Ever since college, I’ve been a fan of going to the gym. I look forward to my break each day when I can run to the gym to lift some weights or take a class and sweat it out. So when I joined my gym here in my small French town, I was excited to pay my 46 euros/month and see what French gyms were all about….
How do gyms in France compare to American ones? I’m taking a look at the differences.
Gyms in France vs. US
I broke down and finally joined my town’s gym back in April after my at-home workout motivation started dwindling. Getting out of my house and interacting with actual French people is a good thing so two thumbs up on joining the gym. Besides, I didn’t really feel like myself without a gym membership.
And the best part? I have some acquaintances at the gym whom I never would have met otherwise. I wouldn’t say we’re friends just yet but we text, message on FB and meet up for classes, so let’s see what happens….
Oh, and if you’re workout clothes obsessed, Fabletics rules (and is affordable), so check it out here. >>
OK, so about gym culture in France. Let me start out by saying my gym is closed for the next two weeks and I have to pay for the whole month anyway. Nope, it’s not closed for maintenance or construction. It’s France and everyone goes on vacation. Normal.
So, before I kick off my list, just a quick reminder that I live in the Pays de la Loire region of France in a smallish town. This is not Paris. Maybe bigger gym chains in larger cities are different. I also belonged to a gym in a Paris suburb when I first came to France teaching English, so some of my observations on fitness in France are based on life in the Paris region as well.
In general, the French are active and love being outdoors but haven’t embraced the gym culture like Americans have. I also have to keep in mind that I can’t compare my small town to how gym culture was in NYC. It’s comparing apples to oranges.
Overall, I’d say France’s gym culture is not quite as prominent as what we are used to in the U.S. People would ask me where I’d work out in NYC, not if I worked out. It was understood that working out is a daily lifestyle choice and not something you do to look good in a bathing suit before your summer vacation or to lose a few pounds before your wedding.
Because it’s not quite as mainstream, the newest classes and modalities aren’t available everywhere in France. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. French gyms are just different and people have a different mindset.
Here we go, the top differences between French gyms and American gyms:
Personal training isn’t a huge industry in France.
In the U.S., personal trainers can make a great living. From brides looking to shape up before their big day to those looking to push past a plateau and even gym newbies with money to spend, at just about all gyms in the U.S. you can hire a personal trainer. Not so at gyms in France!
At my gym, there are sport coaches that have studied group fitness and coaching but they don’t do personal training sessions with clients. Aside from setting up an intro to the equipment session, they do not earn an income on personal training. Would the French pay money for this? Maybe in bigger, more affluent areas. But here? Not even offered.
Business hours are way shorter.
It’s not uncommon for a gym in the U.S. to open at 5:30 a.m. to accommodate early risers who squeeze in their workouts before work. In many areas in the U.S., gyms are open until 10 or 11 p.m. and sometimes later in big cities. But my gym here in France opens at 9 a.m. daily and closes at 9 p.m. (except on Saturdays when it closes at 1 p.m.). And they’re closed completely on Sundays.
There’s no air conditioning.
My gym does not have air conditioning and it gets HOT. Like many places in France, air conditioning isn’t the norm in the summer. I understand this and have adapted to the fact that people’s homes won’t be icy cool in the sweltering heat. It’s OK and I truly have adapted… mentally.
But when you’re busting your butt in the gym, it feels so good to work out in air conditioning. I work harder and longer and feel like I can give it my all if I’m not sweating before the workout even starts. My body hates the heat and hasn’t really adapted. I fatigue so much more quickly when the gym feels like a sauna. I’ve lucked out for the most part so far this summer, so cross your fingers there. Maybe gyms in big cities do have a/c.
Step classes are more dance based and FAST.
My old step instructor at the YMCA in New Jersey would cringe at the pace, number of turns and complicated movements on the step in my Wednesday night class class in France. This type of exercise in France is fast and furious and probably a bit dangerous too.
The lady in front of me fell on her butt last month. But everyone just kept on going. The moves are dance based for the most part with a LOT of fast turns and not regular repeater knee, hamstring curls and over the top like traditional step classes. There’s a distinct French dance flair and it’s cool.
To give you an idea of what I’m talking about, this is a video of Jessica Mellet, a well-known French fitness presenter. The choreography is typical of the type of step classes found here:
No boutique fitness studio scene.
I love variety and all the cool boutique studios popping up in the U.S. like Orange Theory, Flywheel Sports, Barre3, etc. In Paris there are small boutique studios but nowhere near the scale of what it is in New York. And outside big cities? Forget it. Big name franchises haven’t hit the mainstream scene yet in France and the classes I’ve tried in Paris left a lot to be desired.
You do find privately run yoga studios and Crossfit here and there but it’s on a much smaller scale.
French women aren’t big on lifting weights.
At gyms in suburban France, French women seem to have the mentality that lifting weights will cause them to bulk up (not true!), so at any given time of day, it’s me in the weight room with a bunch of guys who acknowledge each other but don’t even say hi to me. It’s a bit of a boys’ club.
All the women seem to stay on cardio machines or in classes. That’s not to say that no women lift weights because that wouldn’t be accurate, but it’s nowhere near what I would see at my suburban YMCA, women holding their own! In bigger cities, this doesn’t seem to be so drastic, but still, way fewer women in the weight room than in the U.S. But to each his (or her) own. You have to do what works for you.
Despite the differences, I look forward to my gym time. The only difference that is hard to take is the lack of air conditioning. When temps are well into the 90s, it’s not pretty.
Anyway, the gym is an excuse to get out of the house and do something good for myself, a way to socialize with French people and a time to have fun. And as long as it stays fun, you can count me in.
Here’s how I stay motivated to exercise.
Tell me, what’s your gym scene like? If you’re in France, is there anything you’d add to my list?
Photo credit: Neeta Lind / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)
Photo credit: Arya Ziai / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)