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story.lead_photo.caption NWA Democrat-Gazette/J.T. WAMPLER Sarah McElroy of Fayetteville makes a kick Feb . 21 at Fayetteville Fitness Kickboxing.

Competition among specialized fitness studios is heating up as more options make it difficult for would-be patrons to select.

But really, one criteria matters the most, according to Josh Leve, founder and CEO of the Association of Fitness Studios based in California.

“It comes down to picking what you enjoy doing,” Leve said. “While it’s true there will be a period of uneasiness when first starting out, you want to belong to a studio or a community that you know you can grow with.

“Exercise is something that should become part of someone’s daily routine and not thought of as a chore,” he said.

The fitness studio is the fastest growing segment of the fitness industry with more than 100,000 businesses across the country, according to Leve. The ease to get started — sometimes all that’s needed is a space and a credit card — and the increasing number of fitness professionals — an estimated 750,000 — are some of the main reasons for the growth.

Studio owners in Northwest Arkansas boast their clients lose weight and gain or tone muscle using their methods.


“There’s a lot of different things people can do in Northwest Arkansas for fitness, but I don’t believe I have any competition,” said Wes “The Punching Preacher” Sharp.

Sharp, who was in ministry prior to becoming a professional mixed martial arts fighter, lost 55 pounds in six months training with other fighters. He’s taken those workouts and modified them into 45-minute classes Sharp says anyone can do. He opened his gym, Fayetteville Fitness Kick-boxing on North Crossover Road, in January 2017.

“They can basically train like a professional fighter without getting punched in the face,” he said.

Participants can burn between 500 and 1,100 calories a class, a number that can’t be achieved by running the same amount of time, Sharp said.

Memberships vary depending on their length ranging from three months for $99 per month to 12 months for $69 per month.

Sharp said kickboxing training is the best way to lose weight, gain muscle and learn self-defense techniques because the classes utilize the whole body with cardio exercises as well as strength and resistance training.

“It’s so comprehensive,” Sharp said.

Yoga can also be used as a weight loss tool, but it also works on participants’ mental and emotional health, said Allison Kublanov, owner of Bee Well Yoga in Rogers. It creates a mental awareness of how aspects of life, like food, can affect the body, she said.

It’s a weight-bearing exercise that works the muscles and is also good for bones, joints and ligaments, she said, which makes it a great complementary workout for athletes who train hard for events like marathons, Iron Man and CrossFit competitions.

“What we see in athletes is those that have added yoga at least once a week to their programming stay healthier longer than peers who aren’t adding yoga, who are just hitting the pavement hard everyday,” Kublanov said.

Bee Well Yoga has had several other yoga and fitness studios open within a five-mile radius since it opened in November 2016. Competition among other yoga studios and types of exercise is normal and simply means she has to maintain an environment to keep customers, Kublanov said.

“We pride ourselves in knowing our members and making sure they are attending the right classes for what they want to accomplish,” she said. It’s also an intentional effort to create a community within her studio.

Bee Well offers various pricing options including unlimited yoga for 21 days for $21 as an introductory offer to $99 for a monthly membership to $980 for an annual membership. There’s also rates for those wanting to drop in to one class or pay for five to 10 classes at a time.

Yoga and pilates studios have grown 10.6 percent annually from 2012 to 2017, according to a report by IBISWorld, an industry market research firm.

There are nearly 25,000 studios nationwide. Revenue is forecasted to grow 4.4 percent annually to $13.7 billion over the next five years, according to the report.

Rock climbing is an activity that focuses on body movements similar to yoga, such as flexibility and strength, said Dennis Nelms, co-owner of Climb Bentonville.

The 22,000-square-foot gym is expected to open late this year or early 2019 at Southwest 14th Street and Southwest I Street.

Rock climbing is not about building big muscles but rather about maximizing movement as one works to scale a wall, Nelms said.

“It can be expressed powerfully, but it takes an immense amount of problem-solving to understand how you move,” he said. “People see it very linear from one point to another, but it’s not.”

The indoor climbing gym industry grew 3.9 percent annually over the past five years, according to IBISWorld.

It’ll take time to see what role Climb Bentonville will play in Northwest Arkansas’ exercise scene.

“Ultimately, the whole thing is to have fun,” Nelms said. “It’s kind of like a bug. It catches you and you become addicted to it.”


Most studios operate largely on membership and admission fees.

It’s likely consumers will embrace fitness studios, but it’ll also be important for studio owners to find alternative revenue streams to adapt and grow, Leve said.

For example, several Association of Fitness Studios members offered joint memberships with other studios. So a hyper-specific physical training studio may join forces with a yoga studio and offer a membership for both services.

Niche studios compete for clients against larger gyms, such as Planet Fitness and World Gym, and community health facilities such as The Jones Center in Springdale and the Bentonville Community Center.

Sallie Elderton, 16-year-old home-school high school junior, uses the amenities at The Jones Center to fulfill her physical education requirements.

She and her mom, Paige, selected it because its community-oriented mission provides a higher level of safeness than other gyms, they said. She also uses the pool, courts, track and ice rink in addition to the fitness gym.

“We were just tickled to death to be able to use all of it,” Paige Elderton said.

While niche studios appeal to costumers by offering classes in a community setting, some larger gyms and clubs offer convenience with low-cost memberships, according to the IBISWorld report.

Planet Fitness memberships start at $10 a month and Jones Center memberships start at $8 a month or $90 a year, according to their websites.

“These low-commitment options attract on-the-fence consumers, and increase revenue from members who would otherwise avoid industry establishments,” according to the report.

Melissa Gute can be reached at or on Twitter@NWAMelissa.

Web Watch

For more information on the Association of Fitness Studios, visit

Source: Staff Report

NWA Democrat-Gazette/J.T. WAMPLER Students work the bags during a kick-boxing class at Fayetteville Fitness Kickboxing.
NWA Democrat-Gazette/J.T. WAMPLER Stephanie McGaugh of Goshen punches the bag during a kick-boxing class at Fayetteville Fitness Kickboxing.

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