From the March 2014 issue of Entrepreneur

With Anytime Fitness leading the way, the world of fitness franchising has grown dramatically in recent years. And in a landscape once dominated by big-box gyms, the boutique trend is rapidly gaining ground.

On the surface, the appeal of smaller, specialized facilities is obvious: They cost less to open, require fewer employees and are easier to run than their large-scale counterparts. But their real strength lies deeper--in their ability to attract a passionate client base. "Whenever you have that niche market, where you're not trying to be everything to everyone, you'll get enough people that are excited about being able to do that thing they love," says Michael Parrella, CEO of Levittown, N.Y.-based iLoveKickboxing.com. "In a big-box gym, they have grander facilities and more equipment, but you're just a number. You build a tribe with a boutique fitness facility."

Nick Berry, president of Fitness Consulting Group, the parent company of Fitness Revolution and Athletic Revolution, agrees. "Consumers are becoming more ambitious with their fitness levels," he says. "They're looking for that service of fitness, not just access to fitness equipment."

Here's a look at a few of the specialties of the top new boutique fitness franchises--the trends within the trend.

Group Training

Several of our top new franchises offer group training, including Fitness Revolution, which evolved from work Berry and his partner, Pat Rigsby, did as business consultants for personal trainers and other fitness professionals. "As a business, the one-to-one [personal training] model has always been kind of broken.

It'd be very difficult for a person to create a true livelihood out of," Berry explains.

Group training allows the trainers-turned-franchisees at Elizabethtown, Ky.-based Fitness Revolution to offer their clients many of the benefits of personal training at a lower price. But financial considerations aren't the only reason for the activity's rising popularity.

"There's some real psychology and motivation around a group setting," says David Long, CEO of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based Orangetheory Fitness. "People get the instruction they need to be effective, and there's a real big social element and accountability to it, too."

Kickboxing

Kickboxing is another well-represented trend in our list of top new franchises, with three companies comprising more than 200 franchise locations. When asked why kickboxing has become such a popular workout, Parrella notes, "There's just something empowering about it, something primal and combative.

It's in our DNA." And it seems that sense of empowerment is appealing particularly to women, who make up 85 percent of the customer base of iLoveKickboxing.com.

In fact, kickboxing has proved so popular that Parrella has had to change his franchise model, which originally allowed existing martial-arts facilities to co-brand with iLoveKickboxing.com. The franchised kickboxing classes quickly outgrew such facilities, leading owners to move them to separate, dedicated gyms--and Parrella to focus on offering stand-alone iLoveKickboxing.com franchises instead. "We now have facilities that literally have waiting lists to get in," he says.

Interval training

The American College of Sports Medicine's annual survey of fitness trends has a new No. 1: high-intensity interval training, described as "short bursts of high-intensity bouts of exercise followed by a short period of rest or recovery."

"The science behind interval training is getting people in certain heart-rate zones to improve their cardiovascular health as well as their ability to burn calories and body fat," Long explains. For that reason, personal-health technology plays an important part in Orangetheory's signature 60-minute workout, alongside treadmills, rowing machines and weights. Clients' heart rates are monitored throughout the workout and displayed on flat-screen TVs.

"People like seeing the results of their efforts," Long says. "We're using a very scientific approach to give people much better results in a quicker period of time."

As other interval-based fitness franchises start to crop up, he's certain competition will come--and soon.