In Gilbert, even town leaders take their workouts seriously.
Mayor Steve Berman says he's dropped 22 pounds in six months. Two other Town Council members, Dave Crozier and Les Presmyk, also shed 20 or more, Berman said.
“Gilbert is a classic upscale community,” Berman said. “If you take a look at the five communities in Arizona with the higher per capita income, I think Gilbert is number two or three, but it has more population than the other five combined.
The people work hard for their money, they're successful and they want to keep in shape. There's not a lot of people in Gilbert making a living by swinging a pick ax, you know.”
The fitness industry has noticed this, too.
On Friday, Life Time Fitness will have a grand opening to show off an upscale 148,000 square-foot heath and fitness center that has everything from marble countertops to a hair and nail salon — all within sight of Town Hall.
Life Time Fitness is the latest entrant trying to muscle in on the crowded Gilbert exercise market. Within five miles of it, there are eight gyms or fitness centers including the $7 million Freestone Recreation Center, which was touted as the first municipally operated fitness club in the state when it opened in November.
It even offers three climbing walls, an indoor track and a child-care center.
Membership fees at Life Time Fitness start at $49 per month for a single person, plus a $89 one-time enrollment fee. The monthly rate for couples is $84; families of three or more, including at least one child age 12 or older, pay $109. Children under 12 are free. Greg Tilque, Gilbert Economic Development director, says the cluster of fitness centers is due to the town's growth.
“We're getting 1,000 people a month still moving in so there's bodies that want to work out,” he said, adding increased population has been especially helpful for smaller gyms. “I think its sheer numbers.” But Life Time decided to open up mainly because of perfect demographics and household incomes, Tilque said.
“They are priced at a whole different strata than the other gyms,” he said. “They're going after a different market. Their gym is set up to accommodate families.”
The company's amenities include free child care, personal trainers, and an indoor and outdoor aquatics center that features water slides. “It's kind of country-club-like,” Tilque said. “It's a very nice setting. You feel very pampered when you go in there.” Most of the fitness centers came to town within the last two or three years, Tilque said. “We went many years starved with no gyms at all,” he said. “I've been trying to get LA Fitness in here and they kind of missed the market.”
Life Time is more than double the size of most fitness centers, Tilque said. While the company likes a healthy mix of singles and couples, it looks for areas with a high number of families, said Jason Thunstrom, Life Time spokesman.
It's customers tend to be college educated, between 30 and 45 years old and have household incomes anywhere from the $75,000 to $95,000, depending on the market, he said.
Each center is built with a 6,000 square-foot child-care center.
“Specific to Gilbert, we found a notion of a really tight-knit community especially that related to plan development,” Thunstrom said. “It seems like there's a real systematic model in that community for how growth is going to occur and the amenities they are planning for residents. “We felt like it was an ideal spot. We're not proposing to provide a community with a health club," he said. "We try and eliminate the word ‘club’ from our vocabulary. We think of ourselves as a comprehensive health, fitness and education center and more of a healthy way of life company.”
Carl Yoshioka, Arizona State University professor in the Recreation Management and Tourism Department, said most fitness centers draw customers within a four mile radius.
“The competition is stiff,” he said, adding YMCAs and public recreation facilities often cost about the same as a private fitness centers. “If you pay a membership, then you sort of feel like you have to go. I think that's part of the allure."
He added, "We don't like working out, but if we pay for it and it's got all the amenities, we tend to want to go and socialize, but also hopefully lose a little bit of weight and become more fit.
Gilbert residents have enough discretionary income to afford fitness center memberships, Yoshioka said.
“During the day, it's mothers and and kids and they go over and they get to have a little day-care and work out with their friends,” he said. “And then later on, the teenagers go work out and then men may go in the mornings or late afternoons.”
The East Valley's summer weather also plays a part in the popularity of fitness clubs because most people don't want to exercise outside early in the mornings or late at night, Yoshioka said.
“It's very unmotivating to change have to change your biorhythm to get out there,” he said. “It's almost related to our vary high use of theaters and malls during the summer time.”
Berman works out for nearly two hours four times a week.
“It's a health-conscious community,” he said.