Sick of the guy grunting in front of the mirror at the gym? More Tampa Bay workout options emerge

Community-oriented fitness studios that offer cycling, rock-climbing and other niche activities are on the rise.
CycleBar instructor Monet Izquierdo is reflected in a mirror as she leads a recent class. ZACK WITTMAN   |   Times
CycleBar instructor Monet Izquierdo is reflected in a mirror as she leads a recent class.ZACK WITTMAN | Times
Published June 9 2016
Updated June 9 2016


The way we exercise is changing.

Long gone are the days where the only workout options were impersonal gyms with people grunting in front of mirrors, avoiding eye contact with others and blasting music in their headphones.

Now, niche fitness studios are marketing an atmosphere where clients know each other and are even encouraged to share a drink after their workout — right there at the studio, no less.

Dozens of studios have sprung up in the Tampa Bay area over the last few years that offer "experience-based" workouts like rock-climbing, cycling, boxing, CrossFit, dance, yoga and Pilates.

In addition, the studios are encouraging their clientele to get to know one another.

"We're trying to create a community," said Annie Bernstein, vice president of operations and marketing for Ciclo Management. The company recently launched CycleBar, a niche fitness studio that specializes in spin classes, in South Tampa. "We want you to work out, but we also want you to hang out."

These studios will grow in the years to come, experts say.

"These establishments offer an interactive, community-oriented fitness experience," concluded a 2015 study by research firm IBISWorld. The study focused on yoga and Pilates studios around the country and found that those thousands of small businesses generated $9 billion in revenue in 2014. The industry is expected to grow to nearly $12 billion by 2020.

Though 85 percent of traditional gyms offer yoga or Pilates classes and some have rock-climbing or spin, speciality studios say it's just not the same.

They can install a fountain or drape tapestries on the walls to create a peaceful atmosphere for meditative yoga. They can erect a DJ stage and flashing lights to make the workout room feel like a nightclub.

CycleBar, for example, has a common space where it serves beer and wine after the Friday night happy hour ride, as well as mimosas and breakfast food so that people will linger after the Sunday morning class.

Most gyms can't create that vibe.

The small, often independently owned studios also have the flexibility to sell more than a monthly or annual membership. Packages are typically designed with the understanding that clients will go to a variety of studios for workouts throughout the week. Many studios, from yoga to cycling, charge about $15 per class, with lower rates if bought in a bundle. That way the clients can mix up their routine every day.

Beyond consumers' drive to stay fit is their desire for new, local experiences, a trend that has emerged thanks to the rise of Groupon and Living Social.

Rock-climbing gym Vertical Ventures has benefited from that shift. Less than a year after opening its second location in St. Petersburg, it is already shopping for the right spot to open another facility, which at 30,000 square feet will dwarf the others.

"If they weren't going to rock-climb they would go to a yoga studio, a CrossFit facility or a cycle gym," Hal Thureson, one of the owners, said of his 500-plus members.

When designing the St. Petersburg location, Thureson said it was more important to have open space for people to hang out and chat than it was to fit in more machines. The new location in Tampa will likely have a cafe.

Thureson said he is trying to offer a wider variety of fitness options. The move will bring Vertical Ventures into closer competition with traditional gyms, which have largely maintained their memberships despite the rise of niche studios.

"We're making room for a more traditional fitness area and also a space dedicated to yoga or Pilates or whatever just to round out the experience," he said. "There's a lot of people who don't want to pay for CrossFit and yoga and climbing memberships."

While it can be expensive to mix rock-climbing, cycling, yoga and other activities into a weekly workout routine, people are making extra room in their budgets, said Sarah Turk, IBISWorld's health and fitness industry analyst.

"There's a social movement where people are valuing health and wellness more than ever before," she said. "They consider it a health expenditure rather than a discretionary one."

Contact Alli Knothe at Follow @KnotheA.