Fitness around Europe, part 1: What is Fitness?

Have you always wondered if gyms are the same around Europe? Are you always wondered, if the people going to the gyms are same around the Europe? Have you ever wished for a sneak peak around? Here we go! I’ve gathered the first-hand experience from four countries, so it’s time to tell it all! As there are loads to compare from the average gym-goer her behavior in the locker room, be prepared for series of analysis – more to follow bits by bits.

I’ve gathered the first-hand experience from four countries, so it’s time to tell it all. As there are loads to compare from the average gym-goer to her behavior in the locker room, be prepared for series of analysis – more to follow bits by bits.

All opinions stated are subjective and as a Finnish national, London resident possibly heavily biased.

I’ve been a regular customer at the following gyms: Forever Kuntoklubi at Lappeenranta, Finland; McFit Prenzlauer Berg (nowadays John Reed Fitness), Berlin, Germany; Delta Gym, Stockholm, Sweden; GymBox Westfield London, London, United Kingdom.

Of course, there is the clear bodybuilder scene (chicken-and-rice eating, protein drinking ‘the more muscle the better’ -types) in every country, but the concept of ‘fitness’ is surprisingly different for non-bodybuilders in each country.

What is Fitness in these countries?

Finland takes fitness most seriously if we measure it with the average gym-goer’s muscle mass and dedication for training. Compared to DE, UK or SE, everyone is, well, muscular. Especially the women. Everyone and I mean everyone, including my moms and grandmas, go to the gym at least occasionally. The country’s beauty ideal is somewhat near to Anna Virmajoki, but significantly more muscular aesthetics are approved and appreciated. Bikini fitness is very mainstream sport nowadays. So mainstream, that there are TV series about fitness girls and continuous debate if this new beauty ideal is any better or even worse than the skinny some time ago.

Finns are also totally crazy about cross fit, which truly gets their performance-oriented mind tig. For more ideas, check MiniFitness and Stefanie Hagelstam. Finns fault lies in their total, life-overtaking dedication for training and nutrition. The last winter majority of the country’s many popular fitness bloggers confessed that they have discovered that eating bread and an occasional piece of cake hasn’t killed them. Some have reported also happier social lives thanks to decresing their gym sessions to only five per week.


Swedes are a bit different in everything. On average a bit less muscular, a bit less performance oriented, and two steps more stylish. In Sweden, dedication to training and exactly the right nutrition started to shift towards wellness already about two years ago. At that point, Finns were still keen to train just for the sake of it (Finnish stubbornness – if you start something, you better Finish it), Swedes had realized that they can maintain their desired aesthetics even when eating the occasional bowl of pasta or cinnamon bun. So yes, Swedes are more lagom, even with their Fitness habits. They might be quite obsessed with their looks and what the others are thinking but lead quite balanced lives. Swedes rarely sacrifice their social lives for the sake of the fitness – as mentioned, a phenomenon Finnish fitness blockers have been writing a lot during the last winter. Still, also in Sweden, fitness and gymming are very mainstream – almost everyone goes at least for classes.   Fashionablefit and Hanna Modig are both excellent examples. Both Nordic countries see fitness as a part of the lifestyle to go for. Health is important for Finns and Swedes alike.


When talking about Swedes, you should never avoid noticing their excellent commercial eye and marketing skills. Fashionable Fit has teamed up with for several sport clothing collections and just stepped up the game by starting to collaborate with adidas. If you ask me, I’d rely more on this women’s sport clothing choices than to any fashion designer’s.

Germans are somewhat behind the Nordic fitness scene. Walking, jogging and even yoga are more mainstream than going to any gym. Females who go to the gym mostly stick to the classes. Using only the treadmills and stationary bikes is popular. The bravest ones get in the middle of the guys, often in pairs. The women lifting weights in solitude is most likely a pro or an immigrant.  They fight against the stereotypes and answer endless ‘Are you not afraid you will be too muscular and manly’-questions. Germans do not have such a fixation to body aesthetics or improving their physical performance as the other countries I’ve lived in. For them body is more a tool which works, needs to be maintained but is not something to pay too much attention to.

Fitness blogs are not such a phenomena in Germany as they are in the Nordics. Actually, they almost don’t exist. Even the instagrammers are mostly very young – but well, that shows though the progress of the next generation. As a long-followed example in my age group I recommend an other visitor of my former home gym McFit Prenzlauer Berg, lovely train.for.nutella.

Overall, it is never fair to generalize the capital and the country – and with London, it is absolutely true. So, let’s talk about Londoners. Millions and many of us from abroad, the views of fitness are just as varied as one could imagine. In a way, that makes the whole fitness scene more mixed, and on the other way more siloed than anywhere else. There are the bodybuilders, the fitness freaks, the I-don’t-care ones, and as a new group, the mindful, upscale wellness people visiting the boutique gyms, elevated boxing studios and yoga sanctuaries. The consequence is, that unlike in Finland, Sweden or even Germany, these crowds rarely mix – their have their own places to go to. At one high-end gym, everyone is unbelievable muscular and toned, the other one hosts loads of beginners, the third one is for the rich and/or famous, and the fourth one for those who believe in barre. For the fitness ideal, there is no one right way or one ideal to follow. The capital’s beauty ideal is still somewhat stuck to the Victoria’s secrets Angel-look. Kayla Itsines with her Sweat with Kayla -app is a huge thing – something that would be judged as too skinny and flat body type to aim for the Nordics. And, did you notice that I mentioned earlier what a great commercial eye with marketing execution skills the Swedes have? The second most popular fitness blog in the UK, Fitness on Toast, is written by a Swede.


Confusing, eh? Next in series – What is the same and what is different in gyms across Europe.

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