Growing number of "quality" fitness clubs offer Czechs greater variety of choices

For many Czechs - told all too often they smoke, drink, and or eat far too unhealthily - there is another option: to take their life into their own hands and get in shape. Getting exercise in the Czech Republic has never been easier, with an increasing number of modern and well-equipped fitness centres offering more choice and better services. Since the late 90s a centres operated by either by Czech-run or by internationally-owned companies have transformed the fitness landscape - especially in Prague - offering locals more opportunities than ever to keep in trim. Jan Velinger has details.

Despite not having the best of reputations regarding drink and diet - a good number of Czechs do live healthily and exercise regularly. Keeping fit is important for many, whether they get on a bike, hike, or ski. And although some might still prefer grabbing a beer on a sunny day rather than rollerblading in the park, the situation is changing and changing fast.

That's partly because a number of operators on the Czech market have opened newer and more sophisticated fitness centres than were found here before. Now Czech gym-goers can enjoy more than just aerobics or weight-training, but also yoga, boxing, swimming, and the martial arts. There's also indoor cycling: just a few years ago Roman Dockal was one of only a few "spinning" instructors:

"I used to teach aerobics but then I found out about spinning. I was one of the first of around 40 instructors who got initial training in Brno. Since then I've seen spinning become extremely popular, and it has to do with greater changes in general: more clubs and better services not only in Prague but throughout the Czech Republic. Spinning, aerobics, weight-lifting - all have seen amazing improvements and there are now more places than ever to really get pumped up."

Jan Hutnan, a professional trainer at a cross-town club agrees:

"If you have a demanding job, you need fitness to get through the day. Diet is equally important. Many people who are suffering from obesity and have reached an impasse are realising that they've got to change their life. They have our greatest respect. More and more, people are realising that fitness is not just a passing fad, it's a 'necessity'."

Improvements in fitness clubs were something noted by several of people I spoke with as they worked out:

"I'm happy with the situation. I work out 3-4 times per week. For me it's quite a big thing."

"I'm happy with my centre. It's one of the best. Are Czech men taking better care are of themselves? I hope so! And, it's going to get better and better."

"People are mostly searching for such places; they work 12 or 14 hours a day, then they come to that place: to communicate and have fun and train together."

Of course, aggressive and clever marketing have also played significant roles in gaining new customers. But new centres wouldn't have got far without offering "more". Often redesigned from former factories in fashionable parts of the city, the new clubs offer an "experience" - but they also offer important professional support - especially for those suffering from lifestyle illness. Petr Herzmann is a top manager at one of Prague's more popular fitness clubs:

"Entrepreneurs in fitness realised that it was not enough to just 'sell tickets' to the fitness centre but that they needed to offer customised programmes, consultancy, for people who need additional support."

So, where do we go from here? By most estimates fitness awareness in the Czech Republic will continue to go up. A centre can see an average of 1,500 to 2,000 visits per day and according to experts like Petr Herzmann, the market is far from saturated: in his view Czechs can expect more clubs in the coming years to open "just around the corner". That means anyone really wanting to improve their health will have even more opportunities to do so, and anyone who hasn't got off the living room couch yet will soon have no excuse!