Gyms are traditionally uninspiring affairs: full of clunky machines and blaring music. Biofit, a new award-winning training concept, combines fitness with natural elements. Founder Matt Morley plans to open the first studio in Calgary, Canada, soon.

When Matt Morley moved to South Africa, he was a self-confessed city boy. Growing up in London, he had never lived close connection to the countryside. A keen sportsman, training – often indoors – had been a huge part of his life ever since his early youth. But Cape Town – with its mountainous vistas and turquoise-watered, golden-sanded beaches – profoundly transformed his outlook on fitness and life.

Matt Morley pulling himself up on a rope in his nature gym
Founder Matt Morley found his love for fitness in the outdoors.

He completely stopped going to the gym, choosing instead to satisfy his fitness urges by venturing outside – surfing, kickboxing and practicing yoga in the city’s wealth of outdoor spaces. Three years living in Cape Town detonated a passion for connecting with nature.

“When I moved back to Europe, I could see that there was something great about being outdoors and not having equipment to train with – in the classical sense of machinery,” says the now 36-year-old. “That you could do so much without it. Then I thought gyms in the inner city are pretty dull and not that inspiring.”

Nature-inspired biophilic design

A concept that offers gym design and group fitness classes inspired by nature, Biofit is an alternative to the windowless, music-blaring gyms chock full of metal and plastic that abound in cities around the world. Last year, Morley won the New Concept Award at the renowned FIBO Global Fitness Fair. The first affiliate gym is scheduled to open soon in Calgary, Canada.

Collaborating with architect and landscape designer Lily Jencks, Morley made biophilic design a key aspect of the gym – an approach with wellness design principles at its core.

natural interior and equipment in the Biofit natural gym
Natural materials: the first Biofit gym.

With biophilic design, no detail is too small. What’s the quality of the light? How many plants are there? What can visitors smell when they walk in? Everything about a Biofit gym is crafted to provide members with a calm oasis that increases their feelings of wellbeing, whilst simultaneously optimizing their workouts.

It’s something that Silicon Valley tech companies like Google and Facebook have famously adopted for their office spaces, enabling employees to feel happy, positive and energized. And Biofit is the first to apply this ethos to the gym.

So instead of cardio machines lined up by the dozens and iron weights stacked in endless rows, in a Biofit gym you’ll find a mix of sandbags, balls, weights and ropes – all crafted from premium, natural materials like timber, canvas, bamboo and leather. And instead of giant flatscreen TVs and mirrored walls at every turn, you’re surrounded by plants, colors, textures and scents that reflect the natural world.

“Contemporary gyms to me feel like really soulless places that don’t inspire people to take action and get moving,” says Morley. “They aren’t necessarily healthy spaces in terms of the lighting, the air quality, the sounds or the smells. These are generally ignored in favor of more machinery and more metal to lift.”

Fitness for everyday life

“It’s not about being a specialist,” says Morley of the Biofit training philosophy. “It’s more about giving people a well-rounded approach to what it means to be a healthy, fit individual.” With Biofit, he didn’t just incorporate nature into the aesthetics of the gym, he made it a key part of its training methods, too.

“We’ve got 3.5 billion years on Earth – modern day fitness is just a tiny, almost irrelevant blip,” he continues. “In the wider frame of things, as humans, what do we need to do? We need strength just to get around in life, and you need to be able to move well and have some consciousness of where your body is as you’re going about things.”

equipment made from natural materials in the Biofit gym
Timber, bamboo, canvas or leather can be found at the studio.

Eschewing the linear, repetitive cardiovascular and weight training that most gyms provide for, Biofit takes a more natural, yet fun approach to health – with the long game in mind. Focusing on key areas of movement and mobility, strength and stamina, play and fight, Biofit members can expect to work through a dynamic mix of isometric holds, explosive plyometrics, combat techniques, as well as agility and mindfulness exercises for a holistic workout.

The class nature of the gym also means that you get social interaction baked right in, which in turn makes your session more engaging, motivated and effective. “Whether it’s climbing or crawling or jumping or twisting – all little things that you don’t perhaps see in modern day fitness – it’s really just about taking a big picture approach,” explains the entrepreneur.

Improving how cities view fitness

For Morley, cities generally need to think outside the box more when it comes to making sure their inhabitants have easy access to outdoor fitness equipment that inspires. “There’s never enough green space or built-in opportunities for movement, exercise or fitness,” he says.

“You have to recognize that different people want different things; some people want a little 500-metre jogging track and that is going to change the world for them. Or just a path that they can run around in the morning. But if you’re not putting any of those things into a public realm or a development scheme, you’re missing a trick”.

For Morley, it’s about trying to encourage people to have fun, to come with friends and train in slightly different ways. To him, Sweden and the Netherlands hold pioneer status when it comes to open-air gyms. “They’ve got some really interesting outdoor training facilities. Why shouldn’t there be more statements that invite a bit more curiosity and excitement?”

Matt Morley working out with a sandbag in his natural gym
At Biofit, you lift sandbags instead of dumbbells.

Unplug from the always-on digital lifestyle

As metropolises around the world continue to expand and densify, getting a hit of nature has never been more important – an effective way to unplug from that always-on digital lifestyle to destress.

While city authorities haven’t yet caught on to the myriad benefits of clever outdoor training facilities, and with access to green and open spaces not always possible due to bad weather, air pollution or too great a distance from work or home, the Biofit concept is the next best thing: life-focused fitness training carried out in well thought-out, meticulously designed and nature-inspired surroundings.

Matt Morley in a boxing position
A well-rounded, healthy training environment awaits at Biofit.

With the imminent opening of his first gym in Calgary (the perfect location for Biofit, considering the city is blanketed in snow for six or seven months a year), Morley is about to set his first milestone to help reconnect gym enthusiasts with nature.

“There’s no chance for me to build a park. I’m not in urban planning, I don’t work for local government. But I can take a retail space, turn it into a green gym and give you a little shot of vitamin nature – before work, after work, in your lunch break – that would otherwise not be present in your day,” he says. “For me, that’s enough.”

For more information on Biofit, visit their website.