Encouraged by the Chinese government’s push for better national health, China is going through an exercise craze, and the trend of becoming more active is especially prevalent among young women. New gym services that allow a one-time trial through via WeChat bookings are now available. In Shanghai, we went and tried out fitness lessons from two different companies that have recently been expanding gyms across urban China.
According to Beijing’s Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business, within the past, two to three years over 37,000 new fitness clubs have opened across China. A report by IBIS World also says that the fitness market in the country grew by over 10% annually between the period of 2013 to 2018, and by 2018 the market size had grown up to US$6.91 billion.
This surge in popularity for fitness in China has been largely driven by the millennial generation, and what has attracted them to gyms has been a wider range of fitness lessons — from workouts to yoga — and the ability to more easily join in whenever it suits them.
Super Monkey handles everything within WeChat
We first tried out a class from gym franchise Super Monkey. They’ve currently expanded to over 70 gyms in both Tier 1 cities — Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen — and some cities in the New Tier 1 category. Super Monkey originally started out operating small, unmanned training rooms, though in 2015 they switched their main business to providing group lessons that come in several different fitness genres. While its main focus is one-time-only classes, but they also offer concentration lessons over multiple times as well as private lessons.
Booking a class is done through a WeChat mini-program. You can choose from a wide variety of fitness categories — including yoga, Zumba and Boxercise — so users are sure to find the fitness they want to do at a time that they like. Booking is available up until just before the class begins, giving the classes a high level of accessibility. Fees range from around US$9.80 to $12.60 for 60 minutes, and payment is carried out through WeChatPay when you apply for the lesson.
A special pin is issued to you 30 minutes before the lesson starts, which you use to unlock the main entrance to the gym. The locks on lockers and changing rooms don’t come with keys, however, you can purchase keys through WeChat by scanning nearby QR codes. On entering the fitness studio, the instructor shows a QR code on their phone which you scan on your phone to confirm your attendance. How these preliminaries are all handled easily through WeChat is a distinctive feature of the service and is one of the main reasons for Super Monkey’s surge in users.
This writer tried out a yoga class along with ten other female participants in a spacious and squeaky clean studio. The instructor took the time to handle every each participant — fixing their posture and guiding them through the poses — making for a highly enjoyable and satisfying lesson.
Trying out the 24-hour gym Lefit
Next up, we tried out a dumbbell workout class with Lefit, which operates a chain of gyms that open 24 hours, 365 days a year. Lefit has established around 500 gyms in eight cities that include Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Nanjing, and as well as operating as a gym they offer group lessons and personalized training.
Bookings and payments with Lefit can also be carried out through their official WeChat account. Also similar to Super Monkey, they feature a wide array of programs. However, unlocking the entrance to their facilities requires using a QR code which isn’t available on their official WeChat account but instead on their custom app, of which you’re prompted to download.
We tried out a weekday class at noon with 12 participants — though there was one male, the rest were women in their 20s and 30s. Exercising with dumbbells was, admittedly, a lot harder than this writer thought it would be, but the instructor energetically encouraged us, calling out in time with the music to raise the energy level.
Lefit is set up as a fitness studio attached to a regular gym, and within the app, users are enticed by gym discounts and coupons for personalized training sessions at bargain prices. Also, unlike Super Monkey’s focus on increasing one-time users, Lefit tries to lure users into becoming members through having some programs be members-only.
The appeal of booking and attending when you like lowers the barriers to exercise
With health-conscious attitudes becoming more widespread in China, the urge to exercise more is naturally awakening within a wider demographic. However, when a person who doesn’t exercise regularly suddenly tries to enter into a monthly gym plan, they’re going to be faced with considerable mental and financial barriers. For this reason, a system where the fitness program of your liking can be booked and attended for just one time — on a “see-what-it’s-like” basis — and on the occasion that suits you will likely contribute towards increasing the number of people who exercise. The accessibility afforded by WeChat is also an appealing factor.
The “Healthy China 2030” plan, that was announced by the Chinese government in October 2016, predicts that by 2020 the market size of the health service industry in China will grow to US$1.2 trillion, and by 2030 grow to US$2.4 trillion. With such encouragement from the government, we can expect substantial growth for the future of China’s fitness industry.
Text: Ching Li Tor
Original text (Japanese): Yoriko Takizawa and BeautyTech.jp editorial team