Feature Article - March 2005
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Fresh Fitness Checkup

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

By Kyle Ryan

Computerized workout software

The IDEA survey showed that only 16 percent of fitness clubs use workout-tracking systems, but few people expect that number to remain: Of the places that use computerized workout tracking, 52 percent think its usage will grow.

"In some ways, I'm surprised that it already hasn't become more prevalent," Davis says, "but there must be something that is, you know, some kind of stumbling block."

Cost could be tripping up a lot of managers, as computer systems can be prohibitively expensive. They're also relatively new; IDEA only has numbers going back to 2002. High cost plus the systems' newness equals a lot of managers in "wait and see" mode.


Pilates continues its blitzkrieg on the fitness world, with IDEA's survey showing a 53 percent increase in the number of facilities offering Pilates programs, up from 10 percent in 1997 to 63 percent in 2004.

"I never would have guessed that 15 years ago," Davis says.

The quick ascent of Pilates surprised a lot of people, sending many health clubs scrambling to capitalize on the cash cow that is Joseph Pilates' legacy. People may not know what it is or how to pronounce it, but they want it. Clubs have bought equipment, trained instructors and created programming, from one-on-one sessions to group-exercise classes to fusion classes like yogalates and water Pilates.

"It's almost like mind-body on steroids," Catlin says. "We've got to take it to the next level."

While Catlin speaks of avoiding a plateau, Holland thinks more than a plateau is in store for Pilates. In the stock market, an excessively bullish market can be followed by a steep downturn called a correction. Pilates may be due for one.

"The gym that I work at turned one whole room that used to be just for every different type of exercise class and devoted it solely to Pilates," Holland says. "There were enough people obviously to justify that, but they also kind of disenfranchised a huge part of the gym population, and I thought that was a mistake. I knew it was only a matter of time; when people don't lose weight from doing Pilates, that's going to stop."

Holland often recommends Pilates to clients as a third or fourth component of their program.

"I think it's great; I just think it's been mislabeled," he says, adding he doubts it will ever completely disappear. "[It won't be] out, but it won't have this incredible, ridiculous popularity."

Not surprisingly, the rush to incorporate Pilates into everything has led to some inadequate training of instructors. Until 2000, Pilates was trademarked, but a New York court overturned that, and the floodgates opened. Reports of injuries continually reach the offices of the Pilates Method Alliance, a nonprofit professional association that serves as a clearinghouse of Pilates information. The group will launch a Pilates Method instructor-certification test in August (see Calming the Storm sidebar).

"Everybody wants to jump on the newest bandwagon and become an expert on the newest piece of equipment overnight," Catlin says. "It's just like people who want to become Pilates trained in a weekend. They want to teach kickboxing after a weekend workshop. They want to teach a yoga class after a week's training. That's where the danger is."

Even if managers take their time before investing in new, flashy equipment, it can still backfire.

"It's nothing without the staying power to go with it," Catlin says. "If you buy a product because it's cool and it's the newest thing, but there's no programming behind it, it's not going to have staying power."

Good programming comes from a good staff, which will help new equipment reach its potential.

"They get [new equipment] in there, but they don't get trained on how to use them, then they don't get used," Catlin says. "It's nothing without training to go with it—and continual training."

The responsibility for that continual training may rest on the equipment manufacturers themselves.

"The onus is not falling on the instructors and the trainers," Catlin says. "Now the people who are developing the products are realizing it's their responsibility to fund the education, so that's almost like a product in itself."