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Fitness chain struggles to keep up with demand as members return to gym

By: Jacy Hanes

The noticeable increase in the number of people working out since the COVID-19 pandemic took hold is long overdue. But the most popular gym in the Los Angeles area has not been able to keep up with the demand, leaving many wondering why.

In March 2020, gyms across the area were shuttered, as U.S. residents entered an unprecedented lockdown period. Three months later 24 Hour Fitness declared bankruptcy and announced plans to close 300 gyms across the country. In Los Angeles, that meant the end of the downtown and West Hollywood locations, while the Hollywood gym remained closed until April 2022.

The company emerged from bankruptcy in December 2020 and reopened clubs in California three months later. But longtime members say there have been no noticeable improvements made to surviving gyms, despite 24’s financial solvency and lower overhead costs with fewer clubs.

“The equipment is the same as it was before the pandemic at every gym,” one member said. “If we do ever get new machines, they’re from another club – they’re never new. And many of them need to be replaced because they’re worn down or broken.”

In fact, the majority of 24-Hour Fitness locations in the greater LA area look almost exactly the same as before they were closed for a full year. Even the rubber flooring, which would be relatively inexpensive to swap out, remains in most clubs, when it had already been there for many years, and it is as worn and dirty as ever.

One change made in every club during the closure was the addition of Astroturf as a workout area, which displaced many pieces of workout equipment in smaller clubs. This has upset members.

One aspect of the popular gym chain that has changed since its reopening is reduced hours of operation. A few clubs had already cut their schedules to not be open 24 hours, as their namesake implies, before the pandemic. Since reopening, almost no 24 Hour Fitness gyms are open all day and night.

To make matters worse, many clubs are open until just 9 p.m. Fridays and 8 p.m. on both weekend nights. Members say they feel rushed when they have more free time on non-work days. More people using the gym and having fewer hours in which to use it has resulted in crowded facilities – especially this month, which always sees a surge in interest in any year. Further, yet another club – North Torrance – closed in November, sending members there to nearby gyms, which has resulted in even more crowding.

“It’s just miserable,” one member said of nearby Hawthorne 24 Hour Fitness, which has absorbed most of the North Torrance overload. “You can’t get on anything in the evenings a lot of the time.”

24 Hour Fitness is the most ubiquitous gym in the LA area, with more locations than LA Fitness or Anytime Fitness, even despite their closures. San Ramon-based 24 is a popular choice for middle-income residents, with memberships ranging from about $20-$40 per month. Upscale and private gyms cost much more. Thus, 24 members feel stuck, though they are lately often irritated by their experiences there.

“Even if I could afford to go to another gym, 24 Hour Fitness is the closest to me, and it has more locations than any other health club in the area,” one member said.

For their part, 24 Hour Fitness has declined to answer specific questions about upgrades to their most popular gyms, instead issuing general statements.

“As a result of a financial reorganization during the pandemic, 24 Hour Fitness streamlined its business and developed a long-term strategy that would prepare the company for post-pandemic long-term success.  Some clubs were permanently closed and the employee ranks were rightsized for operating the nearly 300 clubs nationwide in 11 states (of which nearly 60 percent of its clubs are located in California) and over 2 million club members who have returned to the clubs with full mind and body wellness as a top priority,” one statement said.

A company spokesperson emphasized 24 Hour Fitness’ enhanced cleaning measures within clubs and the company’s expansion into health and fitness-based apps as their strong suits.

“Further enhancements to the company’s 24GO app now include touch-free club check-in, fitness, nutrition, and other content matched to your interests, along with workouts of varying length and focus that help you prioritize fitness as a daily habit. Carefully-crafted initiatives have included piloting the business’s successful approach to a personalized membership pricing structure and the return of 24/7 club operations for the majority of its club members nationwide. The company’s investment in innovation has resulted in new programs and partnerships including MODUS small group training, HITT+ mindfulness program P.A.S.E. Factor, nutrition, supplement, and wellness provider Nutrishop. In addition, the company is introducing a new partnership with recovery program creator iCRYO that offers centers (in select club geographic locations) that further complement your fitness journey.” a company-issued statement reads.

“As the company plans for future growth, it is also re-investing in its portfolio of existing clubs with new equipment and refreshed space to accommodate these and other new programs in the future (Individual club refreshes recently have included new paint and modernizing color scheme, open and inviting club front desk area, upgraded locker rooms, turf areas and more.) While there is still much work to be done, 24 Hour Fitness is confident in its long-term future and mindful of its legacy to become the best part of each member’s day.”

The franchise’s statement about future growth aligns with what one LA-area 24 Hour Fitness manager told 2urbangirls, that the focus is on investing in their existing clubs. But so far, that seems to be an achingly-slow process.

An employee at another 24 Hour Fitness said they have requested to be granted longer hours – something that may happen in the spring. But even if approved, it would be just 1-2 additional hours, at the most.

“When I signed up, I signed up for a gym that would be open 24 hours,” one longtime member said. “For that and other reasons, I don’t feel like I’m getting my money’s worth.”

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