Feature Article - March 2007
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Running the Trend Mill

The ever-evolving workout world

By Emily Tipping

Targeted training

The one-size-fits-all fitness center is a thing of the past, at least among upscale clientele. Palumbo said he's seen a trend toward more niche-type developments in fitness clubs in the past five to 10 years.

"People are associating certain brands with certain types of consumers," he said. "As the marketplace grows, there are opportunities for brands to serve a niche and therefore when it happens, if they do it well, they're able to create a better consumer experience for their target market."

Elements itself is a niche player for 35- to 65-year-old women, seeking to offer its clients a single location to meet their health, fitness and diet needs. Each club offers customized fitness programming, ranging from circuit workouts to Pilates and yoga, as well as diet and nutrition plans that are tailored to each client's needs. Its offerings are not generic, and Palumbo feels that's critical.

"We're seeing a more sophisticated consumer who wants a more tailored solution," he said. "We incorporate total wellness, customized by each consumer, not the club."

Elements targets its market well. The strength equipment in the clubs, for example, progresses in 1-pound increments, letting exercisers build their progress gradually, and also reinforcing that progress. It also works well for women, whose strength gains might take place in smaller increments.

At other fitness facilities, it's not about tailoring the entire facility to a specific market. Rather, it's about providing targeted programming. For example, at the National Fitness Centers/Court South in Knoxville, Tenn., the Forever Fit courses are designed for the over-50 crowd that's just beginning to exercise. The course incorporates low-impact aerobics and some resistance training. But the club doesn't stop there.

According to Jennifer Vance, group fitness director, the club offers classes targeted for seniors, kids, and prenatal and postnatal women, among others. "Another program is a mommy-and-me kind of thing, with a mom and a child up to age 3, which is when they would start the kids' program."

The American Council on Exercise (ACE) reports that a focus on youth programming will be a key trend in fitness facilities this year. And the 2006 IDEA Fitness Program & Equipment Survey revealed that more than 60 percent of respondents offer specific services for children and teens.

Frank Parisi of Williams Architects has seen this trend in practice. "A lot of these facilities are including programs for youth fitness," he said. "Usually kids have to be at least 15 to take part in the fitness programming, but they're now organizing programs that have a combination of options for kids and preteens."

Of course, even if you offer fitness programming for kids, that doesn't mean they'll show up for class. The same IDEA survey revealed that only 9 percent of respondents had members or clients 18 years old or younger.

Vance said that recruiting kids can be a problem, despite the fact that most parents are aware of the growing problem of childhood obesity. "In this area, it has not completely come out that kids have got to start exercising," she said. "There's awareness everywhere, but we don't have a lot of participation. It's growing, and it's bigger than it's ever been."