French not working out gym culture

2010-09-27 14:51

Paris – The French may love to look good, but few are willing to work up a sweat.

Despite increasing awareness of the benefits of healthy eating and physical exercise, going to the gym in France is a niche activity.

France’s generous healthcare system, its cultural preference for outdoor sports and its lack of affordable good-quality clubs are seen as reasons behind the country’s low rate of gym-goers – even relative to laid-back neighbours Spain or Italy.

“It appears to me that more people are sitting in cafes smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee than working out. The French don’t see fitness as a lifestyle,” says American-born fitness consultant Fred Hoffman, who has lived in Paris for 21 years.

Only 5.4% of French people belonged to a health club in 2008, according to the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association, compared with 9.5% for Italy, 11.9% for the United Kingdom and 16.6% for Spain.

The figure doesn’t include France’s numerous community fitness groups, or “associations”, which are entitled to government subsidies and tempt many consumers with cheap prices despite their often unsophisticated facilities.

Even taking into account this potential numbers gap, mass-market chains Club Med Gym and Fitness First say the $2 billion French market is a particularly tough slog. Property and staff are costly while competition from other sports is fierce.

“Football, tennis and cycling, those are the top-three activities of the French,” says Nadege Gaillard, marketing director for Club Med Gym, a Paris-focused brand that has not opened a single new club in nearly a decade. It is due to open a new venue in Paris in 2011.

Although rival Fitness First has had more luck opening clubs in and out of Paris, it is feeling the heat from the growth of no-frills centres that are stealing customers from pricier venues in a stagnating market.

“No services, no staff, that’s what’s growing. It’s a lot simpler just to open a shoe box and throw in some machines,” says Michel Parada, who heads Fitness First’s French operations.

No sweat
Working out also has an image problem in France, where few celebrities seem keen to publicly endorse the mucky business of sweating and straining on a cardio machine.

Even the sight of President Nicolas Sarkozy in running shoes jogging after his election in 2007 proved too much for some.

“I would rather see the president in his suit than in his sweat,” philosopher Alain Finkielkraut said at the time.

Consumers seem to prefer the aesthetic appeal of creams and cosmetics that claim to have slimming properties, according to Christophe Anandson of the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association.

“The credulity of the French isn’t favouring the growth of the fitness market,” he said.

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
0 comments
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

 
/News

Book flights

Compare, Book, Fly

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.




Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.