Woodbury professional Lindsey Brems adores the convenience of working from home, but like many remote workers, she still craved that sense of camaraderie that comes through face-to-face interaction.
Brems' solution: join Spenga, a new type of boutique fitness studio that opened in Woodbury last summer and delivers both fitness benefits and social connections. Brems, 39, steps out at lunchtime to attend an hourlong class that includes spinning, yoga and strength training.
"I get my cardio. I get my strength work. I get my mind, body, spirit work," Brems said.
Spenga, the first location in Minnesota, is one of a flurry of new boutique fitness franchises that have opened at a brisk pace in Twin Cities suburbs in recent years. They appeal to the new class of work-from-home or hybrid-schedule professionals who are prioritizing health post-pandemic while also looking for some human connection to break up their solitary workdays.
Basecamp Fitness opened in Woodbury in April — the third location in Minnesota — and another will open in Apple Valley this spring. Burn Boot Camp opened in Cottage Grove in December. Conquer Ninja Gym, which started in Minnesota and caters to children, families and adults, is scouting out a new location in the south suburbs.
Orangetheory Fitness, credited with revolutionizing the boutique fitness franchise concept more than a decade ago with its high-intensity interval training, is also expanding in the Twin Cities with new studios in Stillwater and Brooklyn Park.
Woodbury City Planner Eric Searles said city officials have seen an increase in these smaller fitness franchises, and they're a welcome addition.
"These uses have a positive impact on the vibrancy of our shopping centers by adding customer trips and by supporting the surrounding retail uses," Searles said in an email.
Local franchise owners say the Twin Cities, with its fitness-minded population and long winters, is an appealing market for boutique fitness.
Typically, boutique gyms are located in strip malls and suburban shopping centers and are smaller than "big box" gyms with pools, massive weight rooms and sweeping, spa-like locker rooms. What they do offer: coaching, workout templates that mix cardio, strength and flexibility with music and camaraderie with like-minded neighbors — typically in an hour or less.
In addition to a trainer-led workout, Brems said her gym hosted an ugly sweater Christmas party, and local franchise owners Patty TenBroek and Kristen Braun are there daily to greet members.
"The number one thing is that sense of community you get," said TenBroek, an exercise physiologist who belonged to another boutique fitness gym before opening her own.
Hannah Reis and her husband, Lucas, originally from Grand Rapids, Minn., moved from Arizona to Minnesota to start a Burn Boot Camp in Cottage Grove. They opened their doors in December, offering 45-minute workouts on a floating floor designed to absorb shock.
Reis, a former professional synchronized swimmer at SeaWorld, started out as a trainer. She said she was drawn to the positive messaging and results at Burn Boot Camp.
"At other gyms I'd been at, it was a lot of focus on weight loss and weight loss challenges," Reis said. "At Burn, we flip the script a little bit. What do we gain from movement? ... We really focus on maximizing our members' quality of life."
Reis said they also offer family workout days, which are wildly popular.
Inspired by an obstacle-course competition television show, Jake Marshman founded Conquer Ninja Gym in Eden Prairie in 2015 and started franchising in 2018. There are now 14 locations either open or in the works, including gyms in Blaine, Burnsville and Woodbury.
They offer obstacle course-themed workouts and parties for families and adults. During the week, trainers lead workout sessions. They also have competition teams for all ages.
Marshman, who has a background in fitness and is a licensed contractor, designs and builds many of the obstacles.
"A lot of adults do it for the camaraderie. It's a fun way to work out," Marshman said. "You are having fun and you don't even realize you are getting in such a hard workout."
Jenna Behnke and husband Chad opened a Basecamp in Woodbury last April.
One of their coaches is now planning to open a fourth location in Apple Valley. Basecamp workouts are 35 minutes with an optional 10 minutes of core and cooldown. Their workouts use an air bike, which Behnke describes as a cross between a stationary bike and an elliptical machine.
"We have a team environment built into our workout structure," she said. "Especially coming out of COVID, there is a need and desire for connection and community."