Feature Article - September 2002
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Get with the Programs

The latest trends shaping up in the fitness arena

By Mitch Martin

BOSU Bootcamp at Crunch Fitness

Program schedules at fitness clubs and health centers are starting to rival the course schedules of small colleges for heft and length.

The diversity of fitness programming across the country is only increasing. In addition to a simple need to be creative, the trend is driven by a desire to reach out to younger and older age groups—and to keep core clientele interested.

According to experts and recreational managers, mind-body and alternative fitness programming remains the predominate trend in 2002. At the same time, old-school training, such as boxing-based fitness and "boot camp" training, remain popular, though they may be plateauing.

Dr. Cedric Bryant, chief exercise physiologist and vice president of educational services for the American Council on Exercise, says fitness programming is moving toward a philosophic basis of functionality: Fitness geared toward the ability to perform a certain task, sport or performance goal.

A major concern, Bryant says, is that trainers must be careful not to force-feed beginning clients the workout routines of elite, professional athletes. However, done correctly, Bryant says functional-based training can improve retention.

The trend is forcing fitness programmers to develop new offerings at an increasing rate. Fitness managers believe it is important to make sure the quality and true fitness value of programs are upheld despite the accelerated development process.

Many insiders say maintaining high-quality, flexible instructors is therefore more important than ever. And providing prospective participants with clear, easy-to-read class descriptions is also a key ingredient to a well-run program.

The diversified fitness environment presents new challenges for the recreation facility manager. However, many in the industry say just as new programs provide a refreshing change for the clients, it is also providing a similarly refreshing challenge for the people designing and deploying the new programs.

"Much of the work our membership does is aimed at the 20 percent of the population that is fit," says David Gilroy, spokesperson for IDEA Health and Fitness Association. "Variety is important because it's one way to help lure the 70 to 80 percent of people in the market that are unfit. To fill that huge gap, to reach them, you have to be creative."

Bryant says diversified programming has a primary goal of attracting participants outside of the 35- to 50-year-old range that make up the bulk of most the regular adherents. Once new clients are attracted, diversity can help retain current clients.

"One of the biggest challenges is helping people deal with boredom, which sabotages long-term adherence," Bryant says.

Reaching out to younger fitness participants is a big part of the job of Washington State University's Robin Bell, the coordinator of Fitness and Instructional Programs. She says diversity and orientation are two important things for providing programming for college-age fitness instructors.

The idea that young and fit always goes together can't be taken for granted, she says.

"I would say most of our incoming freshman have never taken an aerobics class," Bell says. "We try to offer free previews of classes regularly. We give them the opportunity to get that introduction in a small class setting where there's not a lot of pressure."