I'm not an economist or a financial advisor, but I do know that paying $34 for a workout sounds like a lot of money. And yet, so many boutique fitness aficionados have no qualms about dropping that much money just to sweat for an hour (maybe shower and cop the nice toiletries, too) in a fancy studio — myself included. Like a $6 latte, or a $20 desk salad, the $30 workout class is just another cost that many city-dwelling millennials have come to accept.
In New York City, a single ride at SoulCycle costs $34; a boxing class at Rumble is $36; a run at Mile High Run Club is $34; a dance class at 305 Fitness is $34, and we could do this all day. There are some pricier outliers — a strength-training workout at Tone House costs $45, and a Megaformer SLT class will cost you $40 — but for the most part, classes all seem to fall within the $30-$36 range. It might seem like an arbitrary number, but there's a calculated reason why that is.
To understand why boutique workouts cost $34, you have to understand how the fitness landscape has shifted in the past 15 years or so. When classes like The Bar Method, SoulCycle, and Orangtheory Fitness first came on the scene in the early 2000s, they got people out of big box gyms and into boutique studios. Compared to personal training sessions, which can be intimidating and costly, boutique workouts offered specialized instruction in a welcoming group setting. Instead of offering memberships with contracts to customers, boutique workouts set individual class prices for anyone to take. That meant, exercises had to swallow a sometimes hefty price tag to get into their beloved workouts, (which is competitive on its own) and that just became the norm.
So, how did studios land on the magic number $34? There are a number of factors that influence how companies set prices, like understanding how to stay competitive in the market, but it ultimately comes down to "knowing that what you set as your pricing also influences the consumer’s perception of the quality they will receive," Josh Leve, founder and CEO of the Association of Fitness Studios, the trade association that represents studio owners and entrepreneurial fitness professionals. "If your fitness studio is focused on delivering the best possible experience for your members or clients, but you price below what others are charging to generate business, then consumers will believe that your offering is average; counter to how you have positioned your studio."
Providing "the best possible experience" is everything in boutique fitness. A clean candle-lit indoor cycling studio, or a live DJ spinning a workout playlist on the dance floor, or a selection of Chanel products in the locker room, makes your workout feel more luxurious and even enjoyable. Beyond ambience, boutique workout instructors are more than just trainers to customers; they're friends, motivational speakers, and confidants. According to Leve, this is all intentional: "In today's competitive market, consumers want to know you care," he says. "Your customer doesn’t care how much you know until they know how much you care." And in New York City, "caring" has a clear price point.
Noah Neiman, co-founder of Rumble, says that they "spare no expense" when it comes to making sure that their customers get an elevated experience at a boxing class. "We have a philosophy of 'elevate or die,' so it’s imperative that the customer experience keeps improving," he says. From custom Rumble-branded benches, weights, and quick hand wraps, Neiman says he puts a lot of thought and energy into "curating an experience" for customers. And people seem to buy it: Rumble's three New York City locations host anywhere between 300-650 people a day, he says.
But as boutique workout studios get even fancier, will classes get even pricier? Elvira Yambot, COO of Tone House, has seen firsthand how the New York City boutique fitness scene has evolved. When Tone House opened their first studio, classes cost $35; now a class is $45 at the flagship studio. Still, in New York City, "where the cost of everything is higher," and there's a new workout studio on the block every month, group fitness classes seem to be thriving, she says.
"Consumers are still responding positively based on the high demand of, and increased attendance in classes, despite market saturation," Yambot says. "Obviously, rates are also $30-plus because running [any business] in NYC is also a real estate game, with heavy operating costs, in a highly competitive industry." And although third-party booking sites like ClassPass may get more customers into studios, that's another cost that studios have to consider, explains Rich Velazquez, COO at Mile High Run Club.
At the end of the day, many people are willing to pay upwards of $34 for a single workout because exercise feels like an investment in your health. Obviously, there are plenty of free ways to work out, but a studio class isn't only about the workout — it's the experience. "Experiences today are social currency," Leve says. "I like to say 'health is the new wealth.'"