Feature Article - March 2009
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Shaping Up

Staying on Top of Fitness Trends

By Dawn Klingensmith

Spotting the Next Big Thing

In summary, ACE's survey found that boot-camp-style workouts, which ranked as the No. 1 workout in 2008, will remain a top fitness trend throughout 2009. Additionally, the wimpy economy will force consumers to spend less on staying fit—and since boot-camp workouts are considerably cheaper than one-on-one personal training, they might top the list in 2010, as well.

"The overarching theme for fitness in 2009 is getting more bang for the buck," ACE's Chief Science Officer Cedric X. Bryant said in a written statement. "Consumers will engage in workouts that provide multiple benefits due to time and economic limitations."

Expect to see innovative, out-of-the-box programming and a sharper focus on fitness for the over-50 demographic, as well, Bryant added.

We'll revisit specific trends later. First, let's ask some industry trend-spotters how to tell whether an emerging exercise program or piece of equipment is going to be the next big thing—or the next big flop.

Mike Willis, fitness director of Lindenhurst Health & Fitness Club, a hospital-affiliated facility in Lake Forest, Ill., stays ahead of the curve by sending staff to conferences, workshops and trade shows. "We also tour (equipment manufacturing plants) to see prototypes intended for the marketplace," he said. "We visit other Chicago-area clubs, too."

When it comes to implementing the latest trends, it's all about quickness and agility, Willis said. Don't be afraid to go out on a limb. However, if that limb does not bear fruit in the form of increased participation and revenues, act fast to prune it.

"Clubs often wait too long to stop providing services not in demand and are slow to begin using trends," Willis said, adding that his four criteria for assessing a trend's potential are whether it has a defined purpose and is safe, effective and fun.

Leveraging a trend effectively involves recognizing when to discontinue the program if the trend slows or members stop using it.

"If boot camp or Zumba (a cardio class based on Latin dance moves) were to become unpopular, we'd swiftly replace the class with something more appealing," Willis said. "Member surveys, comment cards and participation levels tell us what is popular."

Though quick to adopt trends that show promise, Willis deliberates longer when implementation would cost a lot up front. For example, "When we talk about large capital equipment purchases, it is important that we see the piece as a trend with staying power," he said.

Having made that assessment, but faced with budget constraints, "Community recreation centers and smaller facilities could get away with buying fewer pieces of equipment and sharing it in a group fitness class—they would just need to design a workout that is more circuit-like to take turns on the equipment that is available," suggested Marc Santa Maria, a regional director of group fitness for Crunch. He and the fitness chain are based in New York City.

As far as cardiovascular machines go, "Not much changed since the elliptical was added," Willis said. Treadmills, upright and recumbent bikes, elliptical machines, stair steppers and rowing machines are the mainstays. But with the addition of technological and ergonomic features, cardio equipment is evolving, he added.

That brings us to one of three overarching trends for 2009—the marriage of fitness and technology.