If you live in or near a decent-sized city, you’ve probably noticed that fitness is a fad that doesn’t seem to be going away. From CrossFit gyms to bike lanes to pricey fitness apparel stores, it’s clear that people demand that fitness be more available to them.
Cuba is also jumping on the fitness bandwagon. In a time where it looks like Cuba might finally ease up on private enterprise, more and more entrepreneurs are looking to enter a market that will always be making gains.
Private enterprise in Cuba can still be a tricky business, and you need not look any further than some of the backyard gyms popping up in Havana for this fact to ring true. An owner of one such gym, Alejandro, also acts as a personal trainer, janitor, and equipment handyman. He also operates the gym out of his back yard, in a patch of dirt and grass no larger than a studio apartment.
At first glance, his equipment is familiar: machines with cables, pulleys, bench press stations, squat racks, dumbbells and barbells. But you won’t see many brand names on equipment in Cuba; it is still largely made from spare parts or custom ordered.
Supplements are a different story entirely. The supplement industry in the United States is large and difficult to navigate for an uninformed consumer due to its paralyzingly vast range of products. Cuba, on the other hand, has almost no access to this industry other than on the black market, where protein supplements run as much as double or triple their market value. Protein supplements are of particular value to the average Cuban, for whom money can be tight and reliable sources of protein are sometimes hard to obtain regularly.
Such are some of the challenges facing not just gym owners in Cuba, but entrepreneurs in general: how does one maintain a specific business model without having access to the same resources as successful businesses elsewhere? As Alejandro might tell you, with a little bit of sweat, and a lot of entrepreneurial creativity.
CrossFit Crossing Borders
It’s no secret that CrossFit is a global fitness phenomenon. Whether you think of CrossFit as a “fitness cult” or as a legitimate sport, it’s here to stay. At the annual CrossFit Games held in Madison, Wisconsin this year, the event drew over 600 athletes from 31 different countries to determine who were the “fittest athletes on earth.”
Cubans have made it clear that they want to be a part of the action. Havana business Fitness Club 905 is one of a handful in Havana that promote CrossFit, as can be seen on their Instagram and Facebook pages.
CrossFit is a registered US trademark, so as of now, all CrossFit gyms or competitions in Cuba are technically unaffiliated with the sport. And with the lack of access to the same level of equipment (such as gymnastic rings, Olympic bars, and Russian Kettlebells), Cuba will likely be lagging a bit behind for the near future.
The fitness business will be one to watch as the situation with private enterprise regulation in Cuba develops. Supplements, equipment, and licensing could become easier to come by in the near future. If so, the Cuban fitness industry will see gains like never before.