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Group Fitness Motivates Guests

The Oaks at Ojai, a destination spa with an emphasis on exercise, focuses on group classes to keep guests moving.

Located just northeast of Los Angeles in the artsy town of Ojai, Calif., The Oaks at Ojai is a destination spa with an emphasis on fitness and nutrition. Guests typically stay from three to seven days, and attend fitness classes and eat healthy meals as part of the program. The facility focuses on group exercise, with daily walks and hikes, and a multitude of classes.

Established in 1977, the spa caters to "women going up the corporate ladder," according to Founder/Owner Sheila Cluff, although men are also welcome. Guests are there to get or stay healthy, not become "fitness buffs," Cluff says. Staff members educate, encourage and motivate, and don't push anyone too hard. Says Cluff, "the idea is to teach guests how to take these fitness and nutrition concepts home and make it part of their lives." Staff members conduct "lifestyle interviews" with guests to help them create fitness and nutrition programs.

A typical day at the spa includes a morning hike or walk, breakfast (all meals are low-calorie), a variety of group classes on the hour and half-hour (different classes are offered every day), a snack break, more classes, lunch, more classes, a snack break, some down-time and then dinner. After dinner there are educational lectures, entertainment or a wind-down class such as yoga. Special classes are offered during the spa's 15 theme weeks, such as for tennis, golf, yoga and NIA.

The Oaks at Ojai

Ojai, Calif.
805 646-5573

Date fitness facility opened: 1977

Facility size: Located on 3.5 acres

Group exercise classes: Aquatone, Water Works, Ball Stretch, Chair Yoga, Stretch and Yoga, Yoga Essentials, Yoga for Strength, Pilates Mat, Qi Gong, Tai Chi, Mind/Body Awareness, Core and More, Healthy Backs, Twinges and Hinges, Muscle Conditioning, Top to Bottom Toning, On the Ball, SPA Dance, Simple Step and more

Extras/Amenities: Outdoor pool and hot tub; indoor hot tub, steam room and sauna; free towel service (including pool towels); full spa/massage services; daily outdoor hikes and walks; healthy meals and snack breaks included with stay; nightly classes, talks and demonstrations

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Trainers and group exercise instructors are employees of the spa, and are all certified. In addition to these staff members, guest instructors are invited to teach at the facility. In exchange for teaching classes, they get a complimentary stay at the spa. Guest lecturers also receive a free stay, and groups of people, such as from the same fitness center or workplace, receive discounts.

The facility has some cardio and strength equipment, and offers "Weight Room Orientations," but the focus at The Oaks is on group exercise. Guests come for the social aspect of the hikes and classes, and feel that they can always use the equipment at their fitness centers back home. The group atmosphere lends itself to The Oaks' focus on motivation and "staying fit without punishment," Cluff says.

Since The Oaks is established and well-known, intensive marketing is not needed. The facility sends out a newsletter about three times per year, and has plenty of repeat guests. According to Cluff, some have been coming for 30 years. As a result, The Oaks has a family feel to it. In addition to the newsletter and a website, the facility often participates in community events, and Cluff, who recently returned to competitive figure skating after a 45-year absence, is a well-known figure throughout the county. The facility also receives free publicity by way of winning awards in travel magazines. It has been honored for its fitness programs, food and spa services.

The biggest selling point for the spa is its value. Cluff says that she has always felt that a spa vacation shouldn't only be for the "super wealthy." The atmosphere is casual and comfortable, and that is one reason why The Oaks guests prefer it to other "luxurious" fitness spas. Even though The Oaks is a bargain compared to other destination spas, the facility doesn't skimp on programs. Fitness staff are always keeping an eye out for new trends and classes, and make it a point to find out what their guests are interested in. Cluff says that the spa stopped offering traditional "aerobics" when the trend died down, and currently focuses on mind/body and strength classes, and outdoor activities.

Staff members at The Oaks at Ojai enjoy working with guests, and Cluff herself still leads walks and teaches classes. She says she continues to enjoy her job because "it's nice when your business is part of something that enriches people's lives."
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