With tight budgets at military fitness centers, keeping services for members high and costs low is a balancing act. In an attempt to offer popular group exercise classes in the face of potential staffing cuts, the United States Air Force is expanding its "Fitness on Request" exercise kiosks to 66 bases, saving the Air Force as much as $10 million.

 

"With the bulk purchase, the cost per unit was approximately $23,000, which includes four years of maintenance and six years of class updates," says USAF media relations specialist Michael Dickerson. "With the Air Force spending an average of $2 million annually on group exercise instructor contracts, this works out to $12 million over the same six year period compared to just $2 million for all the kiosks and updates, potentially saving the Air Force approximately $10 million."

The installation - and, huge savings potential - does not necessarily mark the end of live instructor-led classes. It will be up to individual base commanders and fitness center budgeting priorities to determine how the kiosks are used, with some bases offering both live and virtual classes. The hope is that the kiosks may help keep Air Force personnel active and healthy should budgets limit the number of traditional classes available.

The kiosks will feature 30 different pre-loaded workout videos that will allow fitness center staff and members to schedule classes - ranging from cycling to kickboxing - that will be updated quarterly.

"With many Air Force fitness facilities losing all or part of their local group exercise instructor contract funding, this program will help supplement or replace the group exercise programming," says Anthony Alcala, fitness program specialist with the Air Force. "We want to provide customers an alternative at bases that lost these funds to ensure fitness and sports centers continue to provide a variety of programs."

"The goal of this program is to encourage Airmen to live healthy lifestyles and provide alternative avenues to staying fit," states Scott Nunnelly, AFPC fitness program manager, on the USAF website. "The 'Fitness on Request' kiosks allow many individuals to come together and participate in group exercise without the need of a live instructor."

But while some 24-hour centers civilian fitness facilities have launched various versions of video group exercise classes, it has not been met with overwhelming enthusiasm. In fact, many online fitness forums reflect concerns over lack of instructor-led motivation, personalization and safety concerns.

While the latter is indeed a concern at the USAF fitness centers in which the virtual kiosks will be deployed, Dickerson says that center staff will be available and vigilant to ensure Airmen safety.

"Safety is stressed at the start of each video, addressing form, pacing, drinking fluids and other safety precautions," he says. "In addition, fitness staff makes safety checks throughout the facility to include the locations using the kiosks."

While the virtual kiosks may not be a perfect solution to budget hits facing group exercise in military fitness centers, in the long-run it may be one way to keep Airmen and their family members moving and keeping fit. Based on utilization and funding, the future may have a more extensive use of "Fitness on Request" kiosks, according to Dickerson.