Posted December 3, 2017 11:46 pm by Comments

Boxing fitness gyms see growth in female members

Boxing fitness gyms see growth in female members

Women fuel explosion in boxing fitness gyms. Alexandra Turner crouched over a punching bag on the ground, straddled it, then let loose a fury of punches and elbow strikes.

Her ponytail whipped through the air as she landed blow after vicious blow.

“Beat it up! Beat it up!,” the instructor yelled to her and the other 10 members of TITLE Boxing Club’s new afternoon “mixed martial arts” fitness class in Ann Arbor, most of them women. By the end of the 75-minute workout, everyone was covered in sweat and looked exhausted.

“For me this is my stress relief, it’s my therapy,” said Turner, who is 28. “You don’t have to be angry, but it certainly helps.”

Women are fueling an explosion in boxing fitness gyms, where they are training as though they’re preparing for a prizefight.

Companies such as TITLE Boxing Club and 9Round have been expanding across the state with studios that look like boxing gyms and offer guided, high-intensity workouts based on boxing, kickboxing and mixed martial-arts training regimens.

While there is no fighting or body contact in these programs, participants burn a lot of calories and improve their cardio and all-around fitness while picking up self-defense basics.

Roughly 70% of the members at these boxing-for-fitness clubs are women, according to club owners. That’s a change from combat sports in general, which are still male-dominated activities and spectator sports.

Industry observers say the clubs tap into a previously underserved demographic — women who like new challenges, are bored by on-your-own gym routines and have fitness goals beyond just losing or maintaining weight.

“They don’t want a woman-only thing like Curves back in the day,” said 9Round CEO Shannon Hudson, a retired professional kickboxer who co-founded the South Carolina-based business with his wife, Heather Hudson. “Women want to feel like they can do what men can do, and a lot of them can do it better.”

Boutique fitness

9Round, Title and iLoveKickboxing are the biggest national players in fitness boxing with Michigan locations. Industry experts consider these clubs part of the larger boutique fitness studio trend, in which smaller spinning, yoga and pilates centers have been luring exercisers — particularly women — out of “big-box” gyms.

“Women are driving the growth,” said Josh Leve, CEO of the Association of Fitness Studios, a trade group. “Now strong is the new skinny.”

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There are also locally owned studios offering fitness boxing and kickboxing classes, such as Jabs Gym in Birmingham and Detroit, the Studio Boxing + Fitness in Rochester and the Boxing Rink and 6 Degree Burn Fitness Studios in Troy. All the gyms are open to male and female members.

Helping drive the fitness boxing boom are the national chains’ relatively low franchise location start-up costs compared to traditional gyms, which need expensive treadmills, weight machines and video monitors. This makes them attractive opportunities for personal trainers, or even retired fighters, who desire to open their own gym but prefer not to start from scratch.

The typical required investment to open a 9Round franchise location is roughly $100,000 — not including any costs associated for leasing building space. That compares to the $350,000 to $500,000 startup costs for opening an Anytime Fitness and the $1.7 million to $2.4 million for a Planet Fitness, according to company representatives.

Industry experts say another factor in the clubs’ growth is the availability of good locations and rent deals in empty storefronts that once contained retail stores. “What’s also driving the growth is the death of retail,” Leve said.

Still, for an industry that has seen numerous fitness trends come and go, from ThighMaster to pole-dancing classes, it’s an open question whether boxing-for-fitness studios will have lasting appeal or are a fad destined to fade.

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The phenomenon might also go the way of Curves International, a chain of women-only gyms that peaked in the 2000s, but has since lost thousands of locations as members left.

“There was a joke going around where if you want to open up your own fitness center or studio, do it next to a Curves, because it’s just going to be a feeder system of people who are looking for more,” Leve said.

A Curves spokesperson said that Curves clubs, depending on location, also offer yoga and high-intensity workouts such as boxing classes.

“Curves has been a leader in the fitness industry for 25 years now, and is still one of the largest chains of fitness clubs for women in the world with more than 4,000 locations in over 70 countries,” the spokesperson said.

A Whole Foods demographic

Title Boxing Club was started in 2008 and is the second-largest boxing fitness chain in the state. It has about 175 locations nationwide, including 11 in Michigan with six more under development. Title’s headquarters are in Overland Park, Kanas, although CEO John Rotche is based in Ann Arbor.

Title clubs generally charge higher membership fees than 9Round, between $89 to $109 a month, depending on location. Their typical franchise location start-up investment is also higher, just under $150,000.

“We’ve really become the premier, highest-end in boutique boxing and kickboxing,” Rotche said. “Our target audience will probably be the same people who are shopping at Whole Foods, Plum Market, REI.”

Title Boxing Club licenses its name from the older Title Boxing equipment company. In 2016, an ownership team including Rotche and NFL quarterback Drew Brees bought out the equipment firm’s 27% stake in the company.

This summer, Title began adding mixed martial art (MMA) to its regular schedule of boxing and kickboxing classes.

“When we first started doing this, we thought women were going to be scared — they’re going to hear ‘MMA’ and they’re going to run. They’re going to want nothing to do with it,” said Dustin (Doc) Roller, 26, a class instructor at Ann Arbor Title and current MMA fighter. “But it was the complete opposite. Every class is almost filled.”

Lea Wright, 22, of Ann Arbor, said she loves the new MMA class.

“It is a great workout to do when you are angry or stressed,” she said. “You come and you take it out on the bag, and you feel great.”

Nine rounds at 9Round

Also started in 2008, 9Round has become the fastest-growing fitness boxing chain with 591 locations in 41 states and 13 countries. That includes 15 Michigan locations, up from seven last year. Many of the studios are located in shopping plazas.

9Round is known for its intense 30-minute circuit-training workouts that involve nine rounds of activity at various boxing bags. Participants are guided by instructors and wear heart-rate monitors. There is no standing around between the circuit’s three-minute rounds; you instead get 30 seconds of so-called “active rest.”

“Active rest is an exercise that a trainer is going to call out. It might be push-ups, sit-ups, burpees, squats,” explained Guy Shaham, who owns the Troy and Bloomfield Hills franchise locations. “It’s kind of an oxymoron. We want to keep them moving.”

Membership fees at 9Round begin at $59 a month. Many of its members have no previous experience in boxing or kickboxing.

Jessica Behenna, 56, of Bloomfield Hills, learned about 9Round when searching for a fitness activity that she and her teenage daughter, Lauren, a senior at Bloomfield Hills High School, could do together.

They had previously gone to a regular gym, but “even though we were together, we were separate in terms of activities.” They also tried karate several years ago as a mother-daughter duo, but found the classes boring and not a great workout.

So far, the Behennas are very pleased with 9Round. The half-hour workouts are time-efficient and intense, Jessica Behenna said, and the circuit is set up differently each day. She also likes how there are no set class times and members can start the circuit whenever they arrive.

“I get triple benefits when I go,” Behenna said. “I get to spend time with my teenage daughter, I am getting exercise in with the full-body workout, and the third thing is this idea of being powerful and strong.

“Other people may feel they need to take a self-defense class. I’m doing that, but it’s built into my fitness class.”

The roughly $100,000 start-up investment for a 9Round is among the lowest in the fitness sector and has fueled the chain’s fast expansion.

“Because our investment is so low, we can open them quickly … we can be break-even very quickly and be profitable very quickly,” said Hudson, 9Round’s CEO.

Ownership screening

Not everyone with the cash is allowed to open and operate a Title or 9Round franchise.

Only 20% of 9Round’s franchise applicants make it through the company’s screening process, Hudson said, and about 10% of those people will later get turned down for not being a good fit for the brand. 9Round also requires would-be buyers of existing locations to go through the screening and visit company headquarters in Greenville, S.C.

The key attributes 9Round is looking for from applicants is “a love for fitness and a love for people,” he said.

The CEOs of 9Round and Title contend that fitness boxing is poised to keep growing and not be another short-lived fitness fad, like 8 Minute Abs and NordicTrack ski machines. They noted how boutique fitness studios in general are staying popular.

“If it was a funny piece of equipment like a Shake Weight, that is very fad-y,” Hudson said. “Big-box gyms now are trying to figure out how to put boutique into their big box. LA Fitness called me and said ‘I want to put 9Round in all 600 LA Fitnesses,’ and I said ‘No way.'”

Locally owned Studio Boxing + Fitness opened three years ago in Rochester and offers group classes and personal training.

Owner Josh Simonis said the studio has continued to add members, even as the national fitness boxing chains expand. Yet he’s not sure there will be room left in the market if more clubs open and try to chase the trend.

“You don’t want too much competition where you’re choking each other out,” Simonis said.Women fuel explosion in boxing fitness gyms Boxing fitness gyms see growth in female members

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