German Gym and Fitness Culture Compared To American

Moving to a new country where you literally know nobody outside of the people living in your house can be nerve-wracking. However, if you’re a fitness enthusiast, you’ll find that the quickest way to integrate with the locals is by joining a local gym first. Certain gym practices might catch you off guard if you’re coming to Germany from America.

Overall, the US has a higher membership rate compared to Germany. 60,60% of Americans aged between 18 and 34 go to the gym. In Germany, about 25% of adults have a gym membership, but it doesn’t mean they visit the gym. Yet, Germans place a higher importance on their fitness and health irrespective of age compared to Americans.

This article will detail everything you need to know about Germany’s gym and fitness culture before you hit the gym for the first time. We also discuss the differences between German gyms compared to American ones so that you’re not blindsided once you sign up.

You can also read this guide on living in Germany vs the US to learn some other differences.

All you need to know about gyms in Germany

If you are about to join a gym in Germany, you want to know what they are all about. For example, what are the common prices, infrastructure, and etiquette that German gyms have?

Gyms are incredibly popular in Germany, it’s a massive industry. According to Statista, Germany has one of the largest health club sectors in Europe. The European health and fitness industry was valued at $22.94 billion in 2021. However, it’s expected to reach $32.55 billion by 2026. 

Generally, Germans show far more enthusiasm when it comes to fitness hence why they top the list regarding the number of health and fitness clubs in Europe. People in Germany take good care of their health and are fit even after retirement.

In fact, in 2020, almost 12 million people in the country were registered in fitness studios, making it the biggest sport in Germany (if you can call the gym a sport, though). Furthermore, one survey claims that nearly 30% of German millennials between 25 to 30 years old exercised several times a week. 

However, compared to the US, these numbers are pretty low. About 60,60% of Americans aged between 18 and 34 go to the gym. Moreover, 70,36 million people living in the US have a membership in a health and fitness club compared to 11,6 million in Germany.

Nonetheless, gyming in Germany correlates to fitness and overall well-being and not bodybuilding like in many other countries. For instance, you can see a significant number of middle-aged and even older women exercising, whether it’s a group class or walking on a treadmill.

In other countries, gyms are visited mostly by men, making it less attractive for women because they don’t want to be looked at and judged by tens of men in the same room.

In Germany, everyone is equal; people simply don’t care what others think of them wherever they are, including in the gym. In fact, this country is popular for same-gender saunas where everyone is naked! So, why would Germans ever be shy when exercising in a fitness studio?

Why is fitness industry booming in Germany?

While the percentage of meat and beer is relatively high in Germany, the Germans cleverly cut down their calories with the help of fitness. Healthy eating, walking, swimming, and cycling are, so to say, complementary, starting with punctuality at the gym.

I would say Germans are some of the most active people I have ever seen. If there is good weather, you won’t find them in the gym, but rather doing various outdoor sports and activities.

All other times and on after-work evenings, gyms have their rush hours.

So what else makes gyms so popular? Generally, fitness as a lifestyle choice has changed the demographic of people currently participating in gym-type pursuits in Germany. This growth can be attributed to the significant impact created by several key trends, including: 

  • Surging urbanization
  • Rising prevalence of population with lifestyle diseases such as obesity and chronic illnesses
  • Growing popularity and availability of group classes
  • Healthy living trends
  • Social media fitness influencers
  • Modern systems such as CrossFit and cycling-only studios
  • Advanced gym equipment for cardio and weight-lifting exercises
  • Increasing corporate wellness programs
  • Chilled, comfortable and luxurious gym surroundings
  • Public awareness for fitness and wellness, especially in the media
  • Latest trends such as online or in-person training
  • Ever-increasing use of fitness wearables

These factors have attracted several types of clientele to fitness clubs, from teenagers to the older generation. In 2020, the total number of gym memberships in Germany was 11,660,000.

Considering that in 2021, about 18.44 million German residents were above 65 years old, and 14,4 million were under 17 years old, we could say that each fourth person living in Germany is a member of a gym.

As a result, the German gym industry has become one of the largest in Europe.

According to a 2020 fitness report, the fitness market in Europe continues to grow, with Germany experiencing a membership growth of 5.1% per year. The table below shows the top 5 European fitness markets by the membership as of 2020.

RankCountryMembershipGrowth (vs. 2018)
1Germany11,660,000+5.1%
2United Kingdom10,390,000+4.9%
3France6,190,000+3.9%
4Italy5,510,000+0.9%
5Spain5,508,000+3.3%

As you can see by the number of membership, going to the gym is almost twice as popular in Germany as they are in Italy, considering the population (83 million vs 60 million).

A number of gyms by country:

Source: iHRSA, 2019 (financesonline.com)

If we take the entire EU, surprisingly, Finnish people exercise the most. According to findings, about 54.1% of Finnish residents spent at least two and a half hours per week exercising. Finland is followed by Denmark (53.4%), Sweden (53.1%), Austria (49.8%), and Germany (47.3%).

In Norway and Sweden, about 22.0% of the total population holds a fitness club membership.

In contrast, people living in Romania and Bulgaria (9.0%) train the least, with only 7.5% and 9.0% participants, respectively, hitting a gym for at least 2,5 hours per week.

Gyms and fitness culture in Germany vs the US 

In the US, the gym is visited mainly by people with above-average income, while in Germany, gym goers are across all income levels. Here are some statistics about American gym members:

  • Households with an income level of $75,000 or above make up the majority of gym members
  • Gym members who visit fitness facility more than 100 times per year and are use several services of the gym have an income of $150,000 or higher
  • 50,5% of gym members in the US are female 
  • 63,3% of American gym goers train at least twice a week

While these findings may shine a bright light on the country’s health and fitness state, the German gym culture can be quite a new and shocking experience for Americans. Here are a few notable differences in gyms and fitness culture in Germany vs. the US.

1. The membership fee is relatively high in Germany

In Germany, the membership cost advertised on billboards is not the actual price you’ll be paying monthly. While the fitness clubs may advertise as €19.99 per month, you’ll be shocked to find out that this cost is only valid if you sign a one or two- year contract, which is paid up-front. 

This translates to an average membership cost of about €42.6 per month. In America, however, expect to pay an average monthly fee of about $58.

However, you can easily find a gym for a much lower price; budget ones can cost as low as $10 per month. For a high-end gym, the price ranges from $55.00 – $80.00 per month. 

The membership fee in the US is pretty transparent as it doesn’t come with any hidden costs, unlike in Germany. You may need to buy a type of start-up package that includes a branded water bottle and a membership card once you join a fitness club in Germany.

Also read: Differences between American and German work culture.

2. The opening hours are shorter in Germany

Most gyms in Germany open around 7:00 am during the week and around 8 am on weekends. Gyms in smaller towns might close pretty early, while most are open until at least 10 pm.

This is one of the culture shocks that you may need to adjust to, especially if you’re coming from America, where gyms are open most of the day or even 24/7. 

It can also take a toll on you if you like following a routine that requires consistency.

Fitness centers in America are primarily open as early as 5:30 am to accommodate working people or those that want to start their day early.

The closing time is also flexible enough as gyms stay open until 10 – 11:00 pm and much later in bigger cities. This allows even people on a tight schedule to have time for their workout sessions.

3. You’re required to bring an extra pair of indoor shoes 

In Germany, it’s proper gym etiquette to bring another pair of indoor athletic shoes to wear when exercising. You’re not allowed to enter the gym wearing the same shoes you came in for sanitary reasons and maintenance of the floors and equipment.

In America, you show up at the gym fully dressed and ready to work out, so there’s no need to go to the locker room to change. Another relatively uncommon thing in the US is that clean towels are readily available at the gym. However, in Germany, you’ll be required to bring your towel.

4. There are no water fountains

Another interesting difference in how German gyms operate compared to America is that there are no water fountains available to users. If you need water in the gym, you’ll have to pay for it or drink straight from the bathroom sink. 

This can be pretty disappointing as you’d expect water to be part of the membership package, which doesn’t come cheap either.

However, in America, water fountains are available everywhere in the gym for members to use freely.

5. Greeting strangers in the locker room

Germans will not greet strangers in the street but will greet a room full of people in the locker room when they enter. It doesn’t mean they dislike you. Ironically, greeting people in a room or wishing them a good day is considered basic etiquette in Germany. 

 Entering or leaving a locker room without saying “ Guten Tag” (good day) or “Auf Wiedersehen” (good-bye) is seen as strange in Germany. This may sound weird as the greetings are followed by total silence and no other exchange of pleasantries.

In America, such greetings may suggest some previous acquaintances or a likelihood of further encounters.

6. Nudity is common practice

In Germany, people are pretty comfortable with nudity, so don’t be surprised if you find people changing their clothes in the locker rooms. Germans have no problem walking around naked in the gym. You’ll find people nude in the sauna too, which may take a lot of getting used to. 

This may jump out to you as highly German, as nudity is considered taboo in America.

 7. The showers are timed

Most gym showers in Germany have set timers where the water goes off automatically after about 15 seconds. This can be tedious as you must keep pressing the button again for the water to continue flowing. 

While this may be an environmentally conscious move to reducing water wastage, people should be allowed to have a continuous flow of water and avoid wastage.

Americans get to enjoy an uninterrupted shower time, which can be a time saver, especially if you’re heading to work right after your session.

8. Germans live a more active life

Germany may be pretty similar to America culturally, but that similarity may not extend to the fitness culture. Germans are by and large more health conscious as fitness is an important topic in the country.

You’ll find a wide variety of age groups in the gyms in Germany, unlike in the US, where you are unlikely to find older people in the gym.

While Americans have a high rate of obesity, in Germany, most people are trim. It’s common to see people running and cycling regularly. In America, however, people will find the slightest excuse to hop in a car and not walk. 

There are many other options for Germans in how they choose to stay healthy and keep fit. For example, saunas in Germany are considered excellent for health as they help preserve muscle mass.

That’s why, in Germany, you’ll find saunas often in conjunction with gyms. In America, having a sauna in the gym is not a common practice.

Anna

Anna is an enthusiastic expatriate with experience of living in Germany, Austria and Greece. She shares her passion for living abroad on this website.

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