implications for the wider hospitality sector. Today’s travellers come from cities where the new breed of fitness clubs is already entrenched. If they’re used to the fitness brands of 2018, then stepping into a hotel with a gym offering stuck in 2008 can only be a disappointment.

Spas are now well-developed components of hotels worldwide, and the sector is also evolving. Brands such as ESPA in the UK, Vana Retreats in India, and Mi Xun in Shanghai are expanding their scope in terms of design, treatment range and the depth of the sensory experience they offer – in which music plays a huge part. New-era spa brands have long advanced beyond panpipe CDs and whale song, and are now using music not only to create a relaxing atmosphere, but also to stand out from the competition.

In highly evolved, fiercely competitive hospitality markets such as London, Dubai or New York, fitness presents an opportunity to differentiate, and a number of hotel brands are making inroads into this exciting new territory – and reaping the benefits. Premium hotels such as the Ritz Carlton Gal Harbour in Miami, Gansevoort Hotels and The Berkeley in London have tapped into the trend for group-exercise (GroupEx) classes that has seen brands such as SoulCycle, Core Fusion and Exhale thrive in the last decade – by partnering with them to create a branded fitness offering. In Dubai, H Hotel is one of many hotels that have harnessed virtual technology to deliver immersive, on-demand GroupEx experiences, from a library of hundreds of classes that range from yoga and PiIates to spin and HIIT.

For innovative new gym brands like KXU music is a key part of the brand experience. Music sets the rhythm of the workout; it can motivate you to move faster, push harder, train longer and – crucially for brand longevity – come back for more. The ideal soundtrack is in tune with the intensity of the exercise, the design of the space and the ethos of the overarching brand – as well as being curated to connect with the target demographic. Get that balance right, and you’ll be well ahead of the pack; get it wrong, and you’ll be left panting on the sidelines.

To find out more about our work with gyms and spas contact us at