Feature Article - March 2008
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Fit to Be Hip

A Look at the Latest Fitness Trends

By Dana Carman

One Size Does Not Fit All

In the old days, it was the gym was the gym was the gym. But no more. Gyms are health clubs, spas, social clubs, family clubs—often attempting to wrap all those things into one. With more niche markets, it's a natural progression to see clubs and studios catering to those markets popping up.

"There's a big underlying theme that we're calling customization," said Jim Zahniser, public relations manager for a leading equipment manufacturer. "Even within the type of clubs there are, there's a much more diverse mix of offerings."

Zahniser lists a few: 24-hour clubs, women's-only clubs (e.g., Curves), teen clubs, high-end clubs, no-frills clubs. And the list goes on.

"You're seeing a lot more individualization of the experience," Zahniser said. "We're seeing the large chains develop products or niche services to meet different needs."

One of those needs can be found at higher-end clubs that offer spa-type services and atmosphere. At Almaden Valley Athletic Club, the locker room is "incredibly luxurious," according to General Manager Sue Davis. It features Italian tile, Jacuzzis, steam rooms and saunas. The club also offers several types of massage. "For our demographics, it's very important," she said.

On the other end, Zahniser said no-services clubs and anytime fitness clubs are seeing growth. "People can come in and do what they want," he explained.

In all settings, however, one approach that has become universal is offering users a side of entertainment and/or technology with their fitness. While seeing televisions in the clubs is nothing new, it's becoming more and more common to find single pieces of equipment with televisions mounted on them for more personal viewing. Some new equipment is iPod-compatible, while other machines, such as a new line Almaden just purchased, can be programmed to a user's individual workouts and stored on a "Smart Key."

ACE reports that technology-based workouts are big with "consumers choosing to use downloadable programs to iPods, PDAs, etc."

Utilizing technology to assess current health and fitness levels is also a popular tool. "People can take advantage of various levels of technology," Bryant said. "Like in the area of weight control, where many people are motivated by body fat and can get better estimates of metabolism so they can come up with a plan for how many calories they should consume so they can maintain caloric balance."

But it's not just technology that people crave—they want to get lost in the movement, literally.

Nothing serves as a better distraction than television. Donna Cyrus, senior vice president of programming for Crunch Fitness, said that for its demographic, which tends to skew on the younger side, entertainment is huge.

"We like to merge entertainment with fitness," she said. In addition to Cardio Theater, Crunch has stationary bikes that feature virtual environments, where riders can ride side-by-side with a friend, race against a "ghost," change terrain and more. Another bike launches the Internet when you pedal. These options, says Cyrus, "make people feel like they're managing time and have the fun factor."

New equipment options may increase the exercise-meets-entertainment value even more. One stationary bike that made its debut in the fall of 2007 allows riders to play an interactive video game, racking up points as they ride—and sweat. Alternately, riders can simply pedal their way through dozens of different landscapes, ranging in level of difficulty.