Being in shape in Russia is more or less valued by men and is absolutely crucial for women.
Why it is optional for a man to be fit – men are judged more on their income than on their appearance, but women are expected to be in great shape all the time.
And they pay premium. A typical gym membership in Moscow costs $2,500-3000 per year. That includes access to machines and free weights, unlimited group cardio classes, access to a swimming pool/sauna and small freebies such as water coolers and towels. Annual membership in a gym often includes one or several private classes with instructors, but that is mostly a marketing thing – a way to sell private sessions (which cost from 30 to 70 USD per hour). Gym facilities that cost $3K are nice, modern and clean but they are very similar to an average US gym, which costs a lot less. Why do so many people pay so much for that service?Fitness in Moscow is more than just going to a gym. It is a status symbol. Many people occasionally enjoy ice-skating or cross-country skiing, but they do not engage in dedicated workouts at the gym. That is a thing for people who are well off. Such people spend most of their days sitting – in their cars (2-3 hours on a typical day) and offices. Sedentary lifestyle calls for either dieting or exercise.
Majority really pays for staying in shape. Abundance of food, daily business meetings in restaurants and sitting for 12 hours a day do call for additional exercise. Yes, it is expensive, but during most of the year, Moscow weather is nasty, so everyday runs are out of question. And even when it is warm and sunny, finding a good place for outdoor sports is challenging. There are free cross-fit and yoga classes in couple of parks in the center, but most people do not have a public tennis court or even a park good for jogging or rollerblading in a walking distance from their homes. Air is quite polluted. Dedicated bike lanes are scarce. Hence – having a gym membership is valuable – it is a place where specially qualified people and ambiance make you move and burn those calories or gain muscles.
Minority does buy gym memberships for other reasons. For some, that is the club – you go there with your buddies. You do not spend too much time really working out, but have great time nevertheless – drinking smoothies or fresh juices in a club café or chatting with friends. Some girls go to gym with the goal of finding a guy and although that strategy is fruitless all over the world (guys in gym are too focused on fitness), many girls still give it a try. I know only one successful case of that – recently watched a documentary about wives of oligarchs and one wife revealed that she caught attention of her future husband in a boxing class. Very rare and happy case.
It is necessary to mention that there has been growth in an affordable fitness segment in the last couple of years. Not many people can shell out $2-3K on fitness, but many would like to be fit. Now it is possible to find gym memberships for $300-400/year and sometimes that could be a good value for money. Yes, there will be no free water coolers and gym will most likely be located in a dingy basement and will be overcrowded. But if you know what to do with weights and other equipment and you actually visit gym regularly – you will get almost the same fitness out of this deal as from the expensive club. Another popular trend is dance studios of any kind. That is pure cardio, but it is fun and people like it. Finally, there is a lot of interest in tennis, skiing, snowboarding as well as such unusual sports as snow kiting, kite surfing, curling etc.