Feature Article - March 2004
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Innovative Exercising

What’s hot and what’s not in the health-club industry

By Kyle Ryan

Also making a debut of sorts last year was Zumba, a South American-style dance aerobics that mixes salsa, tango, flamenco, calypso, belly-dancing and hip-hop dancing. The workout was created by Alberto "Beto" Perez, a dance choreographer, and sells itself by assuring people: "It's not a workout; it's a party." Instructors began getting certified for Zumba last year, and it has begun showing up in health clubs around the country. People can also order Zumba clothing and videos online.

Videos, though, don't offer the same things classes do, and that's why group-fitness classes remain a common denominator among nearly all popular fitness trends. What people do in the class may change, but they do it together.

"It's a great way to introduce people to clubs," Howland says. "One of the things clubs offer that you don't get by popping a video in the VCR or building your own gym is the access to group exercise, whether it's aquatic or whatever. It creates a sense of community. It brings people in contact with others—that's a major benefit that the fitness center has to offer."

No one knows this better, perhaps, than Crunch. The chain's unorthodox group-exercise classes seem designed for fun and grabbing headlines, as their "Cardio Strip Tease" class did. The class uses stylized dance moves taken from strippers and creates a workout based on them (stripping pole included).

Cardio Strip Tease is just one of many unique classes at Crunch: "B-Yoga," where break-dancing meets yoga; "Bring It On," cardio cheerleading based on the movie of the same name; "X-Boxing," cardio moves based on popular video games; "Hip Hop Hatha," traditional yoga poses mixed with other poses inspired by rap culture; "Diva," a class dedicated to a different diva each week, complete with costume changes by the instructor.

While some club-goers seem to flock to all this flash and spectacle, Holland sees such classes as little more than ploys to get on the news, not necessarily workouts for the masses. It seems the more complicated classes or exercise regimens become, often the less effective they are.

"I think people are so discouraged and so misled that, inevitably, it has to go back to what works," Holland says. "And what works is the basic stuff…Unfortunately, a squat's a squat, and a push-up's a push-up."

People may eventually return to the basics, but Holland says science will play a bigger role in the future. With heart-rate monitors now selling for under $50, people can monitor their workouts more closely. As the technology becomes cheaper, expect health clubs to incorporate high-tech body-fat measurements and body scans into their membership packages.

"I think we will get more scientific, where you will know your body fat and know many more things about your body and chemistry so you can really quantify your results," Holland says.

Ticker Tinglers

According to IHRSA, the fastest growing segment of the health-club population is people over the age 55; there were 6.9 million of them in 2002. They also happen to be the group most likely to have heart disease. When you factor in that sudden cardiac arrest can often occur during or right after exercise, you've got a potentially deadly situation.

That's why more and more health clubs are installing automated external defibrillators (AEDs). Everyone's seen defibrillators in movies and on TV—the doctor yells "Clear!" then shocks a person in cardiac arrest back to life. The defibrillators used by doctors and EMTs are more complicated (and costly) than this new breed, which require little maintenance or training to use.

The Federal Occupational Health office states that AEDs are classified as class III medical devices, meaning their sale is restricted to physicians or on the order of a physician. To get one, you'll need a prescription and some medical oversight, but neither is a major obstacle if you're a health club.

AEDs range in price from about $1,300 to upwards of $4,000. But can you really put a price on something that could literally save someone's life? For more information of AEDs and AED programs, visit www.foh.dhhs.gov and www.cardioready.com.