Feature Article - February 2015
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Fit to Be Tried

New Trends in Fitness Programming

By Joe Bush

Pete McCall thinks that there will be a domino effect of the trends Thompson speaks of. McCall, a former national director of education for a health club chain, speaker, consultant and science officer at the Institute of Motion, said as health clubs adapt to the movement toward natural movement and body weight training, they will draw people from the boutique fitness businesses that capitalized on the small-group personal training trend.

Larger clubs will save money on large equipment, he said, shifting the savings to ropes and kettlebells and even artificial turf in larger spaces once occupied by equipment. In that space could be tires, even weighted sleds, in place of traditional fitness equipment.

"Health club operators are getting a little more savvy and a lot more are putting in CrossFit type workout spaces," said McCall, who also blogs at the website of the American Council of Exercise. "They need to make space for people to move. A lot of clubs have started to listen to the market; people don't want to sit down at machines for an hour, they want to come in and be challenged. If clubs are willing to make that investment and take a risk to move equipment out, get rid of 10 treadmills, and create a space for people to move, it's one way they can be with or be ahead of the trend.

"As health clubs create that extra space, why would (a consumer) want to pay one studio for this and one studio for that when you could have a membership for a multi-use facility and have it all under one roof?"

In addition, money previously spent on equipment should be invested in making sure training staff is well versed in the newly popular forms of exercise.

"A lot of facilities lease equipment on three- to five-year contracts," McCall said. "Move some of that money to kettlebells, jungle gym and medicine balls and see how your members like it. The trick is having the trainers who know how to use them properly. Instead of spending $80,000 on equipment, it might be $20,000 on equipment and another $2,500 to $5,000 for a couple of workshops to get the trainers up to speed."

Melissa Rodriguez, a senior research manager with the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA) said consumer data in the IHRSA Health Club Consumer Report shows that roughly 48 percent of group exercise participants do yoga (10 million people) and 40 percent (8.5 million) indicate that they participate in high impact group exercise (8.5 million).

The same report shows that personal training, both private and small group, remains popular; 13.5 percent of health club members (7.1 million) use a personal trainer. Rodriguez said generational preferences should be paid close attention, as well as the growing use of technology in fitness.

"We've seen some trends that are a repackaging or an extension of longstanding activities and some impacted by surrounding factors, like technology," she said. "We still see functional training, fitness technology and group-based exercise/training as strong trends. Some of these are evident in extreme cross-training style activities, fitness trackers, mobile apps with workouts/programs, personal training and group-based activities, inside and outside of the club."

Rodriguez doesn't see certain exercises as waxing and waning as much as demographic shifts from activity to activity. She said the IHRSA Health Club Consumer Seasonal Trend Report fall edition shows that baby boomers tend to engage in aerobics and resistance machines while millennials do yoga and bodyweight training.

"It looks like what you grow up with has an impact on what you participate in for exercise throughout your life," Rodriguez said. "Club operators can benefit from this development by designing programs and messaging specific to generational groups, which savvy managers already do."

These same managers need to study how consumers are incorporating technology, both traditional and wearable, into their fitness regimen. Websites and mobile apps help with nutrition, workouts, data gathering and analysis; social media motivates and raises awareness and broadcasts accomplishments.

Club operators and trainers can embrace this independence, rather than fight it, meshing consumers' increasing familiarity with technology into their programming.

"Consumers can use fitness trackers, including and beyond heart rate monitors, stream workouts online or via mobile phone, and access an online membership portal to hold them accountable to their goals," Rodriguez said. "Some clubs have integrated fitness tracking capability into their programs or offered equipment that can sync up with heart rate and activity tracking devices.