New York City boutique fitness studios staged a protest, saying it is ‘biased’ to exclude majority-female exercise classes from gym reopenings

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  • New York City is preparing to allow gyms to reopen, with limited capacity, in early September.

  • But group fitness classes are still not permitted, and it’s not clear when they’ll be allowed to responded.

  • Some studio owners have said this is a double-standard that unintentionally targets mostly women, since they make up the majority of clients at boutique studio classes.

  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

After nearly six long months, New York City is finally preparing to reopen its gyms on September 2, with precautions such as strictly limited capacity, six feet of distance between people, and face masks on all staff and clients.

But for group fitness classes in the city, there is still no plan in place to reopen.

A group of studio owners is demanding that Mayor Bill de Blasio allow them to resume their businesses, saying gender bias is their primary concern.

The Boutique Fitness Alliance, made up of more than 20 studios across the city, held an event on Monday in front a Manhattan studio location, featuring the owners of several studios as well as Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams.

“We just want the same opportunity that gyms have to reopen,” said Amanda Freeman, founder and CEO of SLT NYC, a studio that offers pilates workouts on a large piece of equipment called a Megaformer.

Freeman and others in Alliance have said that opening gyms, but not allowing classes, is a double-standard that unfairly targets women.

“We have been disappointed that we have been left out of this conversation in New York City. We just want to be treated fairly. We believe there is unintentional bias here in opening gyms but not group fitness classes frequented by women.”

According to survey data from the studios, 85% of clients at studios in the Boutique Fitness Alliance are women, Freeman told Insider.

It’s true that many women can and do work out at a regular gym. But regardless of gender, gymtimidation, or anxiety about going to the gym, can discourage people from working out, especially if they’re newer to fitness or feel uncertain about how to exercise on their own.

Boutique studios may be uniquely disadvantaged in the current pandemic in other ways, too, Freeman said. While some fitness studios have been able to transition to working out outdoors, many boutique studios use heavy equipment that would be cumbersome to move, and difficult to find space for in the middle of Manhattan.

“It’s very challenging in the city to find outdoor space. If you need equipment, you can’t just do an impromptu workout in the park, and the weather makes thing unpredictable,” Freeman said.

As a result, many studio owners have been paying costly rent on prime locations, between 2,000 to 7,000 square feet in size that they’ve been unable to use for six months. Retail rental space in the city can cost between $75 to $2,000 per square foot, depending on location, according to one broker website. Rents rise for ground floor spaces in high-traffic, high-income neighborhoods.

Transitioning to online classes has helped, Freeman said, but provides a fraction of the revenue and requires additional work and resources.

There is some research that high-intensity aerobic workouts in an enclosed space could present a risk of viral transmission, particularly without safety measures.

But, Freeman said, there’s little practical difference between a group fitness class and a cardio or weight room in a gym, if both have limited capacity and employ precautions like social distancing and requiring masks.

Elsewhere in the country, including in New York State, group classes have been allowed to resume.

“What’s the difference between being on a treadmill at a gym and being on a treadmill at a Barry’s Bootcamp?” she said. “It feels very arbitrary that in this one city, group fitness classes still aren’t allowed.”

Read more:

I tried a socially-distanced outdoor fitness class and was surprised at how safe I felt working out in a group

A fitness expert explains how to tell if a free online workout is worth your time, whether you’re an athlete or new to fitness

A 74 year-old Instagram fitness model can do pull-ups, burpees, and 200 pound weighted hip thrusts

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