National fitness clubs that are open around-the-clock and specialty studios with low overhead costs are popping up or expanding in the central San Joaquin Valley just in time for New Year's resolutions to begin.
One of the nation's top low-priced franchises is getting ready to open its first Fresno club in January while another chain and competitor got an early start by opening in Sanger last month.
A Stockton-based health club expanded in Visalia this year and specialty studios like a ballet fitness studio and strength and conditioning gyms now call Fresno home.
Experts say a growing interest in fighting obesity and improving overall health combined with an increase in convenient, small-scale and cheap gyms are helping the fitness industry grow in areas like the Valley.
"A good amount of growth has been from smaller boutique clubs, sports-specific training clubs and the 24-hour key clubs," said Meredith Poppler, vice president, industry growth, for the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association, based in Boston.
"All three of these facility types often have lower overhead and require less space than the typical multipurpose club, allowing them to open in smaller towns and communities that may not be able to support a full-service, multipurpose facility."
Planet Fitness, the sponsor of the popular television show "The Biggest Loser," has tripled in size over the past three years as it made its way from the East Coast to California.
The company, which has more than 700 locations, is opening its first Fresno gym in southeast Fresno. The owner of the Canyons Shopping Center on East Kings Canyon Road, between Winery and Willow avenues, renovated and added new space to the existing shopping center for the 20,000-square-foot gym.
"It's a very good market for Planet Fitness," said gym manager Brian Cassagio, who expects to be open by mid-January. "It's underserved in gyms."
Planet Fitness is known for monthly memberships as low as $10. It is a cost-effective model for the area, Cassagio said.
The gym, which has cardio equipment, weight machines and a relaxation zone with tanning beds and massage chairs, is open 24 hours a day and caters to the first-time user. It even has customer-appreciation days like a pizza dinner and bagel breakfast.
"Most of our gym users are people who want to add a little bit of fitness to their lives but maybe are intimidated to do it," Cassagio said. "We catch people who want to add a little bit of fitness in an easy, comfortable environment."
Convenience is also key to the equation. Anytime Fitness, another fast-growing national company known for its small gyms and 24-hour access, targets people who have trouble fitting a workout into their schedules.
The company added a 4,000-square-foot gym in Sanger, at 1132 Academy Ave., to its list of 2,300 locations nationwide last month. The gym has cardio machines such as treadmills and weight training equipment.
While many of its gyms are owned by franchisees, this location is company-owned to spread interest in the Valley about the opportunity to franchise the business, a spokesman said.
The economic downturn has favored small-budget gyms like Planet Fitness and Anytime Fitness while Bally Total Fitness — a large, full-service club — scaled down its operations after filing for bankruptcy in 2008. The company sold five of its Fresno-area gyms to Blast Fitness Group in 2012.
Local fitness entrepreneur, George Brown, however, seized the opportunity — and great real estate deals — to grow his clubs during that time to five locations.
What's happening now, experts say, is a change in the industry to meet people's needs.
"Gym and health clubs have broadened their markets in a bid to retain membership numbers throughout the recession's aftermath," according to a report on the gym, health and fitness club industry from IBISWorld, a market research firm.
Part of the change is adding specialty studios to the market that caters to specific workout routines. The Bar Method, an exercise studio that incorporates ballet bar routines and dance conditioning with physical therapy, opened on Palm Avenue, near Herndon Avenue, in September.
And a high intensity group-training gym, No Limit Fitness, that specializes in strength and conditioning is now expanding after opening just a year ago.
Interest in getting fit is more popular now than it was five to eight years ago, said owner Max Melchor.
"It's more the thing to do now in Fresno, especially among the high school crowd or folks who just graduated," said Melchor, 31. "They're more into fitness than my generation was."
The 2,000-square-foot gym on Spruce Avenue, north of Herndon Avenue, uses equipment like dumbbells and kettle bells. The business is adding another 1,500 square feet to its studio to accommodate more clients and new programs.
"People want to train a little harder, more like an athlete," Melchor said. "They want to get away from the traditional environment. At a gym, everybody is by themselves. At our gym, they are a community and working better."
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