The evolution of the gym industry

Spend some time reading about exercise history and you start to appreciate that using movement to challenge ourselves physically, improve health and fitness and enjoy the psychological benefits exercise brings is something that has been going on for a long time. Ancient Greeks were rocking out fitness around 2500-200 B.C.

The fitness industry as we know it now evolved out of body building in the 70′s. The Arnold Schwarzenegger’s of the world created a trend through the Mr Olympia competitions that swept across the world. Quickly gyms reacted and started to be fitted out with heavy lifting weights and machines.

In the 80′s Jane Fonda started the aerobics craze that saw studio classes become so popular. So yes you got it gyms, started to get built with big aerobics studios so that a variety of classes could be delivered as part of the service offered.

Photo by Serghei Starus/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by Serghei Starus/iStock / Getty Images

Then in the 90′s a volume business model that started in America started to be replicated across the world. Masses of cardio equipment like treadmills, cross trainers and stationary bikes were put in to gyms. This cardio equipment was also introduced with a huge range of fixed path resistance machine like chest press, leg press and lat pull down machines.

This set up allowed gyms to increase their member numbers in to the 1000’s without needing an army of instructors. All of this equipment was non skilled based exercise that people could use with little to no experience or understanding around exercise systems or movement technique.

I don’t think that’s a good thing. Movement is a skill. Understanding how your body works and how react to different stresses is important to understand how to get the most from our training. Back in the day if someone in the gym asked:

“How much can you lift”, the response would normally relate to a clean and press. A highly skilled whole body power lift.

Now if someone is asked the same question in the gym normally they are referring to simple exercise like a bench press.

The industry stopped exercise being a skill where people developed their ability and knowledge to enable them to change their lifestyle for the better and build on their physical performance. Members could now go in to a gym and get no advice about training, not talk to any staff or instructors, but perceive that “They are going to the gym and they are getting fit”.

Then we seemed to stick to that combination for years. Cardio area, Fixed path resistance machines, Free weights, Aerobics studio. That’s is how 90% of the gyms in your area are set up.

The fact is in the UK just over 12 percent of the population have a gym membership and less than 10 percent of gym members get the results they want. That means that roughly 1 percent of the population are getting healthier, which means the gym industry, my industry, is failing badly.

Since I started my journey in fitness my only goal has been to improve that figure. I’ve seen gyms operate sleeper policies where if a member doesn’t come in for 2 months then that members is taken off the mailing list so they aren’t reminded they are paying the gym money each month. I’ve seen health clubs install Ben and Jerrys ice cream vending machines.

I’ve seen enough to give me unlimited motivation to create my own brand in Wild Training and do it differently, against all sorts of challenges and resistance from people not liking the idea of change. I know it’s the right thing to do, and all my members would agree as Wild Training has changed hundreds of people’s lives now, but more importantly we’ve helped those people fall in love with regular exercise which is the key to what makes Wild Training special. I won’t compromise this approach.

My question to most people that question the Wild Training concept is this:

“What would have happened if the gym industry evolved from sports?”

Team sports like Rugby, lifestyle activities like dancing, action sports like rock climbing… martial arts, gymnastics, surfing, skiing. We live in such an exciting world with so many different ways to express ourselves physically. These kind of activities all have a few things in common.

  • People start doing them, and carry on doing them because they are FUN
  • They often have really interactive communities and become very social
  • Sports don’t focus on one thing, but a range of skills and fitness types
  • Often a sense of competition or challenge creates extra motivation
  • They all deliver real results, real fitness for everyday people

Bottom line. Sports help more people maintain their health than the gym industry. This is why Wild Training Gyms are set up as open plan training areas to replicate the sort of environment that these activities take place in.


Athletes train to get better at their sport, not better bodies, and they achieve both…

…Gym members train to get better bodies, not better at sport, but don’t achieve either

Train like it’s a game!


Gyms are starting to set up functional training areas full of equipment that encourages exercise based on movement and interaction. We are seeing more gyms setting up open plan areas to allow more versatile training systems to take place.

Many gyms are still missing opportunities to help members get results and show them how to enjoy exercise as a consistent part of their lifestyle.

The business model of most gyms is still based on the model of personal training that started to grow in the 90′s. Personal trainers are the most experienced, most skilled staff the gyms have. They start off working gym hours while building a personal training business and then eventually stop the gym hours and just do personal training. In this way gyms encourage their best staff to see less members.

Gym instructors are on the gym floor all the time and see a lot more members than personal trainers, so the gyms least experienced, least skilled employees, see the most members.

Why would you want your best staff seeing the least members?

Personal trainers must become coaches so they can help more members achieve the results they want. Offering different services will help personal trainers see more members. Gyms will achieve greater member interaction, which will increase attendance of instructed sessions and improve member retention. Members will benefit from better training and having more fun with the exercise they do.

At the moment Gyms focus on the least effective components of results based training. This is why such a low percentage of members get the results they want.


Least effective

Low intensity cv – gyms
Low intensity aerobics – gyms
High Intensity progressive training – PT
Nutrition – PT
Mind set – PT

Most effective


With our model gym members would be offered more services from the most experienced staff with the most effective components of results based training and therefore more members would get the results they want.

If gyms evolved from sports then our facilities would look very different from the traditional free weight, cardio, studio plan that nearly all gyms have.

Urban Strength Training is a system of exercise and a facility set up that Wild Training developed through our experience with working with a massive range of clients with a big range of goals. Elite athletes, my mother in law, young, old, fit, fat, injured… we’ve helped a lot of people.

Three things are constant in all sport, activity and life. Your body, movement and gravity. These are the three things that make Urban Strength Training suitable for EVERYONE, no matter the goal, and it's how Wild Training ensure that the training our members can do in our facilities will transfer to everything that they enjoy outside of the gym. That’s how we deliver more value for our members.

Space to run, jump, swing, slam, throw, lift. Staff that are well trained and experienced in helping members develop new abilities and knowledge. A social environment where members are encouraged to interact with staff and other members to get the most enjoyment from their exercise. Now you are starting to picture a Wild Training Gym.

Wild Training members can come in to our gym and train in their own Urban Strength Training area, giving them plenty of space and all the equipment they need to complete their training session.

That means our members never have to worry about overcrowding which right now is one of the biggest complaints we hear around the gym industry.

Our trainers run regular, free of charge, training workshops where everyone in the gym is invited to join in a 10-minute workshop on a specific piece of equipment or on a goal specific training method.

We help our members with their training and we create monthly video programs for our members so they always have exciting new workouts to do.

When members join our gym we get them to do 10 hours of training, either through specific group exercise classes or an exclusive half price personal training offer, so that we have the opportunity to teach them how to use the facility properly, and how to get the most out of the time they commit to their fitness.

Combine our Wild personal training systems, Urban Strength Training with the Wild Training group exercise classes and the other group exercise licenses we have created, and you see our members get an unreal range of training to enjoy.


As a personal trainer people want you to deliver change:

“I want to change my lifestyle”

            “I want to change my body”

                        “I want to change my routine”

Well, the Wild Training Gyms are change. It’s how we believe the gym industry should work. To properly serve its members not with what they think they want, but what we know they need. Come with an open mind, a positive approach to putting energy in to get positive energy out, and we will deliver the change you want.


READ our "1 Month of running a gym" blog HERE

James Griffiths

Director of Wild Training