Gyms for the super rich leave me breathless with rage
Much like Groucho Marx, I don’t want to belong to any club that would accept me as a member. Which is an easy motto to live by when you have no social life, like to be asleep by 9pm, and last had an alcoholic drink in another decade – less so if you happen to be a young, thrusting type with hopes, dreams and a desire for a strong negroni.
Still, I am happy I no longer fit into the latter category, as I did in my 20s and 30s, when it was impossible to go for a drink in London after 11pm without first saying a code word to the man on the door to signify that you were a founding member (I was never any kind of member).
It really is such a relief to enter a period of life where the only institutions I need to worry about joining are the National Trust and the Fitness First gym above Clapham Junction train station (£69 a month with a 12-month minimum contract, thank you very much). Or so I thought. Because now I learn that even the humble gym is being subjected to the same members’ club rubbish that has afflicted bars since the 1990s.
According to reports in The New York Times, there is a new trend in well-being: that of the fitness centre that requires an interview and a referral before any of the gatekeepers get to decide if you are worthy enough to pay the eye-wateringly expensive membership fee.
First there is Heimat, a gym in Los Angeles that is extremely discerning when it comes to deciding who can workout inside it. “We are not looking to bring in people who keep to themselves and don’t see the value of mingling with like-minded people,” explained Sebastian Schoepe, CEO of the company that owns the gym.
He added that they didn’t want people who “look at a gym as a selfie opportunity, a place solely dedicated to performance-oriented training or a workout that needs to be done.” At Heimat, as in many of these other “super” gyms, you are clearly supposed to burn just as many calories networking as you are strength training.
Meanwhile, in New York and London you can find the Equinox chain of gyms, where you are unlikely to find a plaster floating in any of the luxury saltwater lap pools. Then there’s KX, in Chelsea (of course), where you can follow up a yoga class with a skincare treatment for as little as £575 a month (Botox not included).
And if you want your gym to feature quartz lamps that apparently kill 99.9 per cent of biological contaminants – sorry, I don’t think that includes the bloke grunting on the treadmill next to you – then you better head to Third Space in Soho and Canary Wharf, where there are also hypoxic chambers should you be considering climbing Mount Everest.
Just browsing the websites of these “super gyms” leaves me breathless with rage. I’m fine with the super-rich taking all the yachts and the private jets and the big houses with iceberg basements, but must they also try and take exercise too? The cult of the fitness influencer has already turned exercise into an elite sport in its own right, where everything is about macros, pace, and how much weight you can lift in the gym.
But while exercise can be all these things, it is also a tonic for the soul, not to mention the heart, and has been the single biggest factor in improving my well-being. My other, non-Groucho Marx motto is this: give an hour of your day to exercise, and it will give you 23 back.
But it wasn’t always this way. I used to see exercise as a sort of punishment. I used to think that the only people entitled to it were athletes with a resting heart rate of 42 and a wardrobe full of Lululemon lycra. I thought that if I tried exercise, everyone would laugh at me, and tell me to go to Burger King instead.
It was only through deep despair caused by mental illness that I was forced to prove myself wrong. Two marathons, one triathlon and God knows how many kilometres of swimming and walking later, I am happy to report that exercise is for absolutely everyone, whatever your shape or size or perceived fitness ability. And if the rich used their money to spread the message of exercise, rather than playing gatekeeper to it, the country would be a far happier, healthier place.
Perhaps we should be glad that the uber-wealthy are all holed up in their super gyms, paying hundreds of pounds a month for someone to mop their brow and then inject Botox into it. It at least means that the rest of us can get on with the joyous experience of working out in public parks, for free, without worrying that some businessman wearing several thousand pounds’ worth of workout gear is going to stop us to point out that our form isn’t quite right.
Indeed, the best type of exercise I can think of is to run away, at great speed, from these sinister sounding super gyms. Now that will get the blood pumping, and the endorphins soaring.