Feature Article - February 2016
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On an Upward Trend

The Latest in Fitness Can Make Your Facility More Effective

By Jessica Royer Ocken

The word "trendy" may bring ridiculous things to mind—like jeggings for men or oxygen bars or competitive hot dog eating. But when considered thoughtfully and in light of your own particular circumstances, the latest trends in fitness can be a great guide for keeping your programming and facilities fresh, current, and as effective and engaging to users as they can possibly be. (The same cannot be said of jeggings under any circumstances.)

Evidence of their importance: Lots of fitness-industry experts keep an eye on these trends and even measure them themselves. Over time, these most popular phenomena drive new products, new partnerships and new companies. For example, the Fitness Design Group Consultancy, in business 20 years, has created Aktiv Dynamic Training Solutions, a division focused on the latest in exercise spaces. In addition, a quick Internet search reveals the wealth of fitness-oriented apps and online workouts that are always just a few clicks away.

We've sifted through these industry reports and spoken to the experts to offer you some big-picture insights and tips. We hope you'll be inspired by these trends to improve the way you serve your members in 2016 and beyond.

Insight #1—Exercise as an Experience

Rather than viewing exercise as something to slide into a solitary timeslot during busy days, or something to check off the list before getting to more-fun opportunities, people are coming to see it as something that can be social and enjoyed with others. Growing stronger, fitter, more focused and less stressed can be an integral part of their lifestyle and an enhancement to other activities, not something separate.

To that end, fitness seekers want "a unique exercise experience that allows them to connect with other like-minded individuals," wrote American Council on Exercise (ACE) health and fitness expert Pete McCall in a recent blog post. This can be as much about motivation as conversation.

Fitness seekers want a unique exercise experience that allows them to connect with other like-minded individuals.

Over the past few years, much of the fitness industry's growth has been in the area of smaller, specialized gyms and studios, notes the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association (IHRSA) in its 2015-16 Health Club Industry Data report. This is because they're "centered on a particular community of people with similar passions, and provide a high-touch, personalized environment." IHRSA has identified successful specialized facilities as including boxing, yoga, barre classes, indoor cycling, CrossFit, and mixed martial arts (MMA).

But that's not to say these activities only thrive in boutique spaces. Specialized programming and class offerings can be popular at larger health clubs and community centers as well. Dance-based exercise classes like Zumba have attracted lots of participants in all sorts of locations, and as outdoor events like boot camps and obstacle courses and other themed races become more popular, they're creating this community-and-experience atmosphere beyond the gym, IHRSA reports.

There are a few other trends within the "exercise as experience" movement, as well. As can be noted by the popular specialized workouts mentioned above, exercise that focuses more on body movement and less on particular equipment has piqued public interest. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) lists body weight training (which uses minimal equipment and goes far beyond push-ups and pull-ups) as its No. 2 trend to watch for 2016. Between 2010 and 2012, equipment use declined 16 percent as functional and body weight training gained traction in fitness centers, IHRSA reports. However, hand weights and dumbbells remain widely used because of their flexibility and use in popular group classes and specialized training methods.

Functional training, a related approach to exercise focused on enhanced everyday movement and strength, "is an effective method of building strength, coordination, movement confidence and cardiovascular fitness because it trains us for the way we live," explained Erica Tillinghast, global education manager for a Woodinville, Wash.-based fitness equipment manufacturer. "Training for life, or our favorite sport, requires us to expose our bodies to new training stimuli." In other words, not just the same old 30 minutes on the treadmill or repetitions in the weight room.

In line with this thinking, the ACSM survey also found that high-intensity interval training (HIIT)—which combines short bursts of exercise with quick recovery periods and generally is completed in 30 minutes or less—will continue to be popular, as will strength training and the services of experienced fitness experts.

That last part makes sense; as users demand more specialized workouts, they need experts to guide them to and through the experiences they seek (because it's all about the experience, remember?). Professionals certified by ACE or ACSM or other accredited agencies not only keep customers challenged and safe, they can use their specialized knowledge to create programs and experiences tailored to their clients' needs and interests, explained Anthony Wall, ACE's director of professional education.

However, being aware of trends in the industry is just the start. The real value comes in finding ways to translate an area of growing interest or changing focus into something practically applicable at your own fitness center. So here are some expert thoughts on the ways "exercise as experience" could be infused into programming and facilities.