Group fitness is vital to our business. We know that members who take classes come in more often, keep their memberships longer and bring us more referrals than those who don't.

Group fitness is vital to our business. We know that members who take classes come in more often, keep their memberships longer and bring us more referrals than those who don't. One year ago, when we reported in this space about our exploration of prepackaged, pre-choreographed group fitness programs, we hadn't quite answered all our questions. Could such programs (offered by the likes of Les Mills or Body Training Systems) improve our already fine group fitness program offerings? Could licensed programming create excitement? Could it bring new people into the group fitness room, most notably men and beginners? Could it drive membership sales and help extend memberships? Could it improve the performance of our instructors? In short, would we get an appropriate return on the investment we'd be making in terms of time, money and effort to implement somebody else's program?

After launching our first licensed program (Les Mills' BodyPump) in early 2011, we can now confidently say that the answer is "yes" to each of those questions. No matter how well your club does group fitness - and we heard from many readers last year who said that they would not consider licensed classes because they are doing just fine - we are here to tell you that you would do even better with some licensed programming.

It's not just because of the things that your friendly neighborhood Les Mills or BTS salesperson might tell you. Here's what we like best:

  • You cannot afford to recreate the marketing tools they put at your disposal. As owners of a small business, we do not have the resources to hire professional photographers, do photo shoots and create banners, posters, literature, Web content - and then do it all again 90 days later. As a licensee, we have access to professional images and tools for a fraction of what they are worth, and those tools enhance the image of our entire business.

  • You can't train your instructors as well as they can. When was the last time you sent your group fitness instructors away for a three-day weekend to do nothing but work on a single class? When we sent our first four instructors to Les Mills training, they came home exhilarated but exhausted, both physically and emotionally. They had done nothing but work on one class - indeed, each of them worked on nothing but a portion of one class - for three days. Everything they did was critiqued, from their ability to make eye contact to their posture and their cueing. We never could have recreated that training, and our instructors came home understanding the high level of performance that was expected of them.

    That weekend of training was really just the start of things, because a few months later, in order to complete their certification, every instructor was required to submit a video of a live class. Knowing that these videos were looming, our instructors worked harder and bonded with each other more than we had ever seen.

    All of this training, accountability and attention to detail have given us the quality and consistency we were hoping for in our licensed class, while also causing all of our classes to improve as our instructors have improved.

  • Your young instructors will love it. Unlike longtime group fitness instructors who live for creating new classes, making playlists and perfecting their moves (we know you're still out there), our instructors who are in their 20s have no such passion for all things group fitness. Licensed programming is perfect for this new generation of instructors who don't mind working hard or being critiqued, but who have no interest in creating something new or being left on their own to interpret someone else's class. With licensed programming, they can be told what to do and how to do it.

  • They have systems that you don't. Both Les Mills and BTS will emphasize the importance of a proper launch when rolling out their programs - and better still, they'll tell you how to do it if you've never done it before. How do you blend one or two licensed programs with your freestyle offerings? They'll tell you how. How do you determine what class to offer and when? They'll tell you. Even if you think you're really good at everything associated with your group fitness program, you'll want to tap the knowledge that's available to you, because they are better at it than you.

  • You are part of the community. Unlike group fitness offerings that are geared toward the certification of just instructors (such as Flirty Girl, YogaFit and Powerstrike), the licensing model of BTS and Les Mills creates a community of instructors and businesses. Instructors have access to tools and resources to help them find work at licensed facilities, and we can be confident in the skills of instructors we might meet through the Les Mills network, because they successfully completed the same certification process as our own instructors.

It is important to note, again, that there are significant costs associated with licensed programming. There are monthly licensing fees that run to hundreds of dollars a month, training costs, and in the case of a class like BodyPump, equipment that must be purchased. Obviously, we believe that our return on our investment has been more than positive. The marketing tools have helped us raise the visibility of our entire group fitness program and the business itself. That one class has drawn many new faces into group fitness, and enticed those members to try other classes. Our staff is executing better than ever, resulting in increased attendance in all of our classes. We have prospects who are joining specifically because of our licensed class, and members who are coming in more frequently because of it. These are all benefits we never could have created on our own. So, for what it's worth from two guys who have no financial interest in whether or not you take our advice, do yourself a favor and look into licensed programming.