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Feature Article - July 2019
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Survival of the Fittest

Meeting Demand in Fitness Programming

By Rick Dandes


Consumer demands on a high-intensity ever-changing trillion-dollar fitness industry almost ensure that what's "hot" in fitness programming last year won't necessarily be trending this year. Even the big-box chains have had to adjust to the demands of a generation for whom change is expected.

When it comes to fitness and wellness today, it's more than just a routine; it's become a change in lifestyle for men and women across all demographics. The numbers don't lie: According to research by the Global Wellness Institute, the wellness industry is a $3.72 trillion business. It grew 10.6 percent from 2013 to 2015, and could grow 17 percent in the next five years.


Training rooms crammed with treadmills and exercise bikes have been on the way out for some time, said Samantha Coles, communications director of a Peterborough, U.K.-based company that began as a fitness equipment supplier but now also offers instructor training, group programming and gym design. "People are choosing training facilities based on the variety of equipment and exercise possibilities," she explained. "They are being replaced by much more exciting spaces with a blend of equipment, frames, free weights and functional training tools—which is why we have seen the significant rise in the number of boutiques."

What is popular today, said experts from the American Council on Exercise (ACE) and the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) is a mix of some old standbys, such as high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and functional training, group walking and small-group "express" 30-minute programs geared toward people whose busy lives make it hard to accommodate longer sessions.

"Walking for fitness is something we see more people doing," said Chris Gagliardi, an ACE Certified Personal Trainer with a degree in kinesiology. "Walking is still big because it doesn't require equipment and doesn't require a facility. This holds true across all demographics. What we see when looking at reports from URSA (University Research

Services Administration) and SFIA (Sports and Fitness Industry Association) continues to show that interest in walking and fitness programming continues to grow. There is a group aspect to it, where a fitness professional is leading the walk. Walking in a group also serves as a way for people to connect."

Small group training is also still very popular. "Personal training, one-on-one, remains a mainstay, but there is some cost-effectiveness and camaraderie you get from working in a group that people seem to be gravitating toward," Gagliardi explained. "We're definitely seeing more small-group training taking place. Martial-arts-inspired workouts, whether it be combat sports like conditioning classes or boxing, has moved to high-end studios. The use of kettlebells as part of fitness programming is also popular."

Gagliardi said that "Cross training, where you incorporate several modalities into the program, such as a resistance training class, is one of the top trends. You might have different stations in a space, with multiple uses of equipment where you might have things to climb on and pull on and push on within a single setting. We're seeing this in particular within small-group training. Group cycling is another type of programming that is popular now and we see growing."

Coles agrees with Gagliardi. HIIT training and group training have increased massively in popularity over the past year, she added, and the need for sophisticated, challenging, motivating and consistent programming has grown to create that ultimate "experience."

"It's a bit hard to define," said Tony Maloney, ACSM Certified Exercise Physiologist. Maloney is a trainer and one of the Fitness Center managers at the National Institute for Fitness and Sport in Indianapolis. "Being in a group helps up the intensity of a session. But it's no longer just about going to the gym. For some people it is all they need: going to a gym and knocking out some reps, hitting the cardio. But people these days want to come to a facility, have an experience and enjoy fitness. It's more like a party in a sense. And that is what keeps people coming back, when the experience is fun and memorable.

"Here's where the social aspect of all this kicks in," he added. "The class becomes a social experience where you might have music and lights when you're working out, and the instructor and coaches are lively and high energy. It's almost like putting on a show."

Cycling has even made this move, Maloney said. "If you look at your smaller boutiques, it is not just riding in a group anymore. Instructors will turn the lights off and participants might feel like they're in a disco. I've seen some studios that have a huge screen behind the instructor, and it's like they are all riding down a road."

Along with an increased focus on group training, Coles said, "will come an increasing trend toward tailored boutique-type concepts within mainstream gyms, such as a club within a club, to combat the rising competition of boutique clubs. These are delivered either as an additional added-value feature to the current membership or an additional revenue stream to the operator. We are also seeing changes in design to accommodate the variety of 'club experiences' offered."