When New Zealander Matt Lewis opened his first gym in Beijing, his staff had no idea how to work the expensive new weights machines imported from the United States. And among the first 50 members were women who would turn up for group fitness classes in their high heels. ‘People had no idea,’ he says. ‘It was all new for them.’ As other industries have struggled with the recession, Lewis has led the expansion of the Chinese fitness industry to the point where an estimated 2.9 million Beijing citizens now belong to a gym. In 2001, the city had two Western-style fitness clubs; now it has more than 400. In New Zealand, too, the big gym chains have reported membership growth of between 3 and 10 per cent, year on year, and record growth in the first three months of this year. Fitness NZ boss Richard Beddie has described the industry as ‘recession-proof’.