Feature Article - November 2009
Find a printable version here

Fit(ness) Designs

Meeting a Growing Need

By Jessica Royer Ocken

Fitness Beginners

Design solutions: "When you walk in, we didn't want the exercise areas to overwhelm someone who had never been to a gym before," explained Rob Bishop of Elevations Health Club in Scranton, Pa., a facility that was extensively retooled starting in 2005. "It's almost like a hotel lobby—non-intimidating, not high energy and a friendly staff," he said. "Then we give a tour where we gradually introduce the exercise areas."

If your goal is to make your gym inviting to former couch-dwellers, try to format the building so they're not hit over the head with everything they haven't been doing the moment they arrive.

Alternately, you can "design" your fitness offerings to meet new exercise converts where they're likely to be found: workplaces. In recent years the YMCA in Kansas City has stopped building big-box facilities. Now they pair smaller gyms and sports centers with onsite activities in corporate spaces from fitness centers to converted conference rooms. "This is something that has really picked up over the last couple years," Haines said. "Businesses are more interested in a healthier workforce, and employees' time at work has increased. By bringing programs to them onsite—lectures or group classes or individual sessions—we can adapt to the individual…. It looks different at each location."

Essential equipment: When working with beginners, "the big trend is moving away from equipment and using more resistance bands and medicine balls because they're not as intimidating," said ACE's McCall. Many health clubs are trying to open up floor space so there's more room to move and exercise dynamically. But open floor space and people new to exercise won't get much done on their own, and machines can be excellent assistants to those learning how to get fit. "Provide tools for trainers to work with clients, so clients can learn to do a program and use your equipment on their own," suggested McCall.

Programming potential: The ideal activity for a new exerciser is likely an introduction. The YMCA offers "one program for all our new members, but it's nice for this particular person, who we consider a health seeker—wanting to make a lifestyle change but doesn't know how, or has been told by their doctor to do so," Haines said.

The Y Fit program is a series of four appointments in 12 weeks, which begins with a health history and discussion of exercise likes and dislikes, as well as setting some goals. "It's a baseline starting point with one-on-one discussion and lots of listening to help them find best path for them," Haines explained. The second appointment comes shortly thereafter and is designed to move the new member down the fitness path they've selected. "If they like water fitness, we introduce them to the pool and the aquatics director and instructor," he said. "If they want to do strength training, we help them develop a program and find the equipment that best suits them." The third meeting is a check-in to see whether the person is meeting set goals, find out if changes are needed, and make modifications as necessary. Then, after 12 weeks—hopefully 12 weeks of working out—the final meeting revisits the initial assessment from the first session and measures change in areas including blood pressure, strength and flexibility. "There may be not as much success as they'd like, so we try to motivate and reenergize them," Haines said. "Lifestyle change doesn't happen overnight, and support makes a big difference."

McCall agrees and added that a big part of what the ACE teaches personal trainers is how to help people change their behavior and attitudes before they get into a regular exercise program. "People come in that haven't exercised for 10 or 15 years, and they now want to do it every day," he said. "Don't set that goal. Set a realistic goal. Try two or three times a week for 20 minutes to start…. They don't need to come in and do a boot camp. People don't gain 20 pounds in four weeks, so they're not going to lose it that way."