Want a digital ‘gym pod’ on your street corner?

By Kitty Knowles 11 August 2017

Fitness trend, or dangerous fad...

Want a taxi? Hail an Uber wherever you are via an app.

Feeling knotted up? Book an Urban Massage therapist to come to you – from your smartphone.

But have you ever wished there was an gym pod you could rent on-demand on your street corner?

We’re guessing no. Or not until now, anyway.

Hello, gym pods

Today ‘gym pods’ are officially a thing in China: with over 1,000 due to be on the streets by the end of the year.

Launched by a company called Misspao (reportedly worth around £11.5m already) each mini gym houses a treadmill, a screen, air-con, an air purifier, and some small fitness accessories.

The idea is, that there’s always one nearby. You find and book your workout pod with the Misspao app, scan a QR code to get inside, and pay from your smartphone (for a mere 2p a minute).

Pic: CRI

Fitness fad

It might sounds bizarre, but the gym pod idea falls in line with a number of rising trends, both in China and around the world.

We’re already seeing a leaning towards unmanned services – smart Bingobox grocery shops in China are already doing what Amazon Go hopes to do in the US.

There’s the appeal of the personal ‘experiential’ service – personal Kareoke pods have spread across China, and VR experiences are popping up in shops are malls around the world.

Plus there’s the popular notion that its better and more convenient to share utilities where possible, with app-first on-demand booking.

Will it stick?

Now the West has always borrowed from Asia, especially as our urban cultures develop, and attempt to solve similar problems.

In overpopulated, expensive metropolises like London, we’re seeing a trend towards micro-living, that’s long been more synonymous with locations like Tokyo or Beijing.

Our small apartments don’t have room for bikes any more, and our overcrowded cities are becoming dangerously polluted.

Arguably, that’s why we’re seeing a wave of bike sharing companies expand out of the China (in Britain there’s Mobike in Manchester and Ofo in Cambridge, while Bluegogo is targeting America’s San Francisco).

Japan’s high-speed bullet trains have inspired Hyperloop‘s global ambitions, complementing the rise of the internet, and a seemingly smaller world where we expect to be able to live anywhere and work anywhere in search of a better quality of life.

But somehow gym pods still feel unappealing.


Hot mess

No one likes to be seen sweating away under the glare of strip lighting, but as we shut down more and more of our real-life shared experiences, are solo mini gyms the answer?

Even if your apartments too small to feasibly work out in, what’s wrong with a quick jog around a nearby park?

Proper gym bunnies will be quick to point out the poor range of equipment on offer. And surely in most cities there’s at least a half-decent gym already nearby.

We also know, from recent history, that people are pretty poor at looking after shared services; stranding shared bikes on islands in ponds, and even stealing one companies entire inventory of rental umbrellas.

And despite its global reach, even companies like Uber struggle to make money, with huge expenses, dwarfed by tiny fees.

Box gyms are a concept that appeal only in the worst circumstances: where apartments are desperately small, packed out gyms are oversubscribed, and there’s no green park in sight.

It’s not a future we want to see, so for that reason we hope this fad fails.