Differences between French and American gyms

Written by Diane on. Posted in on healthy living, on life in France

french-gyms-differences

Ever since college, I’ve been a fan of going to the gym. I look forward to my break each day when I can run to the gym to lift some weights or take a class and sweat it out. So when I joined my gym here in town, I was excited to pay my 46 euros/month and see what French gyms were all about….

How do gyms in France compare to American ones? I’m taking a look at the differences.

GO!

Gyms in France

I broke down and finally joined my town’s gym back in April after my at-home workout motivation started dwindling. Getting out of my house and interacting with actual French people is a good thing so two thumbs up on joining the gym. Besides, I didn’t really feel like myself without a gym membership. And best part? I have some acquaintances at the gym whom I never would have met otherwise. I wouldn’t say we’re friends just yet but we text, message on FB and meet up for classes, so let’s see what happens….

Also, random thought, I was throwing around the idea of starting a more lifestyle-based blog that is less about expat topics and more about the day-to-day life in France, things I like that maybe have nothing to do with France sometimes, lots of photography and fitness and a lot more ME. Would anyone read it? I don’t know.

Oh, and if you’re workout clothes obsessed, Fabletics rules (and is affordable), so check it out here. >>

OK, so about the gyms in France. Let me start out by saying my gym is closed for the next two weeks and I have to pay for the whole month anyway. Nope, it’s not closed for maintenance or construction. It’s France and everyone goes on vacation. Normal.

So, before I kick off my list, just a quick reminder that I live in the Pays de la Loire region of France in a smallish town. Maybe bigger gym chains in larger cities are different. I also belonged to a gym in a Paris suburb when I first came to France teaching English, so some of my observations are based on that.

In general, the French are active and love being outdoors but haven’t embraced the gym culture like Americans have. Overall I’d say France is about five years behind the U.S. in terms of equipment, class selection and overall trends in fitness. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Just different.

exercise-in-france-mantra

Here we go, the top differences between French gyms and American gyms:

Personal training isn’t a huge industry in France.

In the U.S., personal trainers can make a great living. From brides looking to shape up before their big day to those looking to push past a plateau and even gym newbies with money to spend, at just about all gyms in the U.S. you can hire a personal trainer. Not so at gyms in France! At my gym, there are sport coaches that have studied group fitness and coaching but they don’t do personal training sessions with clients. Aside from setting up an intro to the equipment session, they do not earn an income on personal training. Would the French pay money for this? Maybe in bigger, more affluent areas. But here? Not even offered.

Business hours are way shorter.

It’s not uncommon for a gym in the U.S. to open at 5:30 a.m. to accommodate early risers who squeeze in their workouts before work. In many areas in the U.S., gyms are open until 10 or 11 p.m. and sometimes later in big cities. But my gym here in France opens at 9 a.m. daily and closes at 9 p.m. (except on Saturdays when it closes at 5 p.m.). And they’re closed completely on Sunday.

There’s no air conditioning.

My gym does not have air conditioning and it gets HOT. Like many places in France, air conditioning isn’t the norm in the summer. And I understand this and have adapted to the fact that people’s homes won’t be icy cool in the sweltering heat. It’s OK and I truly have adapted. But when you’re busting your butt in the gym, it feels so good to work out in air conditioning. I work harder and longer and feel like I can give it my all if I’m not sweating before the workout even starts. My body hates the heat and I fatigue so much more quickly knowing that the gym feels like a sauna. I’ve lucked out for the most part so far this summer. Cross your fingers there. Maybe gyms in big cities do have a/c.

france-group-fitness-cycling

Step classes are more dance based and FAST.

My old step instructor at the YMCA in New Jersey would cringe at the pace, number of turns and complicated movements on the step in my Wednesday night class. It’s fast and furious and probably a bit dangerous too. The lady in front of me fell on her butt last month. But everyone just kept on going. The moves are dance based for the most part with a LOT of fast turns and not regular repeater knee, hamstring curls and over the top like traditional step classes. There’s a distinct French dance flair and it’s cool.

To give you an idea of what I’m talking about, this is a video of Jessica Mellet, a well-known French fitness presenter. The choreography is typical of the type of step classes found here:

No boutique fitness studio scene.

I love variety and all the cool boutique studios popping up in the U.S. like Orange Theory, Flywheel Sports, Barre3, etc. In Paris there are small boutique studios but nowhere near the scale of what it is in New York. And outside big cities? Forget it.

French women aren’t big on lifting weights.

At gyms in France, French women seem to have the mentality that lifting weights will cause them to bulk up (not true!), so at any given time of day it’s me in the weight room with a bunch of guys. All the women seem to stay on cardio machines. France’s gym scene is a bit behind the times. In bigger cities, this doesn’t seem to be the case but still, way fewer women in the weight room than in the U.S. But to each his (or her) own. You have to do what works for you.

Despite the differences, I look forward to my gym time. The only difference that is hard to take is the lack of air conditioning. When temps are into the 90s, it’s not pretty. Anyway, the gym is an excuse to get out of the house and do something good for myself, a way to socialize with French people and a time to have fun. And as long as it stays fun, you can count me in.

So expats out there (in France or elsewhere), what’s your gym scene like? Anything you’d add to my list?

Photo credit: Neeta Lind / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) Photo credit: Arya Ziai / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)
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Comments (18)

  • Kim

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    Great post! The gym hours and lack of air conditioning sound awful. Also, I rarely see gyms here that also offer a pool. I may have been reading this while eating chocolate- oops.

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Mine has a pool and they do aquacycling and water aerobics. Popular with people in their 60s and 70s and younger folks too but I haven’t tried yet. And chocolate is perfectly fine. 😉 BTW you ever get my email from a couple of months ago?

      Reply

  • Kim

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    Also, our local French gym has a bar. Everything in France is a bar.

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Cool, really? Alcohol or a coffee bar? Mine has a coffee bar type of thing for the employees but no alcohol.

      Reply

  • Dana

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    Pi love my gym in the United States and I’m a huge fan of Les Mills classes, including body attack and body pump. I love lifting because it really tones you!

    In France this past year I bought a gym membership and you’re completely spot on with all of your observations. The gym opens late, closes early, and isn’t open on Sundays. There are classes but the instructors are not as serious or as qualified. The equipment sucked and was quite run down. I made it work for the time being but I missed my gym here in Milwaukee.

    I would love to read more about your day-to-day life. I think there is a happy medium of blogging about France and your personal life.

    Bisous!

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Yup, my gym here has a good Les Mills selection. Very popular in the U.S. as well although I find a lot of instructor choreographed kick boxing and other classes in the U.S. whereas in France, Les Mills is all over the place, a franchise that dictates the exact choreography, songs, etc. I enjoy everything though.

      About less serious and qualified instructors: That’s something that really stood out to me. In the U.S., those who want to pursue personal training or fitness-based careers can either study exercise science at the bachelor or master level and then get personal training certifications, group fitness, etc. after the fact. Or those of us who pursued other careers can get a group fitness cert (like me, was a Spinning instructor for fun on the side) and then teach a few classes a week part-time because we’re passionate about it. In France, there’s no personal training certification (as far as I know) and usually the sport coaches get a brevet from IRSS (not at university). And it’s more of a group fitness/work in a gym type of certification. Not personal training oriented and not just group fitness. So you’d think if it’s your career, you’d be super passionate. But something else that popped into my head, sorry all over the place here, is that many personal trainers I know in the U.S. would suck at teaching group fitness classes and many GF instructors would make terrible personal trainers. In France it seems like you get lumped under the same umbrella (as a sport coach) and you kind of are expected to do whatever. And I got onto this tangent because I was seeing if there were French equivalent NASM/ACE and other personal training certifications that you can study for and pass a test. But it seems like the path to that type of career is very different and personal training isn’t as much of a “thing” here. Anyway, I’m shutting up now!

      Reply

  • Cosette

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    I would read your lifestyle blog. I’m fascinated by France.

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Cool, so I’d have 3 readers at least. Already a good start. 😉

      Reply

  • Anna

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    Gosh despite being French I am indeed appalled by the lack of facilities you are mentioning. The UK is much more like the US on this aspect (oh and customer service etc…). I think Paris might just about be the only place to propose such facilities (and probably other g rand hotels).

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Yeah, it’s definitely a shock if you’re the type of person who is into the trendy and cutting edge fitness scene. But I’ve made it work. Lucky to have a gym even if it’s not what I’m used to! 😉

      Reply

  • Sara @ Simply Sara Travel

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    I love that you wrote about French gyms! I joined a gym in Paris shortly after moving to keep me active and to get some social interaction. It’s definitely been an entertaining experience, especially in the beginning when I started taking group classes and spoke/understood barely any French. There have been a few embarrassing times when instructors have come up to me and physically moved me to correct my form since I was just looking at them blankly as they spoke.

    My gym in Paris has air conditioning, but it is barely on – just blows a tiny bit of cool air around. I really miss American AC in gyms – it is rough! (Especially since my gym is actually underground and the air gets, well, a bit stale come summertime!)

    I wonder about French culture though – there is the impression that going to a gym and/or working out is something no one does, yet there are some older women in my classes who could totally kick my butt! One of my hubby’s French coworkers said that French people work out but don’t advertise it like we do in American…to make it seem like they just “naturally” stay fit. What do you think?

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Yes, I second the “entertaining experience” part. Don’t feel bad about not understanding the instructors. With the loud music and the distortion from the microphone, it’s not easy to understand! And just crazy the a/c is barely on. I really thought gyms in Paris would blast it to keep everyone comfy.

      I think the French are catching on to gym culture little by little. Americans are proud of being fit in my opinion and it’s something we do to de-stress and feel good about ourselves. Maybe the French haven’t discovered the benefits? Or would rather take part in a big meal or wine or I don’t know. I have to say though that my gym has no shortage of people in classes so I think they are catching on….

      Reply

  • Ashley @ A Lady Goes West

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    Super interesting post. I love learning the differences between the two countries and how we approach gyms. I probably would have guessed as much, but no personal trainers? That seems like a missed opportunity. And no air conditioning? No thank you! I’m always a little nervous in step classes and WAY prefer the athletic versions, so probably wouldn’t want to take a French step class. Thanks for sharing! 🙂

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Glad you enjoyed the post, Ashley. The personal training thing was a shock to me as well. They do exist but at my gym, they can’t work with clients in the gym (defeats the whole purpose right??) so it’s pretty much a non-industry. In bigger cities, it’s more common but still nowhere near like it is in the US. And yah, no AC still has me crazy in the summer. I can’t give 100% because I’m always afraid I’m going to faint from the heat. Oh well! Thx for your comment

      Reply

  • syauqe

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    Hi there.
    Very interesting post. I was wondering is there any job for personal trainer like me there in Paris because I’m moving to Paris this summer.

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Hi there, you’d have to contact Paris gyms directly or check online for openings. Sorry, don’t know of anything specifically. I do know that in France, gyms won’t hire you unless you have a sports-related diploma. There’s no online personal training tests or anything like there is in the USA. All very regulated here. Good luck!

      Reply

  • Laura

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    I joined a BasicFit in Bordeaux a few weeks ago and there are personal trainers (it’s a pretty bougie city so the money is there for it). No AC, though, very few biddies in the weight room, and like yours it doesn’t open until 9. Right now I’m looking for work so I can go anytime, but if (once?) I get a job that’s gonna be a bummer. My favorite French gym moment happened the other day– a girl in the changing room was agonizing about missing apero because she had a group class, and her friend was like, “there will always be another apero”. Which sums up life here pretty well.

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Awww, yea there will always be another apero. The friend was keeping it real. The only real high-tech gyms I’ve seen were in Paris and even still, they opened late and were a few years behind the equipment I’ve seen in up and coming places back home. But I’m pretty good at motivating myself and making do w/what I have. Glad you found a decent place in your area!

      Reply

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