The 5 Richest Fitness Empires

Who doesn't want to look like an extra from the cast of 300?  Or, if your tastes happen to run more subtle, a 1970's-era Arnold Schwarzenegger?  Technically, this could be accomplished by eating nothing but kale and doing one of those prison workouts consisting of thousands of push ups and burpees within the confines of a 10 by 10 cell.  One could also run cross country,Forrest Gump-style, until one's clothes became looser.  Most people,however, shudder at the thought of such a spartan routine and prefer a fitness program that is a little more accessible in order to stay motivated.

There's huge diversity in the methods people employ when trying to look less like Santa Claus and more like Gerard Butler; some people prefer sweating it out to fitness videos in the privacy of their own homes, while others work best in a group setting for extra motivation.  Some fitness fanatics indulge in weight loss shakes or protein supplements to alter their physique more quickly, while others opt to drink juice made from exotic fruits and vegetables.  Whichever methods you personally prefer, fitness is big business and there are no shortage of companies profiting off mankind's desire for abs of steel.

There are several huge, international companies that have profited from the craze for fitness. CrossFit, an intensive programme that guarantees strength, conditioning and flexibility, was founded in 2000. With licensed CrossFit trainers across the world, the projected 2013 earnings for Crossfit were $100 million. Then there's Golds Gym, founded in California in the '60s, now a huge North American chain. The flagship on Venice beach is perhaps best known as the gym where Arnie trained in his early days.

But which 5 fitness empires come out on top these days? To which companies are we looking to sustain our Fitspiration? The following 5 are the definitive modern day champions of the fitness business, in terms of recent profits.

5 GNC- General Nutrition Center- Bodybuilding and Weight Loss Supplements

GNC has 7,334 physical locations in the U.S. as well as a large web presence.  The company sells a variety of bodybuilding and weight loss supplements, as well as vitamins and other health and beauty products.  The company was started by David Shakarian in 1935 with two physical locations; after these initial storefronts were damaged by floodwater, Shakarian expanded his business to include mail order catalogs.  GNC stores include franchises and those owned by corporations.  The company has a net income of $265 million.

4 Anytime Fitness- Gym Chain

This Minnesota-based company, founded by Chuck Runyon and Dave Mortensen in 2001, is the number one gym chain in America.  It's open 24 hours a day and has 2,425 locations in the U.S.  It's currently the number one franchise in the U.S. and in 2013 it was ranked as the #10 franchise in the world.  Forbes ranks Anytime Fitness as #14 on their list of Most Promising Companies, and its worth comes in at $484 million.  The gym only charges members $40 a month and saves on costs by keeping their staffing numbers low.

3 Planet Fitness- Gym Chain

Planet Fitness currently has 642 locations and has been featured on NBC's The Biggest Loser.  The gym claims to be "judgement free" and has a "lunk alarm" which goes off when members grunt, scream, or make other intimidating noises while lifting weights as a deterrent for this kind of behavior (they were sued in 2006 by a man whose membership was cancelled for this reason).

Planet Fitness, then, markets itself as the antithesis of a Schwarzenegger-type establishment, while charging members about $10 a month for the privilege of working out sans "lunks".  It also has a particularly genius marketing strategy: they host pizza nights, bagel mornings, and have a steady supply of tootsie rolls at the ready for all members.  Needless to say, these member perks may keep customers just far enough away from achieving their fitness goals to ensure repeat enrollment. Despite tiny subscription fees, Planet Fitness made over $519 million in 2011.

2 Beachbody- P90X, Insanity, Shakeology

If you've ever suffered from insomnia, you have probably seen a 3AM showing of Beachbody's various informercial offerings.  The fitness company, started in 2001 by Carl Daikeler, is behind programs like P90X, Insanity, and Hip Hop Abs.

Beachbody was not an overnight success; the first infomercial for P90X, which appeared in 2005, crashed harder than a toddler on a sugar high.  It wasn't until the 22nd iteration of the P90X infomercial that Daikeler and Beachbody hit the winning formula that drove people to pick up the phone and order DVDs starring trainers such as Tony Horton and Shaun T.  In addition to workout programs, Beachbody also sells a line of fitness shakes called Shakeology.  This aspect of the business operates a multi-level-marketing strategy.  Shake sellers are called "coaches", but apparently they won't stand over you and scream at you to drink faster.  To date, Beachbody is worth $700 million in sales.

1 Herbalife- nutritional supplements and fitness products

Herbalife was founded in 1980 and sells a variety of nutritional supplements and weight loss and bodybuilding supplements as well as various fitness equipments in 79 countries around the world.  They also sponsor a number of professional sports teams and athletes in areas as diverse as figure skating, BMX racing, javelin, cricket, and judo.  Herbalife has been affiliated with Spain's soccer team, Real Madrid, and currently sponsors the Vietnamese Olympic team, the Italian Swimming Federation, Olympiacos FC, Reading FC, and LA Galaxy, among others.  The company boasts investors such as George Soros and Carl Icahn.

However, Herbalife may not be maintaining its top spot for long. Recently, hedge fund manager Bill Ackman made headlines when he claimed Herbalife was a pyramid scheme. Herbalife made $3.46 billion in sales for 2012, according to Forbes, but the company has taken a hit on the public market with latest reports citing that shares in the company have fallen by around 32% since the beginning of 2014.

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