Feature Article - July 2019
Find a printable version here

Survival of the Fittest

Meeting Demand in Fitness Programming

By Rick Dandes

For example, Coles' organization recently worked with a facility in the U.K. (Fitness Space Guildford) to support them in fusing two very different forms of group exercise in one space in their flagship facility—a boxing class area with a yoga space—to maximize return on investment and enhance the member experience.

"The space marries two polar opposite training styles in one upscale luxury studio," Coles explained. The space creatively provides the ideal ambience to alternate both classes in the same footprint. The solution—a black color scheme with strategically placed lighting—creates a dual-purpose atmosphere. Emphasizing the boxing bags with lighting makes the space right for boxing, while subduing the lighting allows the bags to blend into the background to enhance the mood for yoga.

Gagliardi believes that there has been a transition from focusing so much on the outcome of a class—for example, doing a class for 12 weeks to lose weight—to an emphasis on the experience a member is having in the class. "We see these types of classes where you get a sense of flow, where you are in the moment, working out, and you are not thinking of the clock and how much more time you have," he said. "It's not just about crushing it and making it the hardest workout ever. It's about getting people into the zone, feeling really good about what they are doing. And you see that across different types of workouts."

Kettlebell workouts, martial arts and combat-like training and conditioning are also growing in popularity, Gagliardi said. "I think boxing is becoming part of hard training. It is part of an experience, you are hitting a bag, speed bags, doing jump ropes. It's an experience you wouldn't get in just a normal circuit class. There are several good training aspects to hitting a bag, stress relief being one of them. And training like in mixed martial arts will continue. You might see a boxing class where between rounds you'll be doing other types of very intense training."

Maloney agrees that high-intensity interval training, one of the hottest trends of the past several years, will continue to grow in interest and remain a staple in fitness programming for the time being.

In addition, Olympic lifting workouts will continue to grow in popularity, Maloney added. "And we'll see an increase of interest in strength training for women. We [the ACSM] host a power lifting event here, and half of our athletes now are women. Women know that it is OK to lift weights and that stereotype is gone where if you lift weights you are somehow not feminine. That has changed a lot. Weight rooms have been a guy thing, and now we see a lot of women there."

Maloney, Coles and Gagliardi all see the experiential aspect of workouts as growing. "In the past, getting physically fit has been seen by many people as more like a chore," Maloney said. "But when participants can find a way to make it more enjoyable, where the workout doesn't feel like it is something they have to do, they'll want to do it more."

Ensuring dynamic and personalized programs that are delivered consistently is key to engaging an audience and keeping them coming back, Coles said. "Group training," she added, "doesn't need to be in a studio, and when held in the focal point of the functional training area, these sessions are the heart and soul of the gym floor and have the ability to create a palpable, engaging atmosphere. Incorporating a frame as a striking focal point to your training space can be a great enhancement to group training."

Also consider programming solutions that have an online educational element, Coles said. "The online component minimizes the amount of time that staff need to be out of the business and explained the 'why' behind the products and programming solutions. The face-to-face training is the 'how': how to set the sessions up, hold the room, manage and motivate the 'experience' that is being delivered to ensure that the members return to the sessions time and time again. Our experience shows that not only do members becoming more engaged, but staff retention increases as physical trainers develop their skills in learning how to deliver innovative new programs that enhance their classes."

Often, in interviewing fitness programmers, the idea of "flow" comes up. Gagliardi explained, "Flow describes a class that combines just the right amount of skill and challenge. It's the point where the participant is in the zone, not concerned with all the other things going on in his or her life. Because when you are in the zone, you have to be present in the moment. It's when time seems to fly by."

Instructors and personal trainers are either getting more creative these days or will have to get more creative, Gagliardi explained, "because programming is becoming more about the experience, with people wanting to come back to have the experience itself. From the beginning the instructor is building a connection with the participants or the individual clients and then they look forward to coming back. It's not necessarily about making it the hardest workout ever and how sore I as a trainer can get the participants. You need to create the experience so that the participant goes home and talks about it, and feels like they had a good time working out. The focus is on the experience as well as the outcome."