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Post & Courier (Charleston, SC)


Francisca Dilling has been committed to physical fitness her entire adult life and has worked out in many different gyms and studios in the Charleston area for 25 years.

"I began working out at the Ladies Workout Express on Coleman Boulevard when I was a teenager in the mid-'90s, later moved my workouts to the MUSC Wellness Center for over 10 years," says Dilling, who now works full-time at Boeing.

"As I became a working mom of two boys, my time became more limited and precious. My fitness has remained a priority, as it makes me a better person, so I make the time for my daily workout."

Her busy life, Dilling adds, requires that she pick her workouts wisely, focusing on strength, cardio and flexibility. She's found having trainer-led classes is not only the best way to achieve that, but this method also keeps her motivated.

Dilling is like a growing number of people in the area who will go to a variety of studios featuring yoga, barre and fitness, and are willing to spend $200 or more to "fitness snack." The latest gym that caters to this crowd is a sleek new studio on Johnnie Dodds Boulevard called HYLO.

Fitness specialization

Since the early 1990s, the number and variety of fitness clubs and studios in the Charleston area has grown beyond imagination. Back then, there were mostly all-purpose gyms in the area. Those proliferated, then an array of specialty studios hit the market: yoga, pilates, barre, climbing, indoor cycling, martial arts as well as CrossFit and other HIIT (high intensity interval training) gyms.

But one notable trend in the past year is the high-end or boutique studio, which are aesthetically beautiful, almost spa-like spaces that often charge a premium for services.

The opening of HYLO Fitness has raised eyebrows this spring because the club, which features a high-intensity studio on the ground floor and a low-intensity one on the second floor, was built specifically for the facility on land that used to be the Uno Mas Mexican restaurant in Mount Pleasant.

HYLO opened at the same time as two other studios did: Reverb Charleston yoga studio, located in Raven Cliff Co.'s tech-centric Pacific Box & Crate development on King Street Extension, and CycleBar indoor cycling studio in Mount Pleasant Towne Centre.

The market for high-end fitness appears strong as Longevity Fitness and Revolution indoor spinning, two studios in downtown Charleston, recently celebrated first and third anniversaries, respectively. Likewise, high-end franchises, such as Pure Barre and Orangetheory, also have flourished locally.

Charleston has gone from a town with a half dozen relatively big fitness players to dozens of all sizes.

National trends

The trend of people willing to spend more money on fitness is happening across the nation.

According to the latest data from the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association, about one-fifth of Americans are health club members and their average monthly club dues are $54, or 1.2 percent of median household income.

And many patrons, such as Dilling, are fitness snacking, going to several studios and clubs each month. The association estimates that 86 percent of patrons go to more than one studio or club.

That also may be possible because of a wave of budget franchise gyms, notably Planet Fitness, that, as of last winter, had 1,300 locations, including five in the Charleston area, in every state and the District of Columbia. Planet Fitness, which charges $10-$20 a month, has an aggressive goal of having 4,000 clubs in the United States.

More than fitness?

Many local fitness experts echo those on the national level in saying the people who take their health seriously are willing to pay for trainer-led workouts. The believe that it is not only efficient but has a social, even fun, component.

Jennie Brooks, owner of Longevity, is a local - born and raised - who moved to California and was drawn into personal training there. She moved back to Charleston in 2009. After two years of training people at MUSC, she heeded the repeated calls to open her own studio.

In November 2015, she opened Longevity, featuring HIIT training, Pilates, personal training and body work, in a spa-like space on the penthouse floor of an office building on 163 Rutledge Avenue, just a block from MUSC's "horseshoe."

"I wanted to create a place where people can go and feel connected," says Brooks. "People are paying me for more than fitness. They want an experience and community."

Fees at Longevity range from $26 for a group training class to $1,500 a month for a Gold membership.

Lindsay Rodbell, co-owner of Revolution, says the age range of people coming to the indoor cycling studio is 18 to 70, but that the average rider is in his or her 30s. Revolution's rates range from $22 for a single cycling class to $180 a month or 10 rides.

"People are willing to pay the extra cost to go somewhere that's fun and trendy," say Rodbell.

Landis Clayton, a partner at HYLO, moved from Denver to Charleston nearly three years ago to help start the Orangetheory franchises and "realized this is where I wanted to be."

Clayton says the people, including millennials, amateur or aging athletes, professionals, who place a high priority on fitness are willing to invest in it. And she said the same forces that are changing Charleston are impacting its fitness industry.

"Young people are coming in with Boeing, Volvo and Mercedes. And the older demographic is starting to embrace (fitness)," says Clayton.

"It's all about people who prioritize fitness. That's why we're here. This is about the journey, not about the result. We don't do 30-day challenges. We have workout fiends who treat it just like brushing their teeth in the morning. They just want to work out. Some will come in for a high (intensity) class in the morning and a low (intensity) in the afternoon."

HYLO's memberships range from $150 to $190 a month, though Clayton says most are paying about $180.

Those rates are similar to CycleBar's, though, like many boutique studios, it offers a discounted introductory rate.

Bob and Catherine Lee, who also own local Massage Envy franchises, brought the Cincinnati-based indoor cycling business to Charleston and hope to add two more studios to the area.

Bob Lee says that they draw a range of people but noted that "ladies want to get away from Big Box gyms because they feel like they are being watched." The CycleBar has "a movie theater concept" studio.

"It's a nice, dark, secure environment and it's fun," says Lee, noting that CycleBar likes to consider workouts "a party on a bike."

The franchise's Cincinnati Reds red color scheme pairs with a lot of amenities, including theater-like acoustics, vital statistics and a weighted bar (hence the "Bar" in CycleBar) that provides some upper body strength training while riding.

The bottom line

Tracie Long Mathewes, owner and operator of Long Training Studios on St. Philip Street, has been a professional fitness instructor in the area since the late 1980s, starting with The Firm, in which she began making fitness videos.

Mathewes also was involved in arguably the first boutique fitness club in Charleston, which started as V and then was re-named Blue Fish, before the recession and other economic issues closed it down.

"I've seen a lot of things come and go," she says. "But I think the big gym scene is going away and the studios are popping up. Still, I think all the different studios confuse people about what they need to be doing."

Mathewes says what will win in the end is the trainers.

"You can have the coolest name for the coolest class but it won't have legs because no one feels like you're invested in it," says Mathewes. "People are willing to pay more because their chances to succeed are better. It's about accountability."

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May 29, 2017


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