Feature Article - November 2013
Find a printable version here

Fit With the Trends

Updating Fitness Offerings to Meet Everyone's Needs

By Dawn Klingensmith

Programming for the Ages

When it comes to programming, Tharrett deems barre classes not only popular but "important"—there are boutique studios that offer nothing but, and most major chains offer classes. Another fitness trend involves combining what might seem like opposing exercises, like yoga and aerobics. For example, Cy-Yo combines yoga and speed cycling.

Zumba, along with its various knockoffs and copycats, is still holding on, Tharrett said. However, it hasn't held onto a Top 20 slot on the ACSM's annual list of fitness trends. Although it ranked No. 9 in 2012, Thompson never saw Zumba as a trend: "I predicted it was a fad and, sure enough, it fell off the list in 2013. I've been watching fads for a long time. Whatever you see on late-night infomercials between Halloween and the first of February won't last long."

Due in part to the extra equipment and certification it requires, "Pilates slipped and slipped and slipped and fell off the list in 2011," Thompson said.

Stability balls are rolling into obsolescence as well, he added: "They fell off the list about the same time. Now, if you see them in the gym, they're off in the corner."

One trend that's still going strong is fitness programming for older adults. Programming aimed at children and teens also remains popular. Baby boomers have discretionary income and a willingness to invest in their health, Thompson said, so fitness clubs should capitalize on this growing market by providing age-appropriate exercise programs in an age-appropriate atmosphere. "Some of the really smart for-profit commercial health clubs across the country are using the dead zone to offer programming for the elderly and afternoon programs for kids," Thompson said, adding that the "dead zone" consists of those bleak mid-morning and mid-afternoon periods when "nobody shows up."

At some clubs, the entire atmosphere changes between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. to create an inviting atmosphere for older patrons—so much so that "it's almost unrecognizable," Thompson said.

Parks and recreation facilities have done a better job catering to kids, but commercial fitness centers are finally following their lead, offering dedicated kid zones and kid-friendly programming. In fact, in districts that no longer teach physical education, commercial clubs are sending personal trainers to schools to offer optional fitness programs. The school supplies the facilities (a gymnasium, playground or sports field), and parents pay the fee.

Facility Design Trends

Notwithstanding the no-frills "boxes" that house most budget gyms, many newer fitness centers are designed with lots of windows to allow natural light into the space—unless the fishbowl effect is a concern to their target audience. This design element enhances the use of large open spaces in modern fitness facilities. "We see a lot of open space these days because it's more welcoming. If you cram the space with equipment, it looks intimidating and overwhelming," Wilcox said, adding that vibrant colors "are huge" as a design element, and that invigorating colors are taking the place of soothing spa-like hues.

"Smells, colors, visuals—these are all important," she added. "If you walk into a dark dingy gym and it's hard to see, there's lots of metal and it smells, you won't spend a lot of time there. You have to cater to the senses."

Open space is desirable not just for aesthetics and atmosphere but also for programming flexibility. Patrons need free space for certain parts of their workout, such as planks. Trainers need roomy sections for small-group and functional fitness instruction. Open, unallocated space allows clubs and their patrons to change things up.