Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

How Millennials Are Influencing the Gym


There’s no question that the millennial generation, roughly 80 million strong, is shaping the future. They often get a bad rap portrayed as entitled and narcissistic, but most researchers say the evidence points to a generation that is highly educated, self-confident, technologically savvy and ambitious.

Millennials are also the largest users of fitness club memberships today, and their desires are driving some of the changes happening at the YMCA of Greater Waukesha County.

"We pride ourselves at the Y being for everyone, but looking at millennials and what their needs and preferences are is something that has forced us to be a little bit different," says Kate Wall, VP of operations for Greater Waukesha County's YMCAs.

The Y has been around for a long time, so adapting to change is something the organization has had to do consistently in order to appeal to a broad range of members.

"We are constantly reinventing who we are. We have always been focused on the family, but what that means at the current time and how we are engaging the different family members within the unit - we have to constantly look at that," she says.

When it comes to fitness, Wall says, millennials are looking for more flexibility - especially for evening classes. Recently the Y has noticed fewer early risers among their members, and more parents who prefer to workout later in the evenings.

Millennials also value a community atmosphere and are often the dominant population in group classes such as yoga, Pilates, Zumba, barre, etc. "They're looking for high intensity classes that they can come in, get their workout in, and feel like its made a difference in their day, energy, and reaching their goals," she says.

However with more gyms and boutique fitness salons offering classes that exclusively focus on one format, the Y-GWC has had to bring in various instructors in order to teach the classes their membership population seeks.

"We can bring that small boutique feel into one spot for the entire family," Wall explains. She also notes that the Y's family-centric atmosphere is also appealing to millennials who are starting to have their own children. By creating an environment where both the parent and child can exercise, or simply have childcare, is an element that not all gyms have.

Perhaps largest influence millennials have on the gym environment is technology. With increasing access to online fitness programs and phone apps that help track fitness goals, Wall says all fitness establishments need to harness technology that benefits everyone.

"It's not just millennials who are using those technologies and really want technology to be a part of their health and wellness and tracking their goals," she explains.

"I think that while millennials are forcing us to look at doing things differently, it's really benefiting us as a whole and forcing us to move forward and be more relevant within our communities with all of our participants."

Audrey Nowakowski hosts and produces Lake Effect. She joined WUWM in 2014.