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

Fitness Groupies

In the '80s we had aerobics, the forerunner of today's group fitness programs, which are, in places like The Sports Club/LA in Beverly Hills, Calif., dancing the night and day away with such current favorites as "Burlesque" or taking ideas from favorite sports and putting them into a choreographed group experience like "Indo-Row."

"Now it's an evolution, not so much a revolution," said Nanette Pattee Francini, president and cofounder of the Sports Club Company. "One of our latest is Indo-Row, which is really popular because people like sports in a group setting, like Spinning."

Indo-Row, which is so popular, in fact, that the facility built a special studio for it, finds its appeal in that it is not only sport-based and burns a tremendous amount of calories, but its group experience emulates the synchronized, gliding effect of an effective crew team, tapping into people's desire to connect with those around them.

Hot classes like Burlesque are an example of the dance-as-exercise craze, which is sashaying its way into every programming lineup across the country. At innovative fitness facilities like Crunch Fitness, Cardio-Striptease is joined by Ballroom Blitz and versions of belly dancing and tap.

With inspirational ideas stemming from Broadway shows, TV shows and movies, Crunch Fitness Senior Vice President of Programming Donna Cyrus believes it's all about creating exciting and entertaining programming. Inspiration, she says, can come from anywhere if you just look around. Her own personal inspiration comes from three categories: dance, chill out and action sports, which she then pairs with one or more aspects of strength, cardio or flexibility.

Asking members what they like also can lead to an array of fusion possibilities from Country Music-Kick Boxing to Punk-Pilates. Only boredom is the enemy.

Intelligent design

What if machines could simply adapt to each user without being told? Having machines identify each user, know what their workout history looks like and what their settings need to be for the next workout, is certainly one more dramatic step toward streamlining the process.

Some designs going back to the early '90s are still very effective and do just that by having a user enter a multi-digit personal code into each piece of equipment in order to track individual workouts. Such user-friendly designs increase user motivation, simplify the workout process and take the intimidation and guesswork out of the new-user experience.

In Japan, a controversial but logical next step in this equipment revolution is the introduction of the RFID wristband, a device that can handle everything from checking in and out of a facility to communicating personal workout information to each piece of equipment as the user approaches. Like the automatic communication that gets us through tolls more easily on the highway, these systems for fitness centers handle a cashless payment process as well. It remains to be seen whether they will ultimately migrate out of Japan's fitness facilities into their stateside counterparts.

Then there's simply the matter of square footage. Equipment is getting smaller, and fewer pieces are required to achieve a full-body workout. That is impacting the amount of space required in fitness facilities, which used to have to dole out far more square footage for cardiovascular and strength training equipment. And that's good news as more studio space than ever is being used for the kaleidoscope of group activities coloring the ever-changing fitness landscape.

That's not to suggest that all equipment is going the way of the universal user. By contrast, some pieces are becoming more specialized. As kids enter the market, more equipment is geared to making exercise a byproduct of fun. Dance competition games allow users to follow dance routines, virtual-reality games have kids jumping, dodging and ducking before a screen, and interactive bikes create a racing game experience.

Meanwhile, on the other end of the user spectrum, the senior market is experiencing equipment designed specifically for their needs. Large-text instructions and controls, extra-comfortable seating and aspects that underscore low-impact, back-supporting and ergonomic features abound.

Users with specific impairments can enjoy specialized equipment features as well. The visually impaired are aided with such features as tactile buttons, audio instructions, large graphics or text and color-contrasted pieces of equipment. Wheelchair users have equipment such as treadmills and strength-training circuits designed to accommodate the wheelchair.