Not long ago, gyms were places that offered painful-sounding experiences for a monthly fee and the tacit understanding that you might not show up as often as you intended.
Now there is a new type of fitness centre whose proprietors might not let you come at all. Gaining admission requires an application, an interview and assurances about your intentions. As with some golf clubs, you might need a referral from a well-placed member.
“I decided early on that our memberships should be application-based and should be capped,” said Aqib Mamoon, chief executive and founder of Ghost, a $300-a-month fitness club in Brooklyn said to cater to “thought leaders, creatives, founders or executives”.
Mamoon said he did not exclude anyone on the basis of their profession but was seeking to create a more intimate environment for his clients. “I don’t quite consider Ghost a gym,” he told The Times via email. “Certainly, it is a space where one might work out. But more broadly, we’re building community and culture through a new iteration of wellness destinations.”
At Heimat, a gym that opened in Los Angeles last year where membership costs $350 a month, many hopefuls were said to have been turned away. Sebastian Schoepe, chief executive of RSG Group North America, which owns the gym, told The New York Times he did not want clients who “look at a gym as a selfie opportunity, a place solely dedicated to performance-orientated training or a workout that needs to be done.”
He added: “We are not looking to bring in people who keep to themselves and don’t see the value of mingling with like-minded people.”
Also in Los Angeles, in an alleyway building with the anonymity of a speakeasy, stands Forma Pilates, where entry is by referral only. The group has two gyms in New York which also require that you know someone on the inside. Referring to the goings-on behind the frosted glass, the Wall Street Journal said it was “the Pilates class you’ll probably never get into”.
John Atwood, managing partner of Atwood Consulting in Boston, which advises health and fitness clubs, said this new tier of gyms began popping up about eight years ago. Before that, certain gyms were more restrictive because they happened to have very particular clients, he said. There was the Houstonian Club, in Texas, where the Bush family worked out, and in California, Beverly Hills’ Granite Club, which catered for various film stars. “They have an entrance in a back alley,” he said. “If I was Tom Cruise, I would want a lot of privacy [at my gym]. I totally understand that.”
Atwood recalled going for a jog around Boston Common with a friend of his, a rock star, and being waylaid by fans wanting autographs. “She was begging people to just let her run,” he said.
“Some of these places are about wanting to make sure you are committed to your goals,” he said of the new exclusive gyms which operate like country clubs. But he worries about the message they send in a country where 40 per cent of adults are obese. “The rich get richer, the fit get fitter [and] there is no middle class left of fit, well people,” he said.