Fitness Industry Thrives in Columbus

There always seems to be a focus on fitness around the New Year but the fitness industry appears to be booming in Columbus. It may mean that that central Ohioans are concerned about their fitness year round. WOSU’s Sam Hendren takes a look at how the industry is changing to accommodate the need.

Matt Pittman is doing bench presses at the Hilltop YMCA on Valley View Drive. The weight room is nothing fancy and there aren’t a lot of people using it. Pittman says he joined because he’s able to use other YMCA’s when he travels. In contrast, business is booming at the former Sawmill Athletic Club on Hayden Road. After a $5.1 million renovation completed a few weeks ago, it’s now known as Premier at Sawmill.

“We’re in the indoor pool. Premier at Sawmill has one indoor pool and four outdoor pools,” says Steve Lerner, marketing director. General Manager Andy Deyo says members ask for – and got – other improvements.

“One of the largest things we’ve added is more cardio equipment. Everybody does some sort of cardio training – whether you walk, run, or elliptical training. We increased our group exercise studios – we used to call it aerobics back in our day. Our spinning studio increased in size – we doubled the size of that space as well.”

No additional space was added to the 40,000 square-foot building. Instead Deyo says large lobbies were removed and some areas devoted to sports past their peak popularity were reduced.

“This club opened in 1980 with 13 racquetball courts. We opened back up three weeks ago with five.”

90% of the building was remodeled, including the weightlifting area where personal trainer Rick Rick works with a client.

“This is a curl base lung press, we’re going to do four, then you can put the bells down when you switch and then do four again.”

The club’s website calls Premier The Ultimate Indulgence in an Athletic Club. But competitors may challenge that title. A fitness chain called Life Time already operates a club in Easton and is building a 100,000 square-foot club in Dublin. Kent Wipf, the corporation’s public relations manager, says their facilities offer all sorts of fitness opportunities but with upscale amenities that older clubs just don’t have.

“I mean Life Time Fitness is very large, what we build now is about 110,000 square feet, marble counter tops, natural wood lockers, a very much warmer, family-friendly, inviting atmosphere; a very much different picture that people think of when they think of a health club.”

Like Premier, Life Time will have a Caf , and a spa, a place to get a hair cut, a manicure and a massage. Wipf says people are more educated about personal fitness than they’ve ever been, but there may be a few stereotypes to overcome.

“The industry back in the ’70s and ’80s didn’t do itself any favors. I think when you think of a health club you get images of Rocky Balboa, a sweaty gym, metal lockers, barbells clanging. The environment is very different.”

Those sorts of smaller operations are still around Columbus but they serve the hardcore power lifter. At Westside Barbell on Industry Drive owner Louie Simmons says the big clubs serve a different clientele.

“Those are basically for fitness. This gym is for performance this is where we apply science to weight training.”

There aren’t a lot of machines to choose from at Westside — purists believe free weights – barbells and dumbbells – are the most effective.

“It’s important to have only what you need. When you have more than you need people become lazy.”

Westside has only one treadmill and it’s human powered, not electric.

“Special treadmill, you won’t see, it’s a non motorized treadmill. And you get on this and you walk and it’s a lot like walking through water. Because you have resistance on your ankles, of course you see the weight vest, so it takes a lot of energy just to do it. So every step you’ve got to pull forward, pull forward, pull forward.”

Unlike the bigger clubs, you can’t join Westside, the club selects you. Several of its members will be competing in the Arnold Classic next month. Meanwhile when the new Life Time Fitness center opens, Kent Wipf says the entire family is invited to become members.

“The family can come and drop the kids off at the child center. Mom can get a workout in, dad can do his thing in the spinning room, they can all have lunch at the caf and then hit the pool and swim together so now it’s a place where the whole family can come together and do that.”

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