Fitness and Sports Training and Coaching

It may seem like a paradox, but at the same time that obesity in America is at high levels, the fitness industry is a booming business. The International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association (IHRSA) estimates 2012 revenues at $21.8 billion, club membership at 50.2 million, and the total number of clubs (including YMCAs and community centers) at 30,500. The average rate of member retention for IHRSA-affiliated clubs was 72.4 percent. When related industries, such as sales of fitness DVDs and workout apparel, are included in the total, revenue for the industry comes to about $45 billion for 2012.

The Physical Activity Council, an umbrella organization representing seven industry groups, estimates that 33 percent of Americans age six and older participated in fitness activities to a healthy level in 2013.

One indication of the national interest in fitness is the number of get-in-shape magazines now on the market. The publications displayed at supermarket checkout counters are aimed at women—Self, Shape, Women's Health, among others—but newsstands also feature a few that are aimed at men, such as Men's Health and Men's Fitness. One reason for this interest is the high rate of obesity. In 2010, the National Center for Health Statistics found that 36 percent of American adults and 17 percent of children and adolescents were obese. This epidemic has been caused by the shift to a knowledge economy, in which most work is sedentary, plus the deterioration of good eating habits. Some cultural observers suggest that the emphasis on women's fitness reflects recognition of the trend toward women's empowerment; feminist critics consider it a co-opting of this trend.

About 267,000 people are employed as fitness trainers and instructors. Another 23,000 teach recreation and fitness studies at the postsecondary level. Fitness trainers and aerobic instructors work mainly at fitness and recreational sports centers. A score of organizations offer certification of these instructors, including some specializations such as yoga.

Fitness and recreational sports centers offer not only workout equipment and free weights, but also classes in yoga, Pilates, aerobic dancing, spinning (stationary bicycles), and even pole dancing. They earn most of their revenue from memberships and admission fees but also make money from selling workout apparel and from charging for services to individuals, such as massage and personal fitness training.

The proliferation of gyms in fitness centers, hotels, office buildings, and other locations has created a large market for equipment such as elliptical workout machines, treadmills, and stair steppers. Consumers purchase some of this equipment for use at home. They also spend billions annually on workout apparel and accessories such as exercise mats and fitness-tracking software.

Business at fitness and recreational sports centers is sensitive to recessions. During economic downturns, patrons of the centers lose disposable income and lack free time, either because they are busy looking for work or are working longer hours at lower-paying jobs. The industry's sensitivity was demonstrated during the recession that began in 2007, losing 6 percent of the establishments and 2 percent of the employees between that year and 2011.

However, the industry is now on an upward growth curve, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects an overall 13 percent increase in industry employment through 2022.


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