Hutong Jiemei is a Radii column in which sisters Krista and Sophia Pederson — Tulsa natives who’ve been living in China for a decade each — navigate lifestyle trends in today’s Beijing. “Hutong” is the name of the city’s traditional alleys, where they share an apartment; “jiemei” is Chinese for sisters. Today’s entry is a first-person account of Sophia’s experience hunting FitTech trends in Beijing.
New Years’ Resolutions are in a bit of a limbo here in China. January 1 rolls around and everyone is excited about “keeping fit!”, “going to the gym more often!”, and “doing more yoga!” But then… things start slipping.
Yes, everyone has this problem, but it’s more acute in China due to the fact that Chinese New Year is always after the Western New Year. It’s quite nice actually — you can ease into your resolution goals softly, try it out and see what works. And what is working for a lot of young, wealthy, first-tier city dwellers is Space Cycle. Space Cycle even works for Alibaba, which recently led in its B-series round of investment of a whopping 100 million RMB (15.8 million USD).
Before I bought a 10-class pack at Space Cycle, I was used to the traditional gym experience: buying a time-sensitive pass that allows you access to their equipment, and then you do it alone. No group classes, just you and the treadmill/weights/etc. I wasn’t a huge fan of group classes before I joined — I don’t want to have a chat or be friendly when I’m working out so intensely, I don’t enjoy motivational yelling encouraging me to do better, and I’m not that coordinated when it comes to a class like the ballet-inspired Barre.
A Tron-like Space Cycle classroom (via TechNode)
But after going a few times, I started to get into it! Space Cycle, a chain of boutique gyms with branches in Taipei, Beijing and Shanghai, uses an online app and WeChat page that shows you that week’s class schedule and lets you book your space. They do a better job than many brands at putting the “tech” in FitTech. (If you’re not familiar with the term, “FitTech” describes an emerging industry around products or services blending fitness and technology.)
Most of the classes are taught in Chinese. Even if there is a foreign instructor, they manage to instruct in at least half (if not 75%) of the time in Chinese. This is something that should be obvious — Chinese classes for a Chinese audience in China — but that hasn’t been done until recently (mid- to high-end group exercise classes in Chinese for Chinese consumers). Today, white collar workers in Beijing and Shanghai can spend anywhere from $25-50 per class to take Barre, Yoga, and Spin Class at various levels.
Space Cycle isn’t the only company getting a piece of the high-end group exercise action in first-tier cities, either: Gu Cycle is hot on its heals, with more Mainland locations (three in Shanghai, and two in Beijing), although its current offering only includes spin class. Guavapass, available in Beijing and Shanghai, is also starting to gain traction through a group exercise Groupon of sorts: you buy a monthly pass online or through their app and get unlimited classes at various high-end gyms (including certain Space Cycle classes) throughout the city.
I’ve been going quite regularly to spin class now, and plan to purchase more classes — but only after Chinese New Year. I need to ease into my New Year’s Resolutions.
Cover image: Space Cycle website