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Now trending: affordable gyms attract keep-fit fans

Every edition we assess an aspect of the French zeitgeist. This month: the growth of gyms and fitness sessions, by Jane Hanks

Working out at the gym is becoming more and more popular in France with the numbers of fitness clubs growing each year. If you drive through a city at night you are sure to see someone pedalling furiously on an exercise bike, lifting weights, or taking part in an exercise or dance class through the lit up windows of a salle de sport.

This is a relatively new phenomenon but now puts France at third place in the numbers of clubs in Europe behind the UK in second place and Germany in first.

A report by Deloitte financial services company found that in 2017 there were 4,000 clubs in France with 5.5million members, compared to 10m members in Germany and 9.2m members in the UK.

Thierry Marquer founded the biggest chain of French fitness clubs, L’Orange Bleue in 1996 and has been opening more each year, ever since. He now has 370. 80 were opened in 2017 and a further 100 are planned for 2018. He says his brand is taking advantage of the fact that France is behind other countries in this field:

“France has a very strong culture of depending on local associations to provide sport and fitness opportunities, so private clubs are only just getting a chance to develop. Up until recently a gym was only available to the wealthy. My club and others, which have opened recently, offer a low-cost solution, which is affordable by a large section of the population. The basic average membership fee in my clubs costs around €25 a month, so about €300 a year.”

He says fitness gyms appeal to all ages, to both men and women and to different types of people throughout the country: “It is certainly not limited just to young professional people living in cities. Our clubs focus on group fitness lessons and our members are 65-70% women, but other clubs which have more weight-lifting equipment have more men.”

L’Orange Bleue have two sizes of clubs – a larger one which needs a surrounding population of 30,000 people to make a profit and a smaller one, which needs a surrounding population of 15,000.

“This means that we can open in a small town with 3,000 inhabitants as long as there are other centres nearby,” says Mr Marquer, “and so it is increasingly possible to have access to a gym in more rural areas.”

He says there is still plenty of room for growth. “We still have a lot of catching up to do with Germany and the UK so I can see development continuing over the next ten years. Take the town of Rennes in Brittany as an example. A year ago there were just five clubs. Now there are 25.”

Mr Marquer says the phenomenon has been helped by government slogans such as Bouger Plus, Manger Mieux and 5 Fruits et Légumes par jour which encourages people to take up sport and look after their health. 

The World Health Organisation has also recommended that adults aged 18-64 should do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week, or do at least 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week or an equivalent combination of moderate and vigorous-intensity activity.

Deloitte says there will be offers which are increasingly tailor made to the individual, with sessions adapted to just one or a very few people. More and more clubs will belong to different brands like l’Orange Bleue, but also Keep Cool, Magic Form and Basic Fit.

These will mostly be lower-cost – the average membership fee in France has gone down from €41.80 to €41 a month since 2015, but they predict that in parallel there will be a rise in premium clubs costing more than €65.

Connected objects, such as sports watches monitoring heart-rate and distance will be used increasingly and companies are more and more likely to offer their employees a fitness club on the premises, or advantageous prices by linking up with an outside gym, according to Deloitte.

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