Feature Article - November 2007
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Survival of the Fitness

Adapt to Evolving Fitness Trends and Demographics—or Be Left Behind

By Kelli Anderson

Special programming

According to the top 10 fitness trend predictions for 2007 by the American Council on Exercise (ACE), a nonprofit organization based in San Diego, Calif., programming will provide more specialized classes both for older and younger users. Citing expanded fitness programs for seniors as its number-one prediction, the report emphasizes the need for classes that condition those parts of the body to fight osteoarthritis and osteoporosis and that lower the risk of injury and enhance quality of life.

You need only peruse the latest fitness information posted by the AARP to witness the proliferation of programs targeting an audience eager to increase flexibility, strength and bone mass or to reduce pain. Modified forms of Pilates, yoga and a whole host of exercise videos promise regimens that keep older adults' special physical needs and health goals in mind.

Listed as a close second and third, ACE underscores the importance of specialized programming for youth, as well. Small group training classes for five or fewer individuals are ideal for families wanting a fitness experience that is both fun and demonstrates the importance of fitness as a part of daily life to their children.

Probably the most significant increase in children's programming, however, is found in those classes created as a direct response to parents' desire to help combat the obesity epidemic in their children. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, kids now watch an average of 5 1/2 hours of combined media every day—far more sedentary activity than is healthy—prompting concerned parents to fight back.

Resistance is not futile

Resistance training, once thought to be harmful to kids' developing musculoskeletal system, is now understood to be beneficial, thanks to studies and research conducted by such experts as Wayne Prescott, Ph.D. Classes using colorful fun and games combined with bands, tubes, medicine balls and light free weights are ideal for kids of all ages.

Programming for kids often includes education about nutrition while making sure activities focus on essentials like endurance, flexibility or strength training. An exercise game for younger children, ages 6 to 9, as an example used by ACE, instructs children to hop, skip or run around a ring of chairs while music plays. When the music stops, they quickly find a vacant chair that has resistance equipment and instructions in the seat for them to follow.

If you thought this version of musical chairs seems to hearken back to the days of childhood yore, you'd be right. Programming in general is getting back to the basics, by many accounts, but with a hefty helping of fun. Dance classes of all kinds, basic step, hi-lo aerobics and sculpting classes, to name just a few, are "basics" finding their way back into the masses' good graces.

But basic good fun is not the only incentive bringing people through the doors. "Rewards training" is a concept also having its day in the sun.

"Kids get points for each piece of equipment," Schliebe said of his kids' rewards training. "We give away a huge gift each six months for the person who's worked the hardest, whether it's losing weight or getting into shape for a sport. First prize is a helicopter ride over the city."

Rewards for adults get even bigger. Some have been known to win an exotic vacation trip, while others are a more logical outgrowth of the programming activity. Do you provide a Broadway dance class? Offer participants a chance to win tickets to see a Broadway show. Class participants can also work toward a common goal like running in a 10K.