When you first move to Singapore, it is a slow awakening to discover that it is a damn expensive place to live. Like a mirage, the cheap transportation and hawker food lures you into a false sense of financial security. The realisation I was living in one of the most expensive countries in the world hit me when I wanted to get back into fitness. I had to ask myself, why are gyms so expensive in Singapore? Holding gym membership here is both prestigious and a luxury. Running along the river or doing tae chi in the park are more popular ways for locals to burn calories however as a foreigner, I would struggle to exercise outside in such extreme humidity. And if you think doing yoga is a cheaper option, forget about it!
How much does it cost?
The price of gym membership depends on whether you go for a big brand chain or a local club, although the price differential tends to be marginal. Usually you will pay a one-off registration fee and then commit to a one or two year membership charged monthly. Most gyms also offer one-off visits and shorter term contracts, however for fitness fanatics this wouldn’t be a cost effective option.
The biggest group of gyms in Singapore is Fitness First, which has 20 clubs throughout the country. Initial registration can cost between $50-100 (although might be waived if they are running a special promotion). For a one year membership to access a single club, it costs $117.70 a month whereas membership to access any of their Singapore clubs costs $160 a month. Membership includes access to all the facilities such as aerobic machines and weights, as well as fitness classes. I have known some people who have been able to negotiate 6 month membership contracts for a similar fee.
Virgin Active is the most prestigious gym in Singapore, however it only has five clubs including Raffles Place and Tanjong Pagar. The equipment and amenities are state-of-the-art and the price difference to Fitness First is marginal. A one year membership is $188.50 per month, which allows you to access all of their clubs.
Other notable gyms in Singapore include Pure Fitness at $150-200 per month, Anytime Fitness at $98 per month, and Gymmboxx at $50-90 per month. Local gyms tend to average around $75 a month but can vary depending on the quality of the facilities and the location. At the end of the day, people choose a gym based on convenience and budgeting $100 per month for gym fees is considered the norm.
There is a growing community of yogis in Singapore who decide they don’t need a gym membership and yoga classes alone are the way to go. Surprisingly however, most yoga chains are charging similar prices. Hom Yoga, located at Orchard and Raffles Place, is one such example. A single class costs $32, a package of 10 classes costs $295, and a one year membership is $180 per month. Their competitor Pure Yoga charges comparable rates.
Naturally there are cheaper fitness options available if you are self-motivated. Meetup, Internations and other social networks organise free outdoor yoga, running and hiking activities. Most condominiums will also have free and basic gym facilities.
Why are gyms so expensive in Singapore?
This is the question I keep asking myself and I have conducted serious observation to come to an answer. Firstly I recognise that Singapore real estate is very expensive. According to the Retail Index report for Q4 2017, Singapore scored as the 6th most expensive city for shopping mall rents in Asia Pacific after Hong Kong, Sydney, Melbourne, Guangzhou and Brisbane. The average rent for shopping mall space in Singapore was USD$4,277 per square metre per annum in the central district. Quarterly rent growth for the same quarter in Singapore for commercial rents was 4.7%. As the majority of gyms are located in shopping malls or office blocks, this is significant.
However the real reason I believe the gyms are so expensive is because they have a crazy number of staff working there and doing nothing. At any time of day I can wander into my local Fitness First and see at least 6 staff sitting around playing on their mobile phones. It is clear what the responsibilities are of the staff that sit at the reception, as they will swipe your membership card and offer you a towel after finishing whatever they are doing on their phone. However I have never been able to figure out what all the other staff do. Are they sales people? Are they personal trainers? Once I saw one of the usual guys who hangs about at the front desk mopping the floor early on a Saturday morning. It is not clear to me if mopping the floor once or twice a day is his only responsibility and whether it can constitute a full time salary.
Another consideration is that all of the equipment is imported from the US. Asians are big on brands and buying cheap no name equipment from China would just not fly in Singapore. It is also a question of health and safety, as there are strict regulations in Singapore to abide by. Trusted US-branded equipment incurs heftier maintenance and repair fees that are passed on to the consumer.
Possibly a final reason why gyms are so expensive is that Singapore society is in love with air conditioning. Air-conditioning is a sign of wealth and prestige and most gyms are like iceboxes when you walk inside. This chilly atmosphere increases their appeal to the middle and upper classes, who are willing to splash their cash for the ridiculous membership fees. However all that air-conditioning surely racks up some pretty high energy bills too.
Is the price of gym membership worth it?
Once I came to realise why are gyms so expensive in Singapore I struggled with the question of whether gym membership is worth it. I use the gym primarily for the aerobic equipment and the classes but I also have free basic gym facilities in the condominium where I live. However after completing my one year membership with Fitness First I decided to sign up for a second year too.
The gyms in Singapore are very different to what I was used to in the UK and at times I find myself comparing the gym to a zoo because it is so chaotic. In London, the exercise equipment is setup in rows in a designated area. In Singapore, the exercise equipment is arranged in a circle and the space in the middle is allocated for people to do mat work or circuit classes. Sometimes I am working out on the treadmill with someone punching a boxing bag behind me. Other times I can be sweating out on the rowing machine with a class grunting away doing sit-ups nearby. I found this format highly distracting and even irritating before I got used to the noise and activity levels.
Likewise the way classes are run is also different. In London I was a big fan of Zumba and Step classes with their high energy music, varying workouts and intimate class sizes. In Singapore, class sizes are much bigger and seem to be run in a more American way. The instructor usually wears a microphone and will shout inspirational quotes during the workout to keep participants motivated. Instructors also like to take welfies (group selfies) with the class before and after the workout. It took some time for me to experiment with a few classes but I have now become a fan of Bodycombat and Aerial Yoga at my local club.
If you are moving to Singapore, spare yourself the grief of asking why are gyms so expensive in Singapore. If you are serious about your fitness, just bite the bullet and accept it is part of the cost of living here. The reality is, you will put on weight if you don’t. My views on why gaining weight in Singapore is an unavoidable challenge can be read here.