Fitness First

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Fitness First Ltd.
Industry Health clubs
Founded 1993
Founder Mike Balfour
Headquarters Poole, United Kingdom
Number of locations
360 clubs
Area served
17 countries
Key people
Oren Peleg, CEO
Services Health and wellness services
Fitness First studio in Cologne, Germany

Fitness First is an international fitness centre brand founded in 1993 in the United Kingdom. The company owned and operated its clubs around the world, until financial pressures saw parts of the company sold off to various owners in different regions between 2016 and 2017. The Fitness First brand has been retained by its new owners in most cases.

In 2014, there were 377 Fitness First clubs and more than 900,000 members globally.[1]


A Fitness First gym in suburban Sydney, Australia in 2016.

The first Fitness First club was opened by Mike Balfour in 1993 in Bournemouth, UK.[2]

Fitness First entered the Australian market in 2000 after buying assets from the collapsed Healthland chain.[3] and acquiring a number of Living Well Lady locations owned by the Hilton Group in 2006.[4]

In 2003, the company was sold to Cinven for £404 million, taking the company private, and re-sold in 2005 to BC Partners for £835 million, at a time when EBITDA was around £95 million.[5] The company opened its first clubs in India in 2008.[6]

By 2012, high debt, a failed IPO and increasing competition from low-cost fitness chains placed Fitness First in financial difficulty, requiring the company to abandon expansion plans and sell clubs in Spain, Italy and Benelux-member nations[7] and sell off 24 of its 97 Australian clubs.[8] It was subsequently acquired by Oaktree Capital Management and Marathon Asset Management through a GB£550 million debt-for-equity swap, absolving the company of external debt.[9]

Since then, ownership of the company has been diluted around the world, largely due to sustained losses.[10] The Australian arm of Fitness First was sold in 2016 to the Fitness and Lifestyle Group, a holding company which also owns Jetts Fitness, Goodlife Health Clubs and Hypoxi and is majority-owned by Quadrant Private Equity and partially-owned by Oaktree.[11][12] In the same year, DW Sports Fitness acquired all 62 Fitness First clubs in the UK, selling 14 of those and continuing to operate 48 under the Fitness First brand.[10] In 2017, Fitness First Asia merged with Celebrity Fitness to create Evolution Wellness, co-owned by Oaktree and Navis Capital Partners, however both brands will remain separate.[13]

Products and services[edit]

Fitness First has a range of different products and services including BodyFirst, Group Fitness Classes, Personal Training, Team Workouts, cardio machines, and operates annual New You Achievement Awards to recognise the progress of members.

Fitness First is also the company behind International Fitness Week which takes place each February. Initiatives in 2009 have included the launch of Strictly Fit in conjunction with BBC Worldwide, a low impact aerobics group class open to members and non-members.

The Asian arm of Fitness First (with 88 clubs covering Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand), in addition to offering the above products, has recently developed their 'Lose Big' programme, which was developed for the Biggest Loser Asia, with Fitness First being the anchor sponsor and the employer of the head trainers. The Lose Big Program is a 13-week weight management program designed for those with substantial weight loss needs.

The Asia business is widely regarded as the regional market leader. Simon Flint, Asia CEO (as reported by the Bangkok Post)reported plans to expand the 6 country portfolio to 130 clubs by 2018 with the possibility of new markets being added to the portfolio.

In June 2013, the Thailand operation entered into a lease with Siam Piwat to fit-out and operate a 40,000 sq.ft. space in the Bangkok's famous SIam Paragon Mall, positioning the club as a 'flagship', offering a range of new innovative technologies and training regimes.

The company opened the concept club ‘The Zone’ in Australia in 2013 and invested £77.5 million in club upgrades. In 2014, Fitness First launched their Global Rebrand and opened ‘BEAT’; a heart rate based training micro gym in London, and their $7 million flagship Australia club in Melbourne the same year.

On 21 January 2014 Fitness First in Australia officially relaunched, changing its logo and beginning to refresh all its clubs nationwide, as well as introducing some more flexible contracts. Fitness guru Jane Fonda was the brand ambassador for the relaunch.

Membership plans[edit]

Fitness First operates in many different countries so it has many different membership options around the world.

Fitness First (Australia) offers a number of membership plans on different terms. Some membership contracts have a minimum term of one year and incur a cancellation fee on exit.[14] Others are billed on a fortnightly basis and can be cancelled with 4-week notice. On the "home" plan, members can access only one Fitness First location. Other plans allow members access to any standard Fitness First gym within Australia. Limitations apply on access to international Fitness First gyms. Fees start from $29.90 per month.[15]


Fitness First at Robinsons Mall, Manila, Philippines

Historical cases exist where direct debit accounts are still debited after the member has cancelled their membership.[16]

Fitness First has frequently failed to pay its staff their salaries, breaching contracts as if they were flypaper, and brushing it off with a shrug of the shoulders and the pseudo-apologetic phrase "The money just didn't come through." They have lied to the courts when staff have tried to claim their wages and threatened them with spurious lawsuits. In a July 2004 study comparing Fitness First with other Australian gyms, Fitness First respondents were less likely to have been shown how to use equipment by a qualified staff member, offered a fitness assessment or advised on an appropriate exercise routine.[17]

In August 2008, Fitness First took a club member to the Australian New South Wales (NSW) Supreme Court to recover a $200 cancellation fee. The court ruled in favour of Fitness First, although she could not afford to pay and was no longer able to use the gym on medical grounds.[18] The patient explained her medical condition before signing up and was instructed to sign the contract. Fitness First sought action to ensure that gym contracts with clients were still legally valid even if the court were to find that the client did not understand what he or she had signed.[19] Fitness First's victory on appeal overturned a prior decision against the company by the NSW Consumer, Trader and Tenancy Tribunal, which had found that a contract required a "meeting of the minds, in that they each fully know and understand the terms and conditions of the agreement".[19] The Supreme Court found that the Tribunal had erred in a matter of law.

In March 2009, a Fitness First trainer allegedly attacked a member after a dispute about closing times, pushing him down a flight of stairs. The member spent the night in hospital with a broken nose and seven stitches to the forehead from a deep gash. Police are investigating.[20]

In May 2009, the Australian consumer magazine "Choice" found Fitness First to have the most aggressive psychological techniques in getting customers to sign complicated contracts and not explaining what the cancellation policy is, in a test involving "shadow shoppers" visiting two gyms run by Fitness First, Contours, Fernwood Fitness, Curves and Virgin Active.[21]

List of countries[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Shapland, Mark (12 May 2015). "Fitness First drops pounds as earnings and profits fall but group maintains it is on the right programme". This Is Money. Retrieved 11 February 2016. 
  2. ^ Phillips, Jak (18 January 2016). "Fitness First sells founding site in Bournemouth". Health Club Management. Retrieved 19 May 2018. 
  3. ^ "Gyms want more customers to fit the bill". The Sydney Morning Herald. Fairfax Media. 27 June 2002. Retrieved 19 May 2018. 
  4. ^ Todd, Sarah (3 July 2006). "Fitness First buys Australian LivingWell clubs for £10m". Health Club Management. Retrieved 19 May 2018. 
  5. ^ Guha, Malini (22 September 2005). "Cinven sells Fitness First for £835m". Financial Times. Retrieved 19 May 2018. 
  6. ^ Ratti Sharma, Pragati (29 November 2016). "How Fitness First remains among the top 5 in India with its clearly defined philosophy". Franchise India. Retrieved 19 May 2018. 
  7. ^ Thompson, Christopher (25 February 2012). "Oaktree vies for control of Fitness First". Financial Times. Retrieved 19 May 2018. 
  8. ^ "Clubs to be sold off as Fitness First slims down". ABC News. 2 June 2012. Retrieved 19 May 2018. .
  9. ^ Thomas, Nathalie (24 May 2014). "Fitness First raises first external debt since restructuring". The Telegraph. Retrieved 11 February 2016. 
  10. ^ a b Hill, Laura (4 October 2016). "DW Sports Scoops Up Fitness First UK For £70M". Well To Do. Retrieved 19 May 2018. 
  11. ^ "Quadrant expands wellness empire with acquisition of Fitness First Australia". Australasian Leisure Management. 29 September 2016. Retrieved 19 May 2018. 
  12. ^ "Fitness First gyms in new hands". Australian Associated Press. Special Broadcasting Service. 30 September 2016. 
  13. ^ Tay, Vivienne (24 February 2017). "Celebrity Fitness and Fitness First Asia set to merge". Marketing. Retrieved 19 May 2018. 
  14. ^ fitnessfirst Australia FAQ
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  18. ^ NSW: Gym wins court appeal for fee from sick member. AAP General News Wire. Sydney: Aug 7, 2008.
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External links[edit]