Feature Article - March 2012
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Fit for All Ages

Reaching New Demographics Through Targeted Fitness Programming

By Chris Gelbach


Fitness trends that are popular with other demographics are likewise catching on with boomers—with some modifications. For instance, Portland Parks & Recreation has had success with its Zumba Gold class, a seniors-oriented version of the popular Latin-dance-inspired workout. Pire has likewise attracted an older demographic with a new take on the boot camp format.

"It's funny because I never marketed it as a baby boomer thing," Pire said. "I marketed it to people who'd had orthopedic and cardiovascular issues, and it just worked out that the average and median ages in my boot camps are in their mid-50s."

These boot camps avoid ballistic movements like burpees and box jumps, take place indoors, and eliminate the barked orders and cadences of a traditional boot camp. And the non-intimidating way Pire markets it attracts people who would otherwise be scared away from a boot camp setting.

"It's an overall, total-body workout I'm able to tailor to the group regardless of where they're at," Pire said. "But it's warm and friendly versus scary." To cater to different fitness levels, Pire includes activities that can be done in three different ways appropriate to each participant's fitness level. That way, the exercisers can continue to get a better workout as they get fitter, and the beginners are still able to get a sense of accomplishment from completing the workout.

Facilities are also attracting older patrons through creative senior membership options. One club Pire did consulting work for offered a senior membership that charged $30 for the year, as opposed to $400 or $500, but required the seniors to also pay $2 each time they worked out. The membership was also restricted to morning hours when the club was relatively quiet. "It didn't hurt the club in terms of crowding, it was a nominal investment for the senior, and at the same time they were increasing their senior membership instead of selling a program like SilverSneakers they'd have to resell six or 12 weeks later," he said.

Catering to Communities

Perhaps the most important consideration in achieving success in reaching different demographics is to always focus on the needs of the local community, which can be facilitated by regularly reaching out to community groups for input. "We really try to reach out into our neighborhoods where our community centers are and do a lot of intentional programming," Glenn said. This outreach can help facilities learn about and eliminate cultural barriers to participation. "For our Somali population, we've created female-only swims so that it was culturally OK for them to put on a bathing suit and go into the pool," Glenn noted as one example in Portland.

When creating programs for new demographics, it's sometimes difficult to determine which programs will work because of cultural and demographic differences in different areas. For this reason, Robinson recommends always doing a test run of any new program to see if it gains traction with the target demographic. "You can't serve everybody," he said. "It's better to pick a certain demographic for which a program works and just focus in on it."

At the same time, sometimes programming targeted primarily at a certain demographic will end up reaching a wider audience. Portland Parks & Recreation's culturally diverse offerings such as Spanish dance, Capoeira and African dance, for instance, have become popular with a wide range of demographics. "We really do see the value in creating opportunities for cultures to come together in a community center," Glenn said. "It's the neighborhood living room, where cultures and people of different means and backgrounds blend." As a result, creating specific programming for targeted demographics can have the unexpected effect of bringing people of different ages, cultures and abilities together—while helping each group get fit in the process.