SIOUX FALLS (AP) – Alicia Farmer emerged from the cycling room at a fitness studio on the southwest side of Sioux Falls, glistening with sweat.
She dabbed at her face with a towel and prepared to join the other women gathering in a mirrored room covered with yoga mats.
Although tired from the spin class she just finished at Define: Sioux Falls, Farmer was eager to begin that morning’s barre class, a ballet-derived exercise that also incorporates elements of yoga and Pilates.
She reflected on first joining the studio after a friend began teaching group fitness classes there when it opened in 2018.
“I got addicted to it,” she said. “I just loved it.”
Farmer is one of many Sioux Falls residents leaving traditional gyms behind and shelling out the extra cash to join boutique fitness studios, which are popping up all over the city. As the new year dawns and many people pursue exercise-related resolutions for 2020, finding the right gym is at the forefront of many minds come early January.
In the past few years, studios dedicated to everything from barre and cycling to yoga and kickboxing have sprung up in strip malls across Sioux Falls. Most recently, a studio devoted solely to indoor rowing moved into The Bridges at 57th Street.
A nationwide trend turned local
Sioux Falls is not alone in this trend. Boutique fitness studios are experiencing a boom nationwide as workout enthusiasts increasingly seek them out. Among the most popular are Orangetheory Fitness, a group studio that has more than 1,100 franchise locations nationwide, and 9Round, a kickboxing franchise with more than 750 sites in the U.S. Both have opened locations in Sioux Falls in the past few years, the Argus Leader reported.
Whereas bigger gyms like GreatLife and Sanford Wellness offer group classes in addition to rows of treadmills and weight machines, boutique fitness studios tend to feature smaller, more intimate classes that focus on a few types of exercises.
Colleen McGee Schurrer opened Revolution Yoga & Cycle near 47th Street and Western Avenue in 2017. Unlike many boutique fitness studios coming to the area, Revolution is a standalone gym that allows its instructors flexibility over the structure of their classes, McGee Schurrer said.
Revolution opened relatively recently and it is far from the only studio option in Sioux Falls.
“Many of the chains that would have never looked at Sioux Falls before now are, because we have the population to support it,” McGee Schurrer said. “There’s a lot more competition in the market.”
Community and connection
Part of boutique fitness’ appeal is the camaraderie members feel with other gym-goers. Many members join a class full of strangers and end up in a class full of friends.
“In our society, there is more and more reported loneliness and depression,” McGee Schurrer said, adding that with conveniences like Netflix and social media, “it’s easier to stay in all the time.”
But the innate human desire for social contact is strong, and tight-knit classes are an easy way to meet people.
“They’re looking for other like-minded people,” McGee Schurrer said. “A lot of people come by themselves and they end up finding connections.”
Andrea O’Connor is the owner of Define: Sioux Falls. She first learned about Define when she was living in Cincinnati. As a traditional gym-goer, she typically put on her headphones and kept to herself.
When a friend told her about Define, she decided to try it for herself.
She was hooked.
“It was so much more personal than a big box gym,” O’Connor said. “It became my favorite part of my day.”
Of course, part of the decision-making process when joining a gym is price. Whereas traditional gyms tend to cost around $50 a month or less – one bare bones option, Planet Fitness, costs $10 per month – most of the boutique gyms in Sioux Falls cost at least $100 monthly for the unlimited package.
“What makes it worth it is the type of class. It didn’t matter, really, what the cost was if the classes were fitting me right.”
But members such as Farmer feel the intimate community and caliber of programs at their studio is worth the extra cost.
“What makes it worth it is the type of class,” Farmer said. “It didn’t matter, really, what the cost was if the classes were fitting me right.”
Variety vs. specialization
Part of what sets boutique fitness apart from other gyms is the limited scope of workout options.
For some, that is part of the appeal.
Kennen Barber-Ensz, who owns barre3 in Sioux Falls, said specialization and expertise of instructors at smaller gyms are reflected in the price.
“The only thing that we do is barre. We do that really well, and I hope that the quality of that comes through in our classes,” she said, adding that the same is true of other gyms dedicated to a few select activities. “They do what they do really well, and so I think you get an elevated experience for that particular focus.”
Kate Boos, who has been attending classes at barre3 for about two years, says that she likes that the instructors combine elements of cardio, strength and mindfulness in every class.
“I don’t feel like I’m missing out on that variety … (because) I get all of those things in a one-hour class,” she said. “I’ve never felt like I need to go elsewhere.”
Kara Anderson, the studio manager at Orangetheory Fitness at 85th Street and Minnesota Avenue, said that although location has only been open a year, they already have about 400 members. Orangetheory’s one-hour group workout allows exercisers to choose among walking, jogging, running or biking.
One thing that Anderson feels is crucial to Orangetheory’s success – and that of other boutique fitness studios – is that members don’t have to come up with workouts on their own. Instead, they just show up and follow the coach’s guidance.
“They like that everything is planned for them,” she said. At bigger gyms, “you’re very dependent on self-motivation.”
For Boos, it’s the way she feels afterward that has kept her coming back again and again.
“I find, especially if I start my day off here … my day goes better. I’m just in a better mindset,” she said. “I go home to two kids and a husband and I just find that I’m better equipped to take on the day.”
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