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Gymtopia. A place where clubs do social good

Picture of Valerie Bonstrom and Stefi Graff of Mrs.Sporty fitness chain

Published in: Health Club Management, April 2016

By Ray Algar, Chief Engagement Officer, Gymtopia

Walking alongside a community

Are the charitable efforts of your club one-off events, or are they part of a long-term commitment to make a difference? Ray Algar reports on a remarkable club in Canada.

This month I want to share the remarkable story of how the independent Fifth Avenue Club in Calgary, Canada is making a nine-year commitment to support the growth of communities in the Belo region of western Ethiopia.

Why feature the Fifth Avenue Club?

What appealed to me about this project was the long-term nature of its support to Food for the Hungry, its chosen Canadian charity partner. Darren Kanwischer, owner of the Fifth Avenue Club had noticed the tendency for some gyms to approach charity as a one-time short-term event whereas he wanted to forge a long-term partnership that could make a meaningful and enduring impact, touching thousands of lives.

It began over a cup of coffee

Kanwischer became aware of Food for the Hungry and its work across Africa through the club’s coffee supplier and was drawn to the idea of ‘adopting’ the Belo community as part of a sustainable development project. The purpose of Food for the Hungry is to end poverty one community at a time and they achieve this by ‘walking alongside’ a community. Walking alongside means the charity does not believe in short-term handouts but instead works to understand the root causes of poverty and commits to support a community for about 10 years after which it should be self-sustaining. Therefore it seeks donor partners who believe in this long-term approach and are able to support funding of health, sanitation, food security, education and local leadership.

The friendliest club in town

Since the Fifth Avenue Club, which spans 15,500 square feet (1,440 square metres) opened in 2006, it has focused on becoming the friendliest fitness venue in the city. Calgary itself is the largest city in the province of Alberta with a population of 1.1 million at the 2011 census. It is a prospering city, which has attracted many of Canada’s largest companies, and so residents can chose from many different club brands. GoodLife Fitness operates nearby as do Anytime Fitness along with specialist studios, CrossFit and many other fitness providers. ‘Friendly’ and ‘supportive’ are therefore two important attributes for this 700 member club to own as competition intensifies and people make their club choice.

Read the remainder of this article by selecting the ‘download the PDF’ button.


Published in: Health Club Management, January 2016

By Ray Algar, Chief Engagement Officer, Gymtopia

My Sportlady club is enriching women’s lives in Munich

This month I want to share the remarkable story of how the My Sportlady independent club based in Munich, Germany, is harnessing its altruistic purpose to forge meaningful connections with members as well as the wider community.

Why feature My Sportlady?

Given there are more than 48,000 fitness clubs and centres across Europe (Source: EuropeActive), I am always fascinated as to why a minority of clubs have a reputation far beyond their operating borders. These days most clubs typically possess similar resources (skilled people, equipment, facilities, programmes etc) – globalisation has seen to that, so why does the story and mission of a 2,000 member woman’s-only club in Germany, spread?

 A purposeful club

Since Jasmin Kirstein founded the club in 1984, its core purpose as a special place for women that helps to foster a healthy work-life balance, has remained constant. While budget gyms and boutique studios sprout up around the club, like daffodils in spring, My Sportlady has remained focused on how it can continue to create long-term value, not just for its members, but also for women across Munich and beyond. Possessing all the paraphernalia of other 2,000 square metre (21,528 square feet) fitness clubs, it operates more as a centre for cultivating life-skills than a typical fitness club. As an example, its cooking school helps members to understand the importance of nutrition and healthy eating. The club exists not simply to support a women’s need for physicality, but also independence, tranquillity and acceptance.

Read the remainder of this article by selecting the ‘download PDF’ button.


Front cover of Health Club Management showing a picture of Rebecca Adlington, Olympic swimmer

Published in: Health Club Management, August 2015

By Ray Algar, Chief Engagement Officer, Gymtopia

Movement, Community, Service – Midtown Athletic

The team at Rochester’s Midtown Athletic Club believes there’s no charitable cause too big or too small to support. Ray Algar reports:

When I look at some of the world’s most remarkable health club brands, I often discover a strategic intent to play a proactive part in the prosperity of their communities; they’re not just there harvesting its resources. They forge a reputation for compassion and generosity and over time become an influential, valued, integral part of the  community. This month, I want to share the story of how Midtown Athletic Clubs in the US has embraced a strong sense of corporate citizenship and a wider definition of community to enable its clubs to flourish even as competition intensifies.

Three generations
The Schwartz family founded its first club, the Midtown Tennis Club, in Chicago in 1970 with a simple everyday mission: “Bringing out the best tennis player in you.” The club was founded by Alan Schwartz and his father Kevie, who were passionate about tennis and used the club as a vehicle to help grow the game. The company expanded and during the 1980s began adding fitness areas to its tennis clubs.

Steven Schwartz, Alan’s son, joined in 1987 to help position and grow what has become the Midtown Athletic Club brand. Eight Midtown Athletic Clubs now operate in what Steven Schwartz – now president and CEO – describes as the ‘upscale sports resort’ segment. The brand’s mission has also evolved beyond tennis: it aims to inspire through a pledge to ‘movement, community and service’.

Read the remainder of this article by selecting the ‘download PDF’ button.


Cover Health Club Management magazine showing picture of Tanni Grey-Thompson former Paralympian in gold racing suit and set for the start of a race May 2015

Published in: Health Club Management , May 2015

By Ray Algar, Chief Engagement Officer, Gymtopia

Planet Fitness breast cancer awareness project

Ray Algar reports on Planet Fitness’ mission to raise funds for breast cancer.

This month’s Gymtopia story focuses on Planet Fitness, the fast-growing North American low-cost gym brand, and its four year partnership with Breast Cancer Research Foundation (BCRF) to raise much-needed funds for the charity.

For the last four years, the project took place during May to coincide with America’s celebration of Mothers’ Day.

How the project started
Back in 2010, Planet Fitness wanted to develop a project to coincide with Mothers’ Day, which in the US is held on the second Sunday in May. The gym brand was seeking to support a cause with deep significance and meaning on a day that celebrated women.

Following considerable research, Planet Fitness decided to align itself with the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, founded by Evelyn H Lauder in 1993, whose everyday mission is to prevent and cure breast cancer by helping to advance the world’s most promising research in this area.

Why this cause matters to Planet Fitness
Every two minutes, an American woman is diagnosed with breast cancer. Some of these women may have a connection with Planet Fitness – a possibility that becomes ever more likely as the gym brand continues to grow its 900-strong club network across the United States and Canada. As Chris Rondeau, CEO of Planet Fitness, says: “We’re committed to helping improve people’s lives, through fitness and giving back to our communities, and with so many grandmothers, mothers and daughters touched by breast cancer, we felt this promotion was the perfect way to honour Mother’s Day.”

Read the remainder of this article by selecting the ‘download PDF’ button.