Prepackaged group fitness programs might be right for your club, but only if you do them correctly.

 

Group fitness is a huge investment for any club and a significant differentiator when it is done well. This is especially important in a world in which many express, 24-hour and low-priced clubs are not including group fitness. A well-executed group program builds relationships between staff and members, and - more important - between members themselves. Many people simply hate to exercise alone, and, especially among women, there is no greater draw than a group program. But how do you do it well?

Prepackaged group fitness classes can be part of the answer. We have investigated prepackaged programming for more than a year, and we believe that exploring options and understanding what's available is extremely important. We also believe that if you decide to implement a prepackaged program, you owe it to yourself to commit to your vendor and jump in with both feet.

The biggest players in the world of prepackaged group fitness are Les Mills and Body Training Systems. We will neither discuss specifics of what each offers nor compare or contrast them, but there are common themes and issues that are helpful to understand.

Unlike single-activity programs that have simple license requirements and low monthly fees, such as Zumba or Flirty Girl, these larger prepackaged programs require a significant investment. There could be equipment to purchase for specific classes (such as Les Mills' Body Pump™), and there can be monthly per-class and/or per-facility licensing fees. There are also costs associated with training, certification and continuing education, which the club may absorb or pass on to the instructors. These programs require a major financial commitment all the way around.

That doesn't mean they don't provide appropriate value. New classes and music are provided regularly, and marketing materials and expertise are provided to drive excitement, participation and even memberships. Having a staff of similarly trained instructors who deliver (what is hoped to be) a fundamentally consistent experience could be just what a club needs.

 

Many clubs have turned over their entire group fitness programs to these third parties, and they will tell you it was, and continues to be, the best investment they ever made. There are also plenty of clubs that have implemented perhaps one or just a handful of prepackaged classes, adding them to a mix that includes original classes and/or other licensed classes.

We have been intrigued by these prepackaged programs because "traditional" group fitness instructors seem to be becoming an endangered species. We are blessed with a director and several instructors who for years have stayed on the cutting edge of group fitness, learning and excelling at the latest trends. They prepare, rehearse, take each other's classes, and obsess about music. But, as group fitness has evolved to welcome more people with less choreography and more types of exercise (strength, stretching, mind/body and so on), we have seen fewer and fewer of these "generalists" who can seemingly teach anything. Prepackaged classes could allow us to increase our number of available instructors and have more flexibility with our schedule. Also, the growing brand recognition of these programs might drive more people to participate in classes. On the other hand, we already have a successful program that would be the envy of many facilities, so would the investment in time and money make a significant difference to us? We are continuing to study it.

Could a prepackaged solution be right for you and your club? Certainly, it will not be a panacea. A boring instructor who is disinterested in his or her students will not likely draw any better in a Les Mills or Body Training Systems class than in any other class. Managing and coordinating the program still falls to the club. When new classes are rolled out, some members will surely complain about the changes. And while both of these vendors offer outstanding marketing, promotion kits and advice, the cost and effort to execute those promotions still falls to you. In short, Body Training Systems and Les Mills are tools, and the success or failure of their programs rests with a club's leadership and staff.

If you do investigate one of the prepackaged programs, be sure to understand and take advantage of everything it offers. We are shocked at the number of clubs we see with group schedules that simply include one or two of these programs side-by-side with their other classes. It seems as though they are not taking advantage of any of the marketing or promotion that goes with them. If you are going to offer Body Pump or Body Training Systems' Group Power®, shout about it on your website, on the walls of your clubs, and with the publicity tools that these vendors will hand to you. Roll out the new music and the new classes the way they advise you to, and keep your instructors current.

Should you be doing that for your non-packaged classes, too? Of course. There's nothing these programs do that you couldn't do yourself with the proper investment in time, money, talent and staff. But, are you? Can you? If you are not getting everything out of your group fitness program that you can, then do yourself a favor and explore your options. And if you go with a prepackaged program, make sure you are committed to it. We can't imagine spending the fees associated with these programs and then stuffing them away on the group schedule with no special focus. If you're going to pay for someone else's program, do it right.

Rob Bishop & Barry Klein is Guest Contributors of Athletic Business.