Feature Article - March 2005
Find a printable version here

Fresh Fitness Checkup

Fitness equipment and programming: One doesn't work without the other, and both are changing

By Kyle Ryan


Considering personal training has become more a group activity, it's not surprising that group-exercise classes have continued to do well for the most part. There will always be a desire to work out with other people; what that activity entails, however, will change.

For example, the number of places offering Spinning classes dropped from 48 percent in 2003 to 38 percent in 2004. All types of aerobics, dance and martial arts classes have dropped by double digits.

The macro programming trend appears to be fusion. For example, abdominal classes have dropped 19 percent, from 76 percent of facilities offering them in 1997 to 57 in 2004. No one argues Americans have become less ab-obsessed, so what's with the drop?

"I think the reason for that could be that abdominal exercises and working on your abdominals are probably being incorporated into a lot of these other classes," Davis says, such as core conditioning, circuit training, boot camp and other hybrid programs. That theory applies to other class types that experienced large decreases in participation: weight loss (down a whopping 49 percent since 1997), stress management, meditation, and so on. For ancillary-type classes, such as money management (down 47 percent) or smoking cessation (down 21 percent), people may just not associate those activities with their fitness facilities.

IDEA's numbers did show one surprising drop: circuit classes, down by 9 percent since 2003, with 57 percent of facilities offering them. Circuit training outside of the classroom continues to grow, as indicated by the explosive popularity of Curves and its numerous imitators.

Circuit-training facilities, which typically attract people who feel too self-conscious to join a gym, in turn feed full-service health clubs. As people lose weight and feel better about themselves, they want more exercise opportunities than a circuit-training gym offers.

"That's what I say to people," Holland says. "Get started there, but you don't want to stay there."