Feature Article - November 2012
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Fitness Gets Personal

Find Your Niche(s) and Stand Out

By Julie Knudson

New and Infrequent Exercisers

Newbies are hardly a recent phenomenon in the exercise world, but the attention they're receiving from fitness centers has increased in recent years. It's something the team at Rye YMCA is investing significant energy in through their Group Active classes. "We want to make sure people get back on track," Ivan said of the center's infrequent exerciser program.

It can be a tough hill to climb, because the challenges usually start before participants even come through the door. "One of the things we battle with our health seekers is that people are intimidated walking into the gym," she explained. Simple but profound distress often keeps people away. "They don't want to be embarrassed in front of other people that are already better at it," Ivan said.

The Group Active classes are what Ivan called "an open door," and are designed to get people started. "It's going to be at your own pace, and the instructors are specifically prepared to offer modifications for every exercise," she said. Class size is based on room capacity, which can sometimes reach 25 people. Sessions are typically held several times throughout the week, so "there are plenty of opportunities for people," Ivan said.

A wellness coordinator is also available to help members plot out a roadmap that identifies intelligent goals, but also provides a realistic picture of where the member is and what it will take to achieve success. "People need to understand this is not a magic bullet," Ivan said. "You don't join the Y and in two months you'll have the body you always wanted. We don't try to pretend otherwise." This real-world approach helps participants focus on developing healthy habits while preventing them from becoming discouraged in the early days of their program.

Making new exercisers comfortable is also a primary objective for the team in Albuquerque. Saavedra said they focus on providing orientations that "familiarize all different abilities and experience types to the fitness world." Not only does this approach encourage new participants to become acclimated to equipment they've likely never used before, it's also a good way to ensure they're exercising in a safe and effective manner. Orientations are even available on free weights, something centers occasionally overlook. "It's especially important for people who are beginners, or who have never been in an exercise environment before," Saavedra said.

The design and layout of the facilities was something Baker knew would set the tone for new participants. "I wanted one of the first gyms we built and designed ourselves to be a beginner gym," she said.

One feature newbies appreciate is really the lack of something very often associated with gyms—mirrors. "I don't have mirrors on the walls," Baker said. The equipment choice was also driven by the need to make new exercisers feel comfortable and successful. "We have a full range of cardio and strength training equipment, but we keep it basic," she said. Orientations are also basic, so those not used to the gym environment don't feel overwhelmed.