Fit To Be Tried

Top Trends in Fitness Programming

By Deborah L. Vence

Kettlebells are in. Pilates is out.
Boot camp classes are in. Stability balls are out.

Whatever was trendy before might not be now, but the fitness industry still shows no signs of slowing down in 2011 with more consumers seemingly on the fast track to realizing that taking care of their health is really important—from the inside and out.

"With the awareness for the last two years with the health care debate, [and] actually watching the campaign [in 2008], both [presidential] candidates talked about health and fitness as a key component of health care," said Pete McCall, an exercise physiologist for San Diego-based American Council on Exercise (ACE).

"The federal government has acknowledged regular exercise will prevent a number of chronic diseases. And, it opens up different policy priorities. How do we do programming for health and fitness? How do I learn how to exercise? Let me work with a trainer," he said, adding that in the future more fitness facilities will be establishing small group programming and fee-based programming, and working in small groups, rather than training individuals.

Surveys by some of the country's top fitness organizations, including the American Council on Exercise (ACE), the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association (IHRSA) and the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), show that wellness services, classes for youth and seniors, personal training and boot-camp-style programs, just to name a few, continue to be popular on this year's list of fitness programs.

Take advantage of the knowledge of those who have gone before you, and adopt some of these new trends to freshen things up at your own fitness facility.

Training Certification

First off, fitness accreditation remains one of the top fitness trends for 2011, based on the ACSM's 2011 fitness trends survey. The lead author of the survey, Walter R. Thompson, Ph.D., FACSM, FAACVP, Regents Professor at the Department of Kinesiology & Health (College of Education) in the Division of Nutrition, School of Allied Health Professions (College of Health and Human Sciences) at Georgia State University in Atlanta, said that more fitness professionals will be required to have the proper education before they can engage in personal training.

"There are two issues that are occurring—an underlying theme in the industry. One is that more and more people are getting injured and being injured by personal trainers. There was an expert witness on several cases where personal trainers didn't have the proper education or experience or certification to provide the kinds of exercise experiences that clients expect," Thompson said.

"As more and more of these cases are getting into the court system, the higher the value of the case increases—more precedent being set," he said. "We have attorneys that specialize in exercise personal injury cases. As more go to court, employers are waking up and saying, 'I can't hire the high school graduate who was the star football player.'

Secondly, even in the face of the economic downturn, some states are considering legislation to license personal trainers.

"None have become law yet, and that may be related to the economy," Thompson noted. "If I was to guess within the next five years, we will have five or six states that will require licenses to practice personal training."

Age-Appropriate Classes

Classes for youth and seniors made the list of top fitness trends as well, with classes targeting children and obesity, as well as fitness programs for older adults.

ACSM's fitness survey stated that, "As the baby boom generation ages into retirement, some of these people have more discretionary money than their younger counterparts. Therefore, many health and fitness professionals are taking the time to create age-appropriate fitness programs to keep older adults healthy and active."

Meredith Poppler, vice president of industry growth for IHRSA, said senior fitness is not only the fastest growing element of the entire fitness industry, but given the looming economic crisis in healthcare, it is arguably the most important.

"As baby boomers age, they are focused on staying healthy, active and in control of their lives. The health concerns of obesity, rising health care costs and age-related illnesses are significant factors in the increase in awareness of physical activity," she said. "In 2009, the average age of a health club member was 40.7 years. Members over the age of 55 are 23 percent of the total membership, or almost one in four. And those numbers will get older every year as the baby boomers age."

Members over the age of 55 increased from 8 million members in 2005 to 10.3 million in 2009, Poppler noted. However, this does not account for people who belong to a park and recreation facility, a YMCA or a small studio.

"Unfortunately, more than 60 percent of older adults are inactive, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)," she said.

To boot, trainers are receiving certifications specifically to assist older clients in developing personal exercise plans and conditioning regimens including aqua training, seated exercise and indoor/outdoor walking programs. These programs are designed specifically to preserve cardiovascular health, strength and balance, and energy levels.

Meanwhile, one of the most significant efforts in fitness over the years has been the fight against childhood obesity, a continuing epidemic in this country.

"For kids, the trend toward childhood obesity will continue. No change in kids who are overweight. More kids are overweight than five or 10 years ago," Thompson said. "There is no state legislature that is legislating required physical education. We used to have it every day."

In the future, "You will see more opportunities [for youth]. It's happened in the last few years, the youth sports markets. As a good revenue stream, you have to look at health club operations: They get most of their members through the door through normal business hours of 2 to 5. There's not much going on in the clubs at that time," McCall said.

"But, if they have a kids' program going on after school, you can increase the revenue stream. A lot of health club companies are starting to look at that. We can use this time as a business model, but addressing childhood obesity solution," McCall said. "Taking underused resources and manpower and applying it to an area of need. It all comes down to resources. Time is the most precious resource."

ACE's top 10 fitness trends for 2011 showed that more youth-focused classes and clients will be popping up in gyms thanks to the national attention and focus on childhood obesity. Schools and fitness centers also will incorporate more exercise curriculum for the youth population and take advantage of ACE's Operation FitKids curriculum, which recently has been revamped and expanded with a new program targeting students in sixth through eighth grade.

Social Networking

Facebook and Twitter are not only popular methods of communication and socializing these days, but increasingly being turned to as a means of communication and a marketing vehicle for corporations. And now, health clubs are jumping on the social networking train to keep in closer contact with clients and help serve as an online motivational support system to complement personal training sessions.

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"You are starting to see a lot of personal training studios putting information out there. They might write a blog, [make] a three- or four-minute video and put it on Facebook. It links people in and provides information, new research that's out about exercise," ACE's McCall said.

"To be healthier, the big value is for trainers to use those sites, with daily or weekly fitness tips, or you can send a link to a YouTube video, [and get] two or three nutrition tips when you travel on the road," he said. "You are starting to see companies using social networking—personal interaction with personal training. [They can] leverage that and stay top of mind with who they are working with. [Through] Skype—you can get a list of exercises, and I can watch them and coach them through it. It involves close contact with their clientele."

Another benefit, too, is that it allows for a different revenue stream—one you can take advantage of when clients are traveling.

"If they're traveling, we can schedule it remotely—through Skype or online video applications," McCall added.

Personal Training/Corporate Wellness

Personal training and corporate wellness programs remain popular trends in fitness programming as well. Corporations are continuing their efforts to provide wellness programs for their employees.

Thompson said that "For companies and corporations, it all boils down to economics. It's so expensive to treat any disease and lifestyle diseases, corporations are looking at the benefits of regular exercise. Incorporating it into the work day, but providing opportunities. The benefit might be a significant discount at a commercial club."

For example, consumer products giants Johnson & Johnson and Coca-Cola Co., as well as restaurant chain Chick-fil-A, have made an investment to provide health clubs in their corporate facilities where employees can exercise.

Corporate wellness programs, according to fitness program surveys, will emerge countrywide to help encourage a healthier lifestyle among workers, especially time-crunched consumers.

"Health care costs rise and cut into corporate profits. Wellness programs keep people healthy. The data that's coming in [show that] wellness programs work," McCall said. "[With programs for] smoking cessation, nutrition, physical activity, you improve the morale and increase productivity and prevent them from getting sick."

And, "There's a direct impact on the bottom line. It's already happening. As you get more data back, there's more information on the effectiveness of [wellness programs]," McCall added.

With regard to personal training, Poppler said that 6.5 million Americans used personal training in 2009 compared with 4 million in 1999. The "typical" personal training consumer:

  • Is equally likely to be male or female
  • Is between the ages of 25 and 54
  • Has completed at least one year of college or higher
  • Earns an annual income of at least $75,000
  • Visits their club an average of 107.6 days per year
  • Is a health club member for an average of 4.9 years
  • Pays an average of $55.87 per session

"Personal training is growing despite the economy for a few reasons. People know their time is valuable, and they know a session even once in a while with a good trainer will make for more efficient workouts," Poppler said. "And, thanks in part to the economy, trainers and clubs are pricing and positioning training differently, doing it not just one on one, but in small groups, or as a sport-specific training component.

Yet another reason why personal training has fared well during the economic recession is due to the substantial increase in the number of seniors who are exercising.

"People aged 55 and older accounted for 25 percent of club members in 2009," Poppler said.

"Older adults are more likely to utilize personal training services because they often have the time, the resources and as people age, strength training and balance training become even more important," she added, "so finding trainers that are specifically qualified to work with older adults on their exercise programs has become more important."

According to the IHRSA fitness survey, the evolution of personal training is taking shape.

Personal training is the most commonly offered program in clubs, with more than 90 percent of all clubs offering personal training of some kind. The main factor for growth, even in the recession, is the trend away from one-on-one training toward small-group or semi-private training, the IHRSA survey stated.

Group Exercise/The Buddy System

Based on IHRSA's member census of 3,024 clubs in the United States and Canada, Poppler said, the 10 most commonly offered group exercise-related programs are:

  • Step/bench aerobics
  • High-impact aerobics
  • Yoga
  • Pilates
  • Group cycling
  • Group strength training
  • Low-impact aerobics
  • Aquatic exercise
  • Cardio-kickboxing or similar
  • Dance

"Successful group exercise programming strikes a balance between the 'tried and true' and 'hot and new' classes. Incorporate aerobics and group strength along with self-defense, dance and music-inspired classes into your group exercise schedule," Poppler said.

"Group exercise programming is popular again due to the fact that there are some great providers of specific programming that builds in more excitement, isn't so dependent on the club's instructor, and because people are moving back to socially based forms of exercise, not just running mindlessly on a treadmill," she said.

According to IHRSA's survey, group exercise programming is experiencing phenomenal growth. The survey indicated that group exercise—both traditional aerobics and unconventional new classes—are as popular as ever among health club members. Group exercise classes with the largest growth rates are cardio-kickboxing, yoga, high-impact aerobics, dance style classes and strength training classes.

From 2008 to 2009, participation in cardio kickboxing was up 20.1 percent, high-impact aerobics was up 8.1 percent, low-impact aerobics was up 6.3 percent and step aerobics was up 4.5 percent.

Why? Socially-based exercise is up.

More clubs are offering group exercise of all types. Based on survey responses from 3,306 IHRSA member clubs, group cycling is still growing, group strength classes have increased, and boot camp style programs are appearing everywhere, from in-club sessions to trainers leading Sunday morning sessions in the local park, according to the survey.

Also, Latin dance and nightclub-inspired workouts are appearing everywhere, not only in clubs, but in church basements, school gymnasiums and corporate offices. Fusion classes that combine exercising, yoga, Pilates and dance also are a growing trend, the survey indicated.

Besides group exercise classes, ACE's 2011 fitness survey also included a trend toward the "buddy system."

The survey stated that healthy support groups will become a more popular offering in gyms because of peer encouragement and increased potential for success. The thinking also holds true for older adults, with the majority of them seeking group classes to stay fit. ACE's Trainer Program for AARP includes a number of new benefits to address the unique needs of this population, which remains dedicated to living healthy lifestyles.

"If we're workout partners, [you can say], 'OK, I'll meet you at 7.' It helps hold you accountable. It's more fun to work out with a friend. It's a low-cost social activity. Make it a social outing as well as a health and fitness outing," McCall said.

Boot Camp Workouts/Dance Fitness

An ongoing trend in fitness also includes boot-camp-style workouts that will remain popular among consumers based on their intensity and efficiency.

Boot camp, which is a high-intensity structured activity program modeled after military-style training led by an instructor, incorporates cardiovascular, strength, endurance and flexibility drills in both indoor and outdoor settings.

"Boot camps are a fun way to work out because it is like an adult gym class. A well-designed boot camp or fitness program will help develop strength, flexibility and cardio-respiratory fitness," McCall said. "Boot camp programs are a cost-effective way to get in shape. A boot camp should cost between $15 and $30 a class, which is an affordable way to have supervised fitness instruction."

Meanwhile, Zumba classes continue to offer a fun alternative to more traditional dance classes. Zumba fitness is a Latin-inspired dance-fitness program that has more than 10 million people taking weekly classes in more than 90,000 locations across more than 110 countries.

In addition, ACE's survey stated that TRX suspension training and interval training both offer intense workout experiences with impressive results. Consumers will learn about the effectiveness of interval training in an upcoming ACE study in 2011.

New Exercise Crazes/Secondary Trends

Finally, from ancient equipment to new workout fads, some newer exercise crazes are beginning to take shape across the country.

Kettlebells, which originated in Russia in the early 1700s, have taken off in both the club and home fitness markets as they have proven to be very effective for building strength.

"Kettlebell training has become popular in that they are inexpensive, un-intimidating, and if done properly, provide an excellent whole body workout that works multiple muscle groups as well as the 'core' at the same time," Poppler said.

Kettlebells, which are cast iron balls (grapefruit to bowling ball sized) with a single-looped handle on top and range in weight from two pounds to more than 100 pounds, involve training that provides a full body workout that works multiple muscle groups as well as the "core" at the same time, Poppler explained.

"Vibration equipment, on the other end of the spectrum, is popular and growing due to scientific claims that they provide efficient total-body workouts in a short period of time, raise testosterone and Human Growth Hormone, increase bone density, support weight loss and relieve pain," she explained.

Lastly—though it's not considered a major, industry-changing trend—a new exercise craze called Drums Alive! is catching on in some parts of the country, such as at the Bowling Family YMCA in El Paso, Texas, that offers the class. A rather newly-discovered exercise that involves exercise balls, tropical music and drumsticks, Drums Alive!, which originally began in Germany, involves a mix of aerobics and drumming on large inflatable balls.

"Drums Alive!" creates unique exercise opportunities using standard equipment. Drums Alive! uses stability balls like drums, which requires upper body conditioning and challenging eye-hand coordination drills," McCall said.

To boot, other new trends to the fitness programming list include worker incentive programs, clinical integration and reaching new markets. Those additions directly reflect some of the work ACSM is doing to globalize its Exercise is Medicine initiative.

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