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Possibilities Abound for Group Fitness Programs

From boot camp to ballroom dancing, free or fee-based, possibilities abound for group programs at your facility. Here are some ideas to get you started.

While group FITNESS has been around since the beginnings of the industry (think, "aerobics"), the relatively recent expansion on the idea has led to almost limitless possibilities. Weight-loss challenges, event training, group strength training, dance classes, group cycling and more are all now regular items on the group exercise schedules of many fitness centers. To help you put some life back into your group schedule, read on to find out what the current trends are.

Meet the expert

Laurie Cingle, M.Ed., fitness business success coach and club consultant, works with fitness centers to develop non-dues-revenue profit centers, increase market differentiation, and design programs that increase profit and retention. She is certified by NASM-CPT, ACSM-HFI and the Coach Training Alliance (CTA).

Defining the terms

Make sure you and your staff are clear on the definition of words commonly used in the industry.

Group exercise. Group exercise is what most people would consider traditional group exercise classes that are delivered in a group exercise studio and taught by staff holding the title of "group exercise instructor." The group exercise program is typically considered part of the membership and, therefore, accessible to members at no extra fee. The term "group exercise" replaced the word "aerobics," which no longer appropriately describes the variety of classes offered on the group exercise schedule.

Group fitness. Group fitness is another term to describe traditional group exercise classes. A group fitness program is the same as a group exercise program.

Group training. Group training is typically delivered by a personal trainer or member of the fitness staff, consists of small groups of two to eight people and commands a fee. Trainers can conduct group training sessions in a number of places: a) in the strength training/cardio machine area, b) in a large open space inside the fitness center during times when they will not interfere with other programs (i.e., basketball court, racquet sports court, group exercise studio, one-on-one training studio, stretching area, indoor track, pool, hallway, stairwell, etc.) and c) outside of the fitness center.

Group programming. Group programming is any type of programming involving groups of members that is not considered group training or group exercise. It can involve two to 200 people, and one or multiple trainers/instructors. Programs can focus on exercise-only, education-only, skill development, movement, relaxation, measurable outcomes (like weight loss) or be a combination of any of these. They can be conducted inside or outside of the facility, and they can be fee-based or complimentary to members.

'Trends' stay the same

Recent surveys published by IDEA,1 ACE2 and ACSM5 identified the top fitness trends for 2008. Not surprisingly, the trends listed on all three surveys are similar. Also not surprising: There isn't really anything new. Many of the trends are similar to what we saw in previous years. What's old is new again ... or it never really went out of style. Following are some of the group programming trends.

Boot camps

Pick any niche market within your fitness center, label your program with the words "boot camp," and chances are good that you will have a winner. Here are some ideas: Prom Boot Camp, Bride Boot Camp, Kids' Boot Camp, Older Adult Boot Camp, Booty Camp, Bikini Boot Camp, Boot Camp for Old Guys, Mommy Boot Camp and Reformer Boot Camp (Pilates).

Your boot camp can be conducted inside the fitness center or outdoors. Choose exercises and drills that are appropriate for the fitness level of the group you are trying to attract. If you don't know where to start, look online, or boot camp formats are available for purchase.6

Weight-loss programs

Not your typical in-club weight-management program, weight-loss challenges, inspired by television shows like The Biggest Loser and Celebrity Fit Club, offer competition, quick results and often a cash prize to the individual or team that loses the most weight and/or body fat during the program. These programs are a great way to attract new members to your fitness center, provide quality leads for your personal trainers and to jump start weight loss for your current members, setting them on a path for long-term success.

Sport-specific training

Sport-specific training. Sport-specific training for young athletes is one of the fastest-growing segments of group programming today. Parents are anxious to provide their children with the best possible chance of success in their sport of choice, and are willing to pay premium prices for great coaching. Helping athletes stay injury-free is paramount.

Some important elements for running sport-specific programs are ample space, a market that will support the programs, and educated and experienced coaching professionals. A general personal trainer certification and being a good athlete in high school are not adequate credentials. Coaches for these programs should possess a certification that is specific to training athletes (for example, the National Strength and Conditioning Association's Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist), and should have experience participating in the sport.

Elite training. Elite training for adults is also growing rapidly. Elite training on land is like the Master's Swim program in the pool. These workouts for highly conditioned individuals are sport-generic and focus on high-intensity drills. What makes them popular is the participants' high intensity and competitive nature. Elite training workouts can be similar to boot-camp-style workouts.

Event training. Event training for adults includes triathlon, marathon and 10K race training. While some participants will be elite athletes looking to connect with other people who share their interest in the sport, many participants are new to these activities, and have little experience in formal participation. Some baby boomers are interested in performing physical feats before they hit certain age mile-markers. Some are looking for a challenge, but are also looking for the support and social aspect of training in a group. Make sure you know who your participants are, so you can plan accordingly.

Dance-oriented programs

Popular among members are dance-oriented group exercise classes like belly dancing, ballet, tap or Latin dance. These can be part of the regular group exercise schedule, or offered for an extra fee, especially if you hire a specialized instructor.

Partner ballroom dance classes are also now offered in fitness centers. Contracting with a professional dance instructor is best. These classes are offered for an extra fee in most fitness centers, and can be held in blocks of time, such as eight weeks.

Weight training for women

Strength training classes can be offered in the group exercise studio or on the fitness floor outside of the studio (during slow times). Resistance-training programs geared specifically to attract women can focus on total-body conditioning, or on targeted areas of the body. What is most important is that the women are made to feel comfortable. Start and end each session as a group for stretching and core work. Make the program social. Add an educational or diet component. Provide measurements. For many trainers who are used to working with clients one-on-one, this type of program can be challenging.

Giving your program a great name is key. Here are some examples: Below the Belt (for lower-body training), Rapid Body Sculpting, Woman Power, and 12-Week Ultimate Fitness and Nutrition Program.

Cycling programs

Group cycling is quite popular in almost every facility that offers it, but the intense classes can be intimidating to members of average-to-low fitness levels. Because cycling is so popular and fun, and requires little coordination, members of average-to-low fitness levels are beginning to ask for programs that allow them to work at their own pace without feeling intimidated. New program formats are evolving, including the following:

Fusion programs. Fusion programs combine cycling with either core training, yoga, Pilates, strength training or athletic drills.

Easy rider. "Easy-rider" classes bring the intensity down a notch from traditional classes, and help members who are new to cycling build up stamina for more intense classes.

Older adults. Cycling classes for older adults are less intense, and can be great fun for the participants. Programs are successfully targeting other specific markets, too, like teens.

Aquatic classes. HydroRiders are special cycles designed for the pool, and offer a variety of workout formats.3

Heart rate training. Heart rate training programs4 coach participants to work out in one of five target heart rate zones. Prior to the start of the program, each participant meets with the instructor/trainer to determine their VO2max and learn their zones.

Event training. Event training programs help participants of all levels train for a community-sponsored or special in-club event.

Additional programs

In addition to boot camp, sports training, dance and weight training, other programs might appeal to your members. Here are some examples:

Focused Express Workouts. Focused Express Workouts, especially core conditioning, are 30 minutes or less.

Social groups. Social groups can involve active movement like walking, running, outdoor biking, dog walking and stroller workouts, or non-physical/light activities like gardening, books, rafting trips, fishing trips and feng shui. The IDEA survey1 shows that 43 percent of fitness centers that responded offer social activity groups. The key is to create an environment that promotes fun and friendship.

High Intensity Training. High Intensity Training (H.I.T.) programs are 30 minutes in length, and consist of one set each of 12 to 15 exercises that are performed slowly on machines. Dwayne Wimmer, owner of Vertex Fitness Personal Training in Bryn Mawr, Pa., describes H.I.T. as "efficient, effective and safe. H.I.T. is similar to Super Slow, but not that slow. ... The intensity comes from the slow, controlled movement."

Success in group programming

The success of an individual group program lies in the hands of the person identified as that program's champion, and in the support that management provides to that champion in the way of marketing and resources. Each program should provide participants with structure, support and tools, and result in tangible, measurable outcomes.

Group programs can increase revenue and retention. People are willing to participate in programs that they perceive provide them with value. Value is measured by each person based on the resources available to them, how much they desire the outcome promised by the program, and the physical experience (fun factor) provided by the trainer/instructor and other participants. Find out from your members what they would like to see in the way of group programming at your facility, and start planning!

References
2.ACE 2008 Fitness Trend Predictions (www.acefitness.org/media/media_display.aspx?itemid=277).
3.HydroRider USA: usa@hydrorider.com; 305 762-7557; www.hydrorider.com.
4.Sally Edwards Heart Zones. www.heartzones.com offers coach training programs and resources for running successful programs.
5.Thompson, W.R. Worldwide survey reveals fitness trends for 2008. ACSM's Health & Fitness Journal, 11(6):7-13, 2008 (www.informz.net/acsm/data/images/ worldwidetrends.pdf).
6.www.fit-pro.com for Boot Camp formats.
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