Students get creative to afford workout classes in Palo Alto

June 5, 2019, 3:50 a.m.

Marissa Cassar, a front desk employee at the Stanford Shopping Center SoulCycle, says she notices “a good amount of students, especially Stanford students” coming into the cycling studio.

SoulCycle offers a student discounted price of $20 per class as opposed to the usual $32. Still, $20 per session adds up for frequent attendees— and this price tag is comparable to that of many other trendy workout options near campus.

Despite the price, however, off-campus fitness studios count Stanford students among their customer base. A combination of students and other locals eager for the latest exercise trends has made Palo Alto fertile soil for group fitness businesses.

SoulCycle, Barry’s Bootcamp, OrangeTheory Fitness and The Bar Method are all located within biking distance of Stanford. Hot yoga chain CorePower opened a new location just yards away from the Bar Method last year, and Turbo 26 yoga studio provides competition for CorePower a short distance down El Camino Real. Rumble, a boxing-based fitness chain frequented by New York models and Los Angeles online influencers, will join the ranks when it opens just off University Avenue this summer.

Why students pay

Most off-campus fitness programs cater to those with money to spare. Single classes range in price from $8 with a student discount at Turbo 26 to $35 at Barry’s Bootcamp, which does not offer a student discount.

In addition, like many other chain businesses, some fitness companies adjust their prices according to region, charging more in Palo Alto than they do in cities like Chicago or Atlanta.

Working out alone at campus gyms is free for Stanford students, but some still prefer group classes for the shared energy or supervised instruction they provide.

“It’s a source of entertainment in a way,” said Anna Kirk ’19 about workouts like SoulCycle. “When you go to SoulCycle, part of it is almost choreographed dancing on a bike.”

Kirk enjoys occasional CorePower and SoulCycle classes, but recently she has mostly been exercising at home following videos from cycling company Peloton’s digital subscription program. Kirk shares the $19.49 per month membership with her family and accesses classes like pilates and yoga that she can do on a mat in her dorm. The videos still provide her the “structured instruction” she appreciates during workouts.

In addition to the lower price, “I like that I don’t have to go anywhere,” said Kirk, who, like many Stanford students, does not have a car. “I can do it whenever I want to, so it’s easier for me to fit into my schedule.”

Sophia Furfine ’20 takes a different approach, maximizing the value of her Turbo 26 monthly pass by attending classes every day. Furfine buys a monthly unlimited membership at a student rate — she says the student price isn’t listed, but the discount is available if you ask.

“It’s like buying a daily Starbucks with how much I go,” Furfine says, estimating that her yoga expenses work out to about $5 per day. She also notes that she saves money this year by cooking for herself in her Mirrielees apartment, making it easier to pay for exercise.

Since some studios offer savings through class packages or memberships, one way to get the most out of a purchased workout plan is to pick a single place to exercise, and then go as much as possible.

Monthly unlimited plans like those offered at Turbo 26 are an especially good deal for the most loyal studio attendees.

A standard single class at CorePower costs $29, while a monthly unlimited pass costs $199. At YogaSource, single classes cost $15 for students and $25 for non-students. A monthly unlimited pass there costs $175, while a 3-month unlimited pass costs $150 per month or the reduced $99 per month for students.

SoulCycle does not offer discounts to customers who buy multiple classes at once. At Barry’s, a student who had the disposable income to do so could technically access the best per-session rate by buying a pack of 50 for $1,450, which works out to $29 per class.

Stanford’s own group fitness passes are also comparatively cheaper. An unlimited group fitness class pass at the Arrillaga Outdoor Education and Recreation Center (AOERC) costs $60 per quarter for students who want access to classes including pilates, barre, yoga and kickboxing. A student pass that also includes classes with space constraints, such as F45 (a strength and cardio blend) and spinning, costs $110 per quarter.

The Stanford group fitness program coordinators say they sold 398 passes to undergraduate and graduate students this quarter out of 892 total registrations. Stanford staff and community members can also sign up for the group fitness program, which is separate from PE classes.

Campus ambassadors

Certain fitness studios actively aim to capture the student demographic, offering student discounts or Stanford student ambassador programs.

Kiki Couchman ’20 serves as a Turbo 26 ambassador. She receives free classes in exchange for posting about the studio on social media, and a few times a month she brings friends  — potential future customers — in to try a session.

Couchman said she became an early Turbo 26 regular after the studio opened in the Stanford Shopping Center in December 2017. Since she already enjoyed the classes, she applied to become an ambassador.

“I don’t go to any other workouts that are off campus,” Couchman said, citing cost as a reason why. It makes more sense for her to stick to Turbo 26.

“I like to go to the gym on campus, which is obviously free,” Couchman said. But Turbo 26 provides “a different type of workout that I don’t think I have the discipline or knowledge to really do on my own.” There, she takes hot yoga as well as interval training and pilates-based classes.

Other fitness programs offer work-for-classes deals, in which someone — often a student — works behind the studio’s front desk in exchange for taking classes.

Stella Delp ’22 started working behind the front desk at YogaSource two years ago, while she was a high school student. Each hour she spent checking people in earned her two free classes.

Delp now works as an assistant manager at YogaSource, so she earns a salary in addition to free yoga. She still makes time to use her free classes and typically attends around four each week.

Delp also recently started a student ambassador program that she hopes will “engage more students on campus.” She said the first group of ambassadors has been chosen and will help promote YogaSource, including by posting about the studio on social media, in exchange for free classes and the ability to bring some friends to class.

“I think it brings a lot of energy to the classes,” Delp said of drawing in the Stanford student population.

SoulCycle also had a campus ambassador program in the past, and Barry’s Bootcamp is testing one out this year.

Barry’s has also coordinated events with Stanford sororities.

Fitness studios advertise community and discuss “growing community.” Offering students opportunities to participate in classes at a reduced price can help them do that. Still, membership in many Silicon Valley fitness communities is limited to those with either money, good fortune or both.

Contact Jasmine Kerber at jkerber ‘at’

Contact Jasmine at sports 'at'

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