The Changing Face of Fitness in Africa

The Changing Face of Fitness in Africa

The post-festive period usually starts with good intentions and resolutions, new gym memberships or diet plans (guilty!). In fact, around 12% of gym members sign up in January alone according to the Fitness Industry Association with similar #fitjanuary trends seen across the globe. As a result, in developed markets like North America and Europe, the fitness industry makes over $30 billion every year.

Fitness Trends in Africa

It is a popular theory that as a result of a growing ‘middle class’ and increasing urbanisation (people moving from rural areas to cities) similar trends are now being seen across Africa. According to, the continent is fast becoming a huge demand pool for the fitness industry with yearly memberships surpassing $1000 in countries where per capita GDP is just above $500 – this speaks volumes of the increasing consumer demand for gyms and health clubs in certain parts of the continent.


Getting fatter is one side-effect of economic growth. For instance, Sub- Saharan Africa’s most developed nation, South Africa has the highest density of gyms and health clubs on the continent – it is also the plumpest country on the continent with 61% of its people overweight or obese (South African Medical Research Council.) International brands such as Virgin Active have had huge success in the country. It currently boasts 138 Virgin Active clubs in South Africa located in places like high- end suburbs in Cape Town to Townships like Soweto as well as Namibia and Botswana. The international firm is looking to replicate its success in Ghana, Kenya and Zambia with future sites.

Increased access to technology has also been said to have spurred on fitness trends. A qualified trainer, wellness coach and lifestyle consultant, ‘The Fit Lawyer who is based in Lagos agrees, “I think millennials, and technology and the media are responsible for the growth of the fitness industries in countries like South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya. African millennials have easier access to the media; we are able to read more about what to do to improve our appearance and health long term, people are keen to do and be better.


Trends in Nutrition

Aside from gyms and fitness, changing attitudes towards food and nutrition which has been felt globally have not been missed in parts of Africa. There have been an increasing number of millennials at home and within the diaspora who are pushing for healthier diets within their cultural cuisines. 21-year-old Bryanne Hackman, a health and fitness enthusiast and blogger from Ghana shares healthy Ghanaian inspired recipes and fit lifestyle tips on her blog, she says “more and more Africans are looking to create healthier versions of our food as opposed to eating foods that are prescribed by ‘Westerners’ which include ingredients which are difficult to find on our continent. As a result, through my brand, BestBodybyBry, I desire to create healthy versions of Ghanaian food to show people that living healthily is more accessible than they think.


 @bestbodybybry Ghanaian inspired healthy meals.

The Fit Lawyer also shares healthy recipes on her blog (see Bodysofit by The Fit Lawyer) and observes that in Lagos “people are keen to learn, people want to keep up with the best practices, people also want convenience; so, for example, does meal plans and to ensure convenience for our clients, we have partnered with another company to do meal prep… I try to encourage clients to have a different motivation asides aesthetics, as once they achieve their physical goals if there is no other reason to keep fit there is a tendency to slack and return back to the starting point.”

Adapting Trends & The Importance of Contextual Relevance 

Although an emerging fitness culture can indeed be observed across Africa, as diverse as the continent is, it is important to note that this will present itself in various forms based on the context of each diverse nation. For instance, whilst swanky gyms and health clubs have manifested as part of Cape Town’s fitness boom, in Accra Bryanne observes that “to the average Ghanaian working out in a gym comes at a high price. Gyms have existed for decades in Ghana however, there are increasingly more people enquiring into and attending the latest workout classes that Ghana has to offer and are jumping on the workout class bandwagon.



In Lagos, The Fit Lawyer has noticed similar trends, “trainers are making an effort to provide clients with diverse products; from dance classes to yoga and CrossFit sessions, and there is something for everyone.” Gyms, however, are something that she has observed to have manifested as part of Lagos’ growing fitness culture; “I have also noticed a trend of gyms springing up on almost every street/area in Lagos Island; the trouble is there are very few differentiating factors. Many people think that having the latest equipment alone is enough to draw in clientele, which is not the case. The lack of differentiation and overpricing of gyms has translated to home service personal training being popular, many people are saving costs by simply training with a personal trainer.”

Opportunities for African Entrepreneurs

For any entrepreneurial fitness enthusiasts, there are clearly exciting opportunities on the continent to make the most of. With great diversity and dynamism comes both opportunity and challenge:

1.Know your market

The needs and desires of your potential clientele will vary from country to country and city to city across the continent. Therefore understanding your market will be key to tapping into its fitness industry. What does the demographic consist of? What is their spending power? Are they well connected with access to social media/ technology?  For instance, the expansion of a fitness chain would require more strategy, networks and capital not so readily available in most countries, not to mention the exclusionary impact of membership fees in many African cities. An independent, mobile service may suit your target market best. In that instance, networks and relationship building will be key. Who do you know? How will you build your brand? Consider social media and networking events to promote your services.

2.Become an expert

Gaining qualifications may give you the credibility you need to attract clients, (especially in cultures where titles are King!). For instance, this year (2018) Bryanne will become a qualified nutritionist and has enrolled in a Nutrition and Weight Management course to better serve her online following and potential clientele; “Becoming a qualified nutritionist will make me better suited to give advice about health and better attend to my followers.”


3. Be innovative

The dynamism and sheer diversity of the continent allow for so much creativity and an opportunity to find your niche. The Fit Lawyer has taken her love for fitness and has created three different brands which provide different services; The Fit Lawyer (a personal training company), Sofiticated(The Lifestyle Establishment) and Ikigai (The consulting Service);

“One of the things my company Ikigai does, is optimise gym spaces. Lots of people have great spaces but aren’t putting them to good use. For example, charging yearly memberships of 500, 000 naira immediately excludes a large market of young people who are the prime target market; we highlight this to you. We also then provide you with an optimisation plan which is geared towards helping you differentiate yourself from the rest, taking your gym to greater heights and helping you learn how to maintain those standards.” Ikigai is a great example of creating opportunity from gaps in a young and dynamic industry.

The growing fitness culture in parts of the continent is an exciting one. With still so much room for development with opportunities in the integration of technology and the potential for startups to become household names, it will be great to observe its progress.

Are you a fitness enthusiast? What are your thoughts on the potential of the industry in Africa? Comment below!

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  1. Miso
    July 5, 2018 / 8:26 am

    I love your blog, have it’s very unique, i think you have a great niche going on and it’s so interesting to read, keep writing !

    • annettebena
      July 18, 2018 / 7:14 pm

      Thank you so much for your kind words! Needed a little motivation, bless you x

  2. Tom the trainer
    August 31, 2018 / 11:43 am

    I currently run the fastest growing fitness business in my country. I am very critical and must admit that this was a fantastic read! Keep it going.

    • annettebena
      September 2, 2018 / 9:37 am

      Thanks Tom! Much appreciated. Where are you based? Would love to hear more about your business


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