At Project by Equinox, creative fitness instructors think up new ways to propel the upscale brand forward. Can they build the next big exercise trend?

That’s because in it lies a laboratory of sorts, a barely known incubator devoted to the future of fitness. Project by Equinox is a sweaty think tank where instructors, exercise specialists, and program directors brainstorm the next Zumba. Created by Equinox, it independently lives outside a traditional studio to create an intimate training community.

“Our ultimate goal is to welcome ideas and innovation into the brand from outside that might provide us with scalable ideas to use back at Equinox,” explains Keith Irace, Equinox’s VP of group fitness.

Inside, it’s an equal mix of trendy boutique studio and a secretive underground bunker. The blocky and matte cement interiors resemble a panic room, though dotted with a few unexpected amenities like a cold brew tap, tubs of Orbit gum, and a bathroom stocked with Drybar products.

[Photo: Jason Rappaport]

The workout room, meanwhile, features support pillars encased in cognac leather and sleek glass. Grates cover the ceiling, letting bursts of bright colors like melon pink shine through. This place doesn’t look like your average gym, and that’s the point: This is a place to get instructors to, hopefully, think differently.

“We wanted to make sure that we weren’t missing anything that didn’t organically fit under our umbrella,” says Irace of the program.

Embracing the new is on par with the luxury brand, as it continuously expands beyond the gym floor. Most recently, Equinox announced plans for a hotel and launched a line of high-end goods with famous designers like Virgil Abloh.

Rapid consumer interest in health and fitness activities has skyrocketed, with 1 out of every 5 Americans heading to the gym (or at least paying for a membership), according to the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association. IBISworld predicts the gym and health club market will grow at an annualized rate of 3.2%, a faster pace than the overall economy.

[Photo: Jason Rappaport]

“It’s never been better to be in the fitness business,” Equinox executive chairman Harvey Spevak recently told CNBC. “Demand has never been stronger . . . Health is the new wealth.”As boutique fitness grabs a greater percentage of the $30 billion U.S. fitness industry, big brands know they need to innovate to keep up with trends. Cycling studios, for example, doubled in the last few years. The intention isn’t to simply copy what’s working for cult-favorite studios, but to come up with The Next Big Thing.

As such, Project by Equinox acts as both an incubator program and a talent scout. Forward-thinking fitness instructors can apply for a yearlong program on premises, though some are “discovered” by an in-house scout who frequents boutique studios, then sets up auditions. Some are already employed by Equinox, but the majority are new to the brand. It’s an even mix of insiders and outsiders.

At the same time, anyone can take a class at Project. While the studio doesn’t advertise itself in traditional ways, it does get a decent-sized group for each class simply by word of mouth. That, and the fact that many of the instructors boast sizeable social media followers (or as fitness enthusiasts call them, “tribes.”) Attendees are encouraged to provide feedback on each class, thereby helping to improve the end result.

Source: Equinox’s “Fitness Incubator” And Its Search For The Next Zumba