Work Hard, Play Hard, Rest Well!

Work Hard, Play Hard, Rest Well!

When English footballer, Chris Feather came to Australia on a working holiday visa with a mate, he had little idea that he would soon be training Russell Crowe. Or that one day, he would be heading up 98 Gyms with the Hollywood star as a silent partner.

Feather and his associates belong to one of Australia’s growth industries with fitness centre revenues expected to reach $2.4 billion by 2023, according to a report by international market researcher IbisWorld. But `Ibis’ also cautions that the market is in danger of reaching saturation point.

Spearheading the boost in fitness is the rise and rise of 24/7 fitness chains, which allow entry at any time of the day or night. These budget  24-hour gyms mostly operate with out staff, and wage savings flow down to consumers in the form of cheaper membership prices.

So far, 98 Gyms has survived Covid lockdowns and their focus is very different to the 24/7 ethos. it’s all spelt out on the website: 

“At 98 we always want more from our performance, both physically and mentally. We know that the way we approach our time in the gym will translate to the way we approach every aspect of our lives. Under pressure, we’ll only ever be as good as our training. That’s why we train so hard. We build resilience.”

Currently there’s two 98 Gyms, the original in 98 Riley Street in Sydney’s Darlinghurst and another in Bondi. In the next few months there will be a 98 Newcastle with perhaps Perth, Adelaide and Melbourne also on the drawing board.

There’s a certain kudos in training at 98 Gym. It’s almost like a sacred brotherhood/sisterhood  of pain and gain with members following programs that will really test their limits.

“Our gym is based around performance and being fit and strong. The primary focus is  executing the programs and the resulting aesthetics is a by product of that,” says Feather, who once played rugby league for Leeds and Bradford in the UK. “Our trainers are ex-professional athletes or ex-Special Forces military,” he adds. “We’ve done that type of training in a high performance environment so we know that it works.”

And while there’s a certain novelty in visiting a 24/7 gym whenever the mood takes you, Feather believes the key to the longevity of the business is in the trainers.

“Gyms need to have substance,” he says. “People are not just turning up to use the equipment but for the community and the camaraderie. It’s the coaching aspect. They want their trainer to explain why they’re doing what they’re doing,” he comments.

It doesn’t come cheap to be a part of the action at 98 Gyms. A 10 class pass is $300 with class membership at $79 a week, plus there’s plenty of brand merchandise, brimming with street cred.

Feather is often being approached now to franchise 98 Gyms but he’s not interested in losing control of them.

"The biggest thing for us is that we don’t want to dilute the product,” he says. "We’re only interested in working with people we know, who have followed our programs and share our fitness philosophy.”

Meanwhile he  spends most of the week in 98 Riley Street and 98 Bondi, actively training his clients and joining in challenges. These exercises build on legendary feats that inform the brand’s social media following.

And it’s social media which provides a boost to the fitness industry, according to Fitness Australian Chief Executive, Bill Moore. He believes that it’s ``the fitspo generation” of Instagram Influencers and celebrities  has many more people interested in the "physicality of exercise."

However ultimately it all comes down to the way you want to train. Those solitary sessions in the early hours of the morning at a 24/7 gym, can feel just as empowering as being around like minded souls and sweating it out. Who can say which works best.

ABOUT THE WRITER Ros Reines is a Sydney journalist and the author of four books. She is currently penning her fifth - a memoir of a life in the media.

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