The United Kingdom unleashed absolute units like Dorian Yates, Tony Holland, and Troy “Duracell” Brown — who’ve all left permanent marks in European bodybuilding circles.
But behind each of these powerhouses were hours-long lifting sessions in a gym somewhere in the UK’s four nations. That is, Northern Ireland, Scotland, England, and Wales.
So what is the status of the fitness industry across the pond?
Do our UK mates dump their hard-earned sterlings into unused gym memberships? Are they yoga, strength-training, and Zumba fanatics like Americans? Hell, do their gyms serve pizza?
These 23 gym membership statistics for the UK will blow your mind!
UK Gym Industry Statistics
- The UK’s health club industry revenue eclipsed $6.17 billion USD in 2019.
- The United Kingdom is home to more than 7,200 fitness and health clubs.
- About half of those 7,200 UK health clubs are purely fitness locations, drawing in more than £2 billion in total annual turnover.
- With the global pandemic to blame, experts predict the health club industry’s value will plummet to £1.62 billion in 2021.
- Most UK-based gyms pull in £100–250,000 in turnover.
What’s Behind the UK Fitness Uptick?
Just 14.3% of UK adults have an active gym membership, which is about on-par with America’s data. However, the climbing gym profits and expanding market aren’t a new phenomenon.
In fact, UK gym membership spending soared a startling 44% in 2014–2015. And, this across-the-pond fitness kick doesn’t seem to link to any single motivator.
In 2017, 47% of respondents revealed a similar reason for their reluctance to join a gym: high monthly membership fees.
Around that same time, budget gyms were slowly sprouting up across the UK — some as cheap as £25/month — such as PureGym, The Gym, and Fitness4Less.
These discount facilities turned the “luxury” of a gym membership into a more affordable health investment for UK locals. We owe much of the growth to this brand-new tapped market.
Wearable technology like Fitbits, Apple Watches, and Garmin devices aren’t “new” and actually have roots tracing back to September 2009. But ownership of these devices is on an upswing.
The results of a 2019 Attest survey found that 37.6% of UK Millennials own a smartwatch. Further research revealed that 54% of wearers enjoy monitoring their fitness and health.
With a Fitbit on your wrist buzzing to spark exercise and the shame of being 3,000 steps shy of your goal by midnight, it’s no surprise that these devices are luring newcomers to UK gyms!
While lower prices and digital health insights are partially responsible for the UK’s fitness uptick, there are dozens of other factors to consider, like:
- More group fitness offerings (classes, variety, etc.)
- The worldwide takeover of “gym culture”
- A concerning rise in UK obesity rates
- More than 7,200 facilities to visit — or one club per 9,257 residents
- Two words: Fitness. Influencers.
Many gym-goers are chasing the endorphin rush or relieving stress. However, it’s also incredibly likely that the “trendiness” of gyms and fitness encourages the industry’s latest growth.
The UK Gym Industry & the COVID-19 Pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic signaled the end for many small American gyms and fitness boutiques. But in the United Kingdom, reopened gyms returned with a vengeance.
An eye-opening report from Bloomberg details what many regard as the “impossible”:
For example, PureGym’s membership levels were at 91% of its pre-pandemic peak by May 2021. And, many owners noticed a 10–15% uptick in monthly gym visits around that time.
Data from Membr suggests the very same thing. Not only have 80% of Millennials returned to their usual gym habits, but membership counts only sunk about 17% during COVID-19.
UK Gym Membership Statistics
- UK gyms and fitness clubs welcome more than 10 million members into their facilities.
- About 14.3% of UK residents hold a gym membership.
- A 2019 survey revealed that 16% of locals in Wales visited the gym or attended a fitness class in the last month.
- In Wales, about 14% of people admitted to indoor gym or fitness class participation.
- UK millennials are almost equally torn between the annual (19%) and pay-as-you-go gym membership (17%) options.
- The average “The Gym Group” club had around 5,250 paying members in 2016.
- The British pour more than £4 billion every year into untouched gym memberships.
The Most Popular UK Group Fitness Trends
What better way to learn about how locals train than by asking them directly? That’s exactly what the team at Mindbody did pre-COVID-19 as part of their 2020 MINDBODY Wellness Index.
More than 1,500 Brits opened up about their training habits, revealing that:
- The average UK fitness buff trains about 2.9 times per week.
- The fitness classes with the highest weekly attendance were dance fitness (19%), strength training (15%), aerobics (14%), HIIT (14%), and indoor cycling (13%).
- The UK’s hottest “mindful movement” group sessions were restorative yoga, power yoga, and mat Pilates.
- Group classes were a huge hit, with 48% confessing to at least one session per week.
- CrossFit (Gen Z & Gen X), aerobics (Millennials), and restorative yoga (Young Boomers) ranked high on the list of “group exercises I’m willing to try.”
- On a five-point scale, those enrolling in group classes were more satisfied with their fitness levels, more connected to their community, and happier than those riding solo.
After COVID-19 spread to the region in January 2020, these fitness trends took an understandable twist and sparked interest in home-based workouts.
Search phrases like “32kg kettlebell,” “free exercise classes online,” “online workouts from home,” and “free online pilates classes” surged by 3,442–21,175% by April 2020.
Pay-As-You-Go vs. Annual Gym Memberships
In the US, a gym membership usually requires a year-long commitment and the threat of hefty cancellation fees for early termination (along with a million hoops to jump through).
But the near-even split between annual and pay-as-you-go memberships amongst UK Millennials is curious. Is there a reason Gen Y is so torn between the two options?
We can make a case for either side.
Pay-as-you-go gyms — where you pay per workout — can save you loads of money, especially if you’re among the 27% of Brits who don’t exercise for at least 30 minutes per week.
If you prefer home workouts or can’t commit to enough visits per week to make a contract “worth it,” pay-as-you-go schemes are the most logical middle-ground.
Annual memberships offer much more bang for your buck if you’re a regular face at your gym and meet the NHS’s recommendation for 150 minutes of aerobic exercise per week.
The deciding factors end up being a passion for fitness and expendable income. That explains why 32% of UK gym-goers prefer per-visit pricing, while 39% enjoy one-time annual fees.
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Gym Membership Demographics in the UK
- The global population’s 50.4%/59.6% male-female divide doesn’t translate to UK gym memberships, with 54% of UK gym-goers being female.
- Three in four group fitness class attendees in the UK are women, with the top-ranked workouts being spin, aerobics, and yoga.
- The most common face at a UK gym is that of a Baby Boomer, with the 72-year-old group visiting an average of eight times per month.
- The 70–79-year-old age group visits UK area fitness clubs more often than any other group, averaging about 7.5 workouts every month.
- Those aged 65 and older use their gym memberships most often in the United Kingdom.
Male vs. Female Training In the UK
The data swirling around this topic can feel misleading.
For example, research from England shows that in 2017–2018, 300,000 more women than men hit the 150-minute/week exercise milestone.
Yet, official government research suggests the opposite, that 61.5% of women and 65.3% of men fit the criteria for “physically active.”
So here’s what we do know in the battle of the genders, according to a MyProtein survey:
- Men train an extra hour per week (six vs. seven hours, on average).
- Fifty-one percent of men consider the bench press as an essential piece of gear.
- Forty percent of women dub the treadmill “essential.”
- Just 6% of men attend group classes, while 28% of women do the same.
- Men are 20% less likely to post a fitness or gym image on social media each week.
- Women consume about 22g less protein per day than men.
As it turns out, many of the training stereotypes are, in fact, true. For example, UK women prefer cardio to weightlifting, view exercise as a “social” activity, and love to spread the word.
But hey, is there anything “wrong” with falling into a cliche that improves your health?
OK UK Boomers Make Up the Fittest Generation
A while back, we published an article about how American Millennials were leading the charge as “fitness freaks” while Baby Boomers were least likely to visit the gym.
The statistics above imply one of two things: the UK is some sort of alternate universe where down is up, the sky is pink, and Boomers are fit, or something else is inspiring these trends.
(The first option definitely sounds cooler.)
So why are UK area gyms full of seniors? Well, these statistics might help to explain it:
- Nuffield Health found that 18% of its over-55 crowd joined because of a pre-existing medical condition, while 24% did so to dip down to a healthier weight.
- Forty-two percent of UK workers between 50 and 64 have at least one diagnosed medical condition.
- Heart diseases kill 160,000 UK residents a year.
- The average retirement age for women was 63.6, while men retired at 64.7 years old.
- Instructor-led group classes are ridiculously popular amongst this generation.
Based on these facts alone, it’s clear that Boomers (1) have medical reasons to exercise, (2) have more free time, and (3) don’t need to be fitness experts.
This trend is also similar to Australia’s health and fitness statistics, and may explain why the UK’s average life expectancy is 2.72 years longer than America’s.
The Official, Unofficial UK Health Report
It’s fun to speculate why women prefer Zumba classes, men adore the bench press, Boomer’s flood fitness clubs across the UK, and Millennials hop on the “pay-as-you-go” bandwagon.
But if you’re an American reader, you’re probably wondering the very same thing as us: How does the UK compare to the UK in terms of health and fitness?
The table below offers a little US vs. UK perspective:
|Data Point||America||The United Kingdom|
|Average Life Expectancy||78.54 years old||81.26 years old|
|Average Gym Membership Costs (Per Month)||$58/month||$54.96/month|
|% of the Population With an Active Gym Membership||14%||14.3%|
|% of the Population With at Least One Chronic Condition||51.8%||40%|
|% of the Population That’s “Too Sedentary”||40%||36%|
|Number of Fitness Clubs In the Region||41,370||7,200|
|% of the Population That Fits the Criteria for “Obese”||42.4%||31%|
Neither the US nor the UK is the healthiest or fittest place on earth, that’s for sure. However, these data points certainly add some clarity to the ongoing debate about which reigns supreme.
UK residents are more likely to live longer and spend less on gym memberships, while the US comes out on top in just about every other category (we won, but at what cost?).
But there’s no telling what came first: whether these concerning numbers inspire UK residents to exercise or if their lower rates stem from a desire to keep these numbers low.
All we know is that Americans have a long way to go!
The Biggest Gym Businesses in the UK
- Among the biggest names in UK health and fitness clubs are David Lloyd Leisure, Nuffield Health, PureGym, Virgin Active, The Gym Group, and Bannatyne Fitness.
- PureGym’s membership climbed 9% in 2017–2018, welcoming 85,000 new members and topping the one-million-member mark.
- The PureGym franchise collected a 15% revenue increase in 2018, rising from £198 million to £228.4 million.
- David Lloyd Leisure touts itself as the leading health provider in the UK, with 122 health clubs spanning the region.
- The David Lloyd franchise now includes over 600,000 members and 8,000 employees.
- Since the charity first launched in 1957, Nuffield Health now runs more than 111 fitness clubs and 31 hospitals across the UK.
More About PureGym
PureGym is one of the most popular gym franchises in the United Kingdom, with memberships climbing at record rates beyond the coveted one-million milestone.
This 24-hour budget gym has more than 290 locations across the UK has multiple membership options available — including off-peak monthly memberships and day passes.
Most PureGym facilities are home to:
- Rows of exercise bikes, cross-trainers, and treadmills
- A massive free weight area with weights up to 50kg
- Resistance training machines for more controlled exercise
- Over 50 group classes hosted per week
- Functional training gear for the CrossFit buffs (i.e., battle ropes, boxes, agility work)
What You Need to Know About David Lloyd Leisure
David Lloyd Leisure is a European-wide brand that’s taken the United Kingdom by storm. This 600,000-member franchise is an exciting combination of gym, racquet club, and luxury spa.
Europe’s leading fitness group offers impressive amenities like:
- Indoor and outdoor tennis courts
- Gyms full of free weights, cardio gear, and resistance training machines
- Personal training services
- Group classes, from HIIT to spin to aquatics
- Activities for teens and children
- Indoor and outdoor pools, hot tubs, and tranquil spa retreats
A Crash Course In Nuffield Health
Nuffield Health is a health-focused UK charity that addresses a wide range of public health needs, from hospitals and treatment centers to 100+ gyms (with flexible payment plans).
The average Nuffield Health gym includes:
- A large swimming pool (HEATED!)
- Plenty of fitness classes, including Tai Chi, kettlebell training, and barre
- Standard cardio and strength-training equipment
- Personal trainers, physiotherapists, and sports massage on-site
- Squash courts
While the US and Canadian gym industries suffered at the hands of a global pandemic, the UK industry didn’t only survive; it unexpectedly thrived.
The question is: how do you plan on staying fit?
Will you join the ranks of 14.3% of your fellow gym fanatics? Or, convert that spare bedroom or garage into a home gym? Or, maybe replace the membership entirely with digital classes?
The choice is entirely yours.
But nothing inspires a fitness kick more than having as few barriers to training as possible. So here’s how to overcome those barriers and stay fit, in the UK and beyond:
- Invest in resistance bands, an adjustable dumbbell set, and an adjustable bench for last-minute home training sessions.
- Fill your cabinets with creatine, pre-workout powder, and whey protein.
- Track your macronutrient and caloric intake through diet-tracking apps.
- Follow a training routine that fits into your current schedule.
- Find somebody or something that inspires you to workout, whether that’s a gym buddy, an instructor-led digital calisthenics class, or before-and-after snaps.
Pandemics and economic downturns aside, the only thing stopping you from building an aesthetic physique is you. We’re here to ride along with you on your journey!
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