Boxing Craze Rings in Success for China’s Fitness Industry

“HPA-China commentary: this is definitely an opportunity for dietary supplements in the sports nutrition and weight loss category”

The holiday season is a time for families and friends to come together, reconnect and enjoy big reunion feasts. Very often, this is followed by the inevitable battle of the holiday bulge.

This year’s Spring Festival holiday, China’s biggest annual celebration and accompanied by sumptuous spreads, spanning from February 10 to 17, was no exception.

Interestingly, during the holiday, the comedy film YOLO, an acronym for “You Only Live Once,” directed by and starring actress Jia Ling, became a box office hit, raking in more than 2.7 billion yuan ($375 million) during the holiday.

Jia portrays Du Leying, an overweight woman in her 30s who regains her self-confidence after taking up boxing. Off screen, Jia herself reportedly shed 50 kg through vigorous exercise during the shooting process of roughly 14 months.

And so, after watching YOLO, Zhang Chuchen, an avid post-holiday gym-goer, decided to switch things up this year by booking her first boxing lesson.

“I used to focus on long-distance running and swimming, so I initially perceived boxing as a sport reserved for professionals,” Zhang shared with Beijing Review.

Data from multiple platforms indicated that she was not alone in her shift in perspective.

Meituan, a ubiquitous delivery and e-commerce app, reported a significant surge in search interest related to boxing following the release of YOLO on February 10. The search volume for terms like “adult boxing,” “boxing experience classes,” “boxing monthly memberships,” and “women’s boxing” saw a remarkable tenfold increase compared to the previous year.

The movie appeared to be setting a positive example for women, as evidenced by the rise in popularity of posts by boxing gyms specifically catering to women on Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok.

Shake it off

So far, Zhang has participated in six hours of boxing sessions, and she thinks it’s “physically demanding yet ultimately rewarding.”

Huang Chao, a boxing coach and cofounder of a boxing gym in Beijing, emphasized that boxing offers benefits beyond weight loss, notably improving the function of the heart and lungs in a relatively short period.

“People who don’t work out regularly may struggle with boxing at first, but once they get into it, they will find this sport extremely beneficial,” Huang told Beijing Review. “Contrary to the stereotype that boxing is just for men, it is equally suitable for women.”

Huang’s gym offers boxing sessions to enthusiasts of all ages and genders at a rate of 300-500 yuan ($41.6-69.4) per hour. Over the years, he has trained two female national teenage boxing champions.

“I’m genuinely happy YOLO has inspired more women to take up boxing,” Huang elaborated. For those engaging in the sport with the goal of losing weight, he added, “Over the course of three months, an adult woman can lose up to 3 kg of fat by taking two to three boxing classes a week. It is a healthy and sustainable approach to weight loss.”

Movie critic Hao Tian from the Chinese National Academy of Arts said that movie theater audiences tend to emotionally connect with characters on the screen and often seek to emulate their behaviors. This phenomenon has contributed to the YOLO-led boom in the boxing industry.

“The movie showcases how an everyday character rises above herself, making it easy for the audience to empathize with her,” Hao told Beijing Review. However, a single hit movie is not enough for the long-term development of an industry. “This requires additional efforts from professionals within the given field,” she added.

To keep the YOLO momentum going, many boxing institutions have since the holiday stepped up efforts to better cater to customer needs, for example by updating equipment, offering long-term discount packages, designing more targeted private classes, and offering free trials.

“Some customers show a keen interest in boxing, but effective training requires a minimum commitment of at least two months,” Huang explained. “We are offering free trial sessions to help people determine their interest in and enjoyment of the sport.”

Going the distance

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many gym enthusiasts had to switch to online sessions as numerous public facilities, fitness ones included, were closed.

As a result, fitness vloggers, one after the other, went viral, with their followers purchasing sports-related goods like yoga mats and dumbbells to engage in some simple exercise at home.

Today, people are flocking back to physical gyms, sparking a revival in the offline fitness industry, akin to a “spring blossom.”

And the rise of the boxing market is just a small part of the overall success story of the fitness industry in China.

According to a research report by Guotai Junan Securities, a leading Chinese financial services company, the Chinese fitness market is expected to surge from 941.9 billion yuan ($130.63 billion) in 2022 to 2.08 trillion yuan ($288.91 billion) by 2027, with a compound annual growth rate of 17.2 percent.

One facet of the booming industry is that indoor smart cycling venues are sprouting up in many cities. These venues offer their customers a wide range of features, including virtual reality settings, livestreaming of online classes, and social interaction among aficionados. Additionally, they are expanding their presence from business districts to residential areas, and from cities to small towns.

The venues’ easy accessibility, coupled with their enriched user experience, has attracted a huge customer base.

Yang Guang, founder of a sports technology company in Wuhan, Hubei Province, told the Hubei Daily newspaper, “We are partnering with logistics companies to introduce smart cycling venues in local communities—it is not just a trend for working professionals, but for all residents.”


Private gyms and fitness clubs offer a range of options for customers, but local governments, too, are doing their bit to keep the population healthy by actively supporting public sporting facilities and services.

During the past winter season, the ice and snow sports industry flourished in the northern part of the country, especially in the season’s “hottest” tourist destination of Harbin in Heilongjiang Province, Hulunbuir in Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, the host city of the 14th National Winter Games, and Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, renowned for its natural geological conditions ideal for ice and snow sports.

Many new “ice and snow” fans expressed online that they were drawn to the cost-effective activities and services provided by the local governments.

Seasonal sports aside, authorities at all levels have underlined the availability of year-round sports opportunities.

On February 28, for example, the Shanghai authorities hosted a work conference focusing on increasing the public’s wellbeing through sports. The conference approved a roadmap to establish a public health and fitness service system. This plan includes initiatives such as training a group of sports instructors for big communities, organizing promotional activities like the Scientific Fitness Experience Week—an event aimed at raising public awareness of health and fitness by hosting related workshops, exercise classes, wellness seminars, and more, and increasing the number of public fitness facilities. (Source: Beijing Review)

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