Exercising should, in theory, be free. If you can move your body, you can exercise. Whether that’s running, dancing or squatting, getting fit needn’t cost an impeccably toned arm and a leg.
And yet the gym industry in the UK is huge.
Last year’s UK State of the Fitness Industry Report found that the total market value is now estimated to be £4.4 billion and the number of gyms in the UK is increasing.
Gym memberships aren’t cheap, but many Brits are signing up and then wasting their money: the average gym-member spent £550 on membership in 2015 but only went 13.5 times in that time - a cost of £40 per visit.
That may seem pricey, but that’s the average - there are a select number of luxury gyms in the UK (predominantly in London) where the cost of monthly membership could pay for a month’s rent in the capital.
I'm not a natural gym bunny. I’m also a millennial working in the media who has to pay rent in London. And for these reasons, I’m not a gym member. If I was to join one though, I’d probably go to one of the cheap chains which cost about £20 a month.
Sometimes, all you want is a few gym machines. Boom, workout, job done. But if you’re wealthy enough - well, why wouldn’t you spend your money on something fancier?
The question is, just what on earth can you possible do to a gym to justify the exorbitant sums people spend on memberships at the most expensive gyms? I decided to find out.
One of the most luxurious gyms in London is KX Life, in Chelsea, and boy, is it fancy.
Whilst the main focus is on the gym, KX (pronounced ‘kicks’) is also a spa, restaurant and private members’ club.
It was founded 25 years ago but is extremely modern inside - in the restaurant and bar area, large lights hang down from a high ceiling over a long marble table, adorned with big vases of flowers.
There are sofas with the plumpest of perfectly positioned cushions in the bar area as well as the lounge - assistant general manager Lucy Clarke tells me that some of their members use the space to hold sales, be they owners of a jewellery or candle brand.
The average age of a KX member is 41 - considering their £575 monthly membership fee, it’s not surprising that there aren’t more younger members. However many of the gym’s loyal users have started buying memberships as presents for their children when they turn 18.
There’s an even split of male and female members, and on the morning I visit I see mainly muscular men, and toned, botoxed women (as well as one minor celebrity).
It’s also clear that everyone knows everyone at KX - the women chat to each other in the changing room and as Clarke shows me round, she says hi to every person we pass.
Despite the fact that most people exercise because they know they should not because they enjoy it, everyone at KX seems remarkably upbeat given it’s 7.30am on a Wednesday.
But then again, given how lovely KX is, I don’t blame them - much like a five-star hotel, there's a bowl of apples on the reception counter. And everyone knows that's a sign of a fancy place.
Standing behind the front desk is the concierge, who caters for members’ every desire.
In the gym, you can forget water fountains - members help themselves to free bottles of mineral water, with a choice of chilled or room temperature.
In the changing rooms (well, the women’s at least), towels of various sizes, dressing gowns, slippers, combs, makeup remover, moisturiser, deodorant, dry shampoo, hairspray, perfume, razors, hair straighteners, curlers and bobbles are all provided. The majority of the toiletries are Kiehl’s too. (It wasn't going to be Superdrug own-brand, was it?)
There’s also a housekeeper permanently in each changing room to keep them spotless, as well as a cleaner who comes round and wipes down gym machines after they've been used.
Naturally, all the gym equipment is completely state-of-the-art and most people seem to be having personal training sessions - you can do yours in the main gym or in a private room if you prefer.
And after all that hard work, you’re going to want to relax a bit - fortunately, there are steam rooms, saunas and plunge pools at KX too. They’re gender-segregated which is particularly popular with foreign members, Clarke tells me.
If that wasn’t enough by the way of relaxation, there’s a spa - which is open to non-members - offering treatments including “biostimulatory facial threads” and “pressotherapy lymphatic drainage.” I haven’t a clue either.
Oh, and there’s a ‘nail lounge’ dedicated to manicures and pedicures too.
As elaborate as it all seemed, it was also incredibly beautiful. And the restaurant was no exception.
Rather than just grab-and-go snacks and smoothies, the restaurant at KX was developed by their executive chef - with main courses ranging from £16 to £38, you’d hope the food tastes as good as any swanky London standalone restaurant.
You can also get all your meals from the restaurant delivered, and Clarke tells me some people do. The amount of money you must have to have to be able to afford that is, for most people, mind-boggling. But if you have it, perhaps why wouldn’t you?
KX is, without a doubt, one of the fanciest places I’ve ever been (and I’ve been to some fancy places in my time), but it’s by no means the only one.
One level down on the luxury scale is Equinox, the US gym chain hoping to conquer the UK. Their first British branch is in Kensington, but they’re planning on expanding in London soon.
At £205 a month, membership at Equinox is a veritable bargain.
As seems to be the way with luxury gyms, they like to think of themselves as just as much a members’ club as a fitness club. Once again, they have a lounge and spa, but the feeling is less intimate than at KX, even though members do seem to know each other too.
Equinox is huge and the main gym is open-plan, meaning it’s great for people-watching (and in Kensington, there really are some colourful characters to watch while you're working out).
It is, undoubtedly, a lovely place to exercise or just chill out, and when I visit I start to realise why people pay so much money for gym memberships - when the place is nice, you actually want to go there.
Perhaps fanciest of all, however, is The Clock in Marylebone. Like all the most luxurious of members’ clubs, there’s no name at the door - from the outside, it looks like any posh London townhouse.
And to be fair, it looks a lot like a posh London townhouse inside too.
After you cross the marble floor of the entrance hall, you go up a wide, elegant staircase to the first floor.
The club space is unbelievably plush, complete with chandelier, fireplace, globe and beautiful high ceiling. The Clock founder, Zana Morris, tells me that members hold business meetings here.
Workout classes are held in the music room, which features a grand piano for extra elegance. It’s not a huge space but there can only be ever be six people in a class at once.
And the main gym room at The Clock (which is the sister gym of The Library) is equally intimate - it contains two ginormous pieces of equipment, and I can’t work out whether they look more like instruments of torture or BDSM.
Only four people will ever be working out at once whilst being instructed by a personal trainer, and every workout is just 12 minutes long. It may sound too good to be true, but it’s hard: the workouts are incredibly intense but are designed to produce rapid and impressive results.
After your workout, you can treat yourself to one of the tiny bottles of Seedlip (an expensive non-alcoholic spirit so beloved of the healthy and wealthy) dotted around the building, or perhaps brunch in the gorgeous family-style kitchen.
It’s almost enough to make a girl consider embarking on a career in the City.
Are these luxurious gyms outrageously expensive? Yes. But would I join one if I was ludicrously - and I mean ludicrously - wealthy? Without a doubt. I’d give loads to charity too of course, but if I still had money leftover, surely it’s better to spend your pennies on staying healthy than buying handbags?
Whilst I'll probably never be able to afford membership at any of these gyms, I've realised that it actually is worth paying a bit more for a nice gym, because if you like it there, you'll actually want to go and working out won't be a chore.
And really, who's going to judge if you only use it for the sauna and lounge?
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