May 5, 2014 -- Can a fitness guru be banned from taking classes at a rival's gym? That’s what celebrity trainer Joey Gonzalez said happened to him.
Gonzalez, co-owner and chief operating officer of Barry’s Bootcamp, which offers fitness instruction in San Diego, New York and other cities, told ABC News that about 10 days after he took a spinning class at SoulCycle, he got a call from a SoulCycle representative telling him not to come back: SoulCycle, he says he was told, has a policy against instructors from other chains taking its classes.
“Just got a call from SoulCycle saying since I’m an instructor in boutique fitness, I’m never allowed to take class there again,” Gonzalez tweeted.
This wasn't the first time he'd been banned from a competing fitness organization, he told ABC News. In July 2011, a month after he'd opened his first gym in New York, he said he got a call from Equinox telling him he'd never be allowed to use another Equinox again anywhere in the U.S. Equinox is the parent company of SoulCycle.
ABC News could not verify that SoulCycle or Equinox had such a policy, and SoulCycle and Equinox did not respond to ABC News' requests for comment.
Fitness experts in New York and elsewhere said bans of the type alleged are common in the fitness business: One studio views its approach to exercise as proprietary, and wants to prevent competitors from copying it.
Jennifer Galardi, founder of LivWhole fitness, told ABC News she knows Gonzalez and wasn’t surprised to hear about the alleged ban.
Such bans, she said, have grown more common as the fitness industry has become more specialized. If a facility is selling general exercise, it’s hard for it to claim it's got a lock on your curriculum, she said. But if what it's offering is more specialized and boutique-like, “then people think that they invented it. It’s happening more and more.”
This kind of protectiveness isn’t limited it New York, she said. It’s happening nationwide.
Harry Hanson, owner of Hanson Fitness in Manhattan, said competitors routinely walk in off the street, notebook in hand, bent on copying his studio’s approach.
“They want to see what kind of lighting I’ve got, how many fans, the color of the walls,” he said.
If they’ve had the decency to call Hanson in advance and ask his permission to visit, Hanson said, he doesn’t mind. The issue for Hanson comes down to respect, though he doesn’t view his approach as proprietary.
“There are no regulations in this industry,” he told ABC News. “It’s a free for all. Still, that doesn’t stop companies [from] trying to maintain their individuality.”
He, himself, visits his competitors, he said, and one time a rival trainer recognized him and tried to get him to leave.
Hanson doesn't think it’s good business for a gym to try to impose a ban on a competitor taking classes.
“Just because somebody comes in and tries to figure out what you’re doing doesn’t mean they’re going to be successful," he said. "I didn’t invent what I do. I just do it better than anybody else.”
Former championship boxer Michael Olajide, Jr., co-founder of Aerospace, was among the first to offer a training program incorporating the moves of boxing, other sports and jumping rope. More than many other trainers, he would have fair claim to view his approach as proprietary. But he welcomes competitors to take his classes.
“I get other teachers all the time,” he told ABC News. “You do kind of wonder if they’re coming here with the intention of creating their own thing. That’s always the fear of the originator. But it’s also a strong motivator: You want to keep building what you started. You can’t be afraid that somebody might copy you. My knowledge isn’t so limited that I feel protective.”
Nonetheless, he’s copyrighted some of what he does. And when a competitor tries to imitate his approach, he added, “You feel ... 'Wow! I’ve been ripped off.'”
Where things get tricky, he says, is when a competitor doesn’t copy but instead comes up with their own variation.
“But cycling?” he asked in tones of amazement.
That seems to him to be something hard to protect.
“It’s a bike. You’re pedaling,” he said.
Gonzalez said he bears no ill will toward SoulCycle or Equinox.
"I'm fine with it," he said. "There are a lot of other places out there to go for fitness."