The first gym opened in America was an open-air tangle of hung ropes and steel bars configured in the style of the German Turnplatz. It was the mid-1820s. Not much changed about the space in which we exercise in the 150 year interlude between the advent of the Turnplatz and the opening of the Venice Beach Gold's Gym popularized by Arnold Schwarzenegger. But in the last few decades, wellness as we know it exploded as a cultural imperative, a way of life embraced by working moms, entrepreneurs, and students—those far outside the body-building community who beforehand comprised the majority of gym-goers.
As the population frequenting gyms changes, so, too, do the demands made of fitness spaces. "I have so little free time, if I'm making the choice to workout, I really want it to be a great experience," says Meredith, a 34-year-old publicist in New York. She has room in her budget to spend on a monthly membership and studios competing for her business. Her fitness routine developed while she was in college, using her University's rec center to lift weights and run on a treadmill. "I worked out because my roommates did, and I loved how exercising made me feel, but the complex was a miserable place to be. I wouldn't go when it was sunny outside." Meredith didn't keep up her nascent running habit after graduating and moving to New York. "I just preferred to spend my time after work meeting up with friends for dinner or drinks rather than in some gym listening to techno." But in her early 30s, she felt a change in her body that made her rethink her habits. When she re-entered the fitness world, she hardly recognized it. "I thought, whoa, this place is nicer than my apartment. Can I be here all the time?"
Sarah Robb O'Hagan, Flywheel's new CEO, is up on the trend, "High-end gyms and boutiques are putting a lot more time and thought into the full experience." And we've seen the signs of that from coast to coast. Trendy interior design, tech-enabled equipment, and over-the-top indulgent amenities have made what used to be industrial and barren places some of the most sought-after spaces in our lives.