BEIJING, Aug. 15 (Xinhua) -- Mini-gyms are the latest in a growing list of amenities China's smartphone users can unlock through QR codes, joining bikes, umbrellas, phone chargers and sleeping pods.
The self-service gym pods, which resemble large phone booths with basic fitness equipment inside, have popped up in the cities of Beijing and Chengdu.
The service requires users to download an app and pay a refundable deposit. They can then book a booth and scan an access code via their mobile phones.
The service was inspired by the boom in China's "sharing economy," particularly the standout success of bike-sharing companies, such as Mobike and ofo.
China's sharing economy witnessed a total transaction volume of 3.45 trillion yuan (517 billion U.S. dollars) last year, more than double that of 2015, according to a report released by the State Information Center in March.
The sharing economy will grow at an average annual rate of 40 percent over the next few years and will account for more than 10 percent of the country's GDP by 2020, said the State Information Center report.
The mini-gyms also reflect the central government's heightened attention to health. A national guideline issued in October 2016, "Healthy China 2030," aims to have 435 million Chinese people exercising regularly by 2020 and 530 million exercising regularly by 2030, up from 360 million in 2014.
CHEAP AND CONVENIENT
Gym pods developed by the Beijing-based startup Misspao debuted earlier this month in some residential communities in the Chinese capital. Covering five square meters, the mini-gyms are equipped with a treadmill, an air conditioner, an air purifier and a television. The facilities cost as little as 0.2 yuan per minute.
Bi Zhen, founder of Misspao, told media that the company, established in July, plans to install the pods in 1,000 communities in Beijing by the end of this year.
Beijing resident Li Tianqi has become a fan of Misspao's workout pods after using them for two days.
"I have spent some time after work jogging here. The weather won't be a problem, and it really works for busy people, such as office workers and new dads like me," Li said.
Social media user "Yuanxingqiangjiao" wrote that he has paid for a fitness club membership for six straight years but seldom uses it, so the new facilities could be a cheaper and more convenient alternative.
LePao, a Chengdu-based mini-gym startup, is building two gym pods in the city, and the number may grow to 20 to 30 by the end of the year. Compared with the simple Misspao pods, the LePao gyms will have more equipment, such as exercise bicycles and showers, with a designed maximum daily fee of 20 yuan and a monthly fee of 180 yuan.
FUTURE OF FITNESS?
Li Guannan, executive director of LePao, believes that it is only a matter of time before the mini-gyms shake up the traditional fitness industry.
The biggest advantage of the new facilities is their proximity to residential neighborhoods, while traditional gyms are usually concentrated in shopping areas, Li said.
"A workout site that can be reached in five minutes is a much better option for those who only have a bit of time here and there," said Li.
The pay-as-you-go model is also more likely to attract non-regular exercisers, as traditional gyms require pricey one-off membership fees, Li said.
Industry insiders, however, are less optimistic about the new exercise pods.
"It's just not professional. Our gyms have professional equipment and instructors. They can effectively improve your fitness level and help you avoid injuries. The gym pod sounds more like entertainment," said Luo Jian'er with the Nobleman Training Club in the southern city of Nanning.
Cao Jie, a Shanghai-based customer manager with Tera Wellness Club, believes the one-man gyms won't be first choice for frequent exercisers.
"Gyms are not only for fitness, but also for socializing," he said, though he agrees the mini-gyms may help encourage interest in working out.
There have also been concerns about maintenance and proper use of equipment at the gym pods.
"The little gyms help people like me who don't have room for sports equipment at home, and it's not expensive," said Beijing resident Wang Xingyue. "But their layout, design and support services should be improved."