Feature Article - February 2015
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Fit to Be Tried

New Trends in Fitness Programming

By Joe Bush

"For clubs that develop online membership portals and smartphone apps, they can continue connecting with members outside of the club and encourage them to stay focused on exercise and healthy choices. Rather than interfering with personal training business, fitness professionals and program directors can integrate fitness trackers and mobile apps into their business/department to keep clients engaged and accountable."

In 2013 participation in alternative races, like obstacle and mud events, topped participation in half marathons and marathons combined. Much of the popularity is attributed to the organizers of these events leveraging social media. Rodriguez said club operators and trainers can also engage with this phenomenon.

"The rise of social media and outdoor activities like running, obstacle racing and similar events have contributed to the group-based and community approach to exercise," she said. "So there are online and offline running and athletic groups and clubs and social media outlets, as well as online forums, all used to keep group members engaged. In response, club operators and fitness directors are designing training programs to help members stay in shape for activities outside of the club as well as cultivating a presence on social media."

There's another trend in fitness that's technology-based, and that's on-demand fitness classes. Simply, facility users can choose from a library of classes on video through a kiosk, then exercise along with it. Additional features include data analysis and schedule management for operators. Garrett Marshall, development director for a Chanhassen, Minn.-based provider of this type of service to health clubs, university and park district rec centers, YMCAs and more, said everyone wins with a product like his company's.

The consumer can work out any time the club is open to fit his or her schedule, the club gets business at all hours, without using live instructors, and with a web portal dashboard, can analyze and control all aspects of the product's use.

"[It] provides you with the capability to make better cost/benefit decisions for your fitness department, which translates into potential savings or earnings," Marshall said. "Since it's digital it's capturing analytical information, what types of classes, who are attending those classes, and that applies to live programming as well as video classes that are prescheduled or classes that get played on demand at 9 p.m. with a skeleton crew or no staff in the facility at all.

"If you're looking at the income statement of the fitness operator it's one of the more expensive departments of the club to run and one of the most challenging departments to run because of supply and demand. You've got different demand at different times of the year. It's constantly changing. It's labor-intensive with managing instructors, it's cost-intensive because of the salaries that are associated with instructors, and if they're not driving a steady attendance to their class then that cost is working against you as an operator, so by capturing all that digital information it provides our operators with a tool they can use to really make the process of managing that department effective."

The importance of trainers in the new open-space, less-equipment, functional-training world cannot be overlooked.

Erin McGirr of a Rhode Island-based fitness equipment distributor focused on functional training, rehabilitation and sports performance is on the front lines of what clubs are ordering and programming; her company has started helping facilities design their spaces as well as selling equipment.

McGirr backs up what all the studies say: Open space is being filled with unusual and new items, like MoveStrong functional training stations for multiple users to perform functional and body weight training exercises. Personal trainers educated in this format can serve several clients at once, McGirr said.

"A couple years ago we saw one or two of those at IHRSA (trade show), and now it seems that every company has a version of a functional training station," McGirr said. "Besides saving space, you're able to get more people in and using that piece of equipment at one time, so now you're training more people in an hour as opposed to one-on-one training."

McGirr said the importance of trainers in the new open-space, less-equipment, functional-training world cannot be overlooked. They need to stay up-to-date on trends in general and understand their clients in particular.

"A lot of it's going to come down to programming," said McGirr, who has also been an exercise physiologist and a strength coach. "You can have one person looking for fat loss, one person that's a weekend warrior, one looking for general fitness, and everyone's going to be on different fitness levels.

"From a trainer's perspective, they need to be flexible enough to know what they can and can't do. Everyone should not be on a cookie-cutter based program in my opinion, and if you're getting a program based on what you need, no matter who's running it, if somebody's sick or somebody needs time off or somebody can't make it into work that day, your clients aren't going to suffer from having someone different run that because you're keeping everything routine based on what you're going to run that day."