Creative Group Programming Can Take Military Fitness Facilities to Next Level

From yoga to Zumba to indoor cycling, the options for group programming today are as limitless as your staff's imagination and budget.

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From yoga to Zumba to indoor cycling, the options for group programming today are as limitless as a military fitness center staff's imagination and budget.

"Group exercise has never been more varied and yet more specialized at the same time," says Leigh Crews, 2011 IDEA Fitness Instructor of the Year and founder of Dynalife Inc. "You can find a group exercise format to fit any fitness level and style of training. Just look around and you will be amazed at what you can offer in your facility."

Sometimes it is that creativity and variety that creates stress and failure for group exercise departments. But, it is as much an opportunity as it is a challenge if managed correctly.

"I live in a military town, and based on what I've heard from our military-based IDEA members, their challenges are: PTSD, traumatic physical injuries, amputations and neurological issues," says Joy Keller, executive editor of IDEA Publications. "The opportunities for this population include offering healthy ways to relieve stress and continue an active lifestyle, likely started in basic training for most."

But, regardless of how creative a fitness manager or program coordinator is, it is important for the success of a group exercise program - be it part of membership or offered at an additional fee - that the mix of classes, times and styles attract the most participants possible.

"We are faced with limited times to offer classes that will be well-attended," says Veronica Nelson, director of physical fitness and health promotion for Barber Physical Activities Center in Quantico, Va. "Class times are dictated by population/workforce schedules."

Then there's the task of scheduling the right classes for the right audience. "Active Duty Marines are generally open to more challenging class formats, allowing instructors to utilize a wide variety of training techniques and equipment," Nelson says.

While challenging classes like CrossFit traditionally attract men and many dance-based classes have long attracted women, activities like yoga draw crowds from both gender populations.

"Maximum and Pitaiyo get a good number of active duty attendees of all genders, while Zumba and step classes are attended by female DoD civilians and family members," says Nelson. "The Marine Corps' answer to CrossFit is the High Intensity Tactical Training Program (HITT), which is being utilized Marine Corps-wide for training active duty and reservists. We use Maximum class as a group exercise training modality/class format to address the higher intensity, circuit-based training needs."

But, even less-intense classes can attract men if programmed and marketed correctly.

"There are new programs out there that are very man-friendly," says Crews. "Formats that do not require the participant to stay on the beat of the music, but rather let the music be the background that drives and motivates, seem to be very popular with men who might feel uncoordinated in a class they perceive as 'dancey'."

And while budgets are tight at both civilian and military fitness centers, some of the the pre-choreographed classes may be worth the expense, as they may keep classes fresh, consistent and effective. Most offer top-notch marketing tools, as well, and they may not cost as much as one might guess on first glance.

"Concepts such as TRX classes are very military-friendly and functional," says Crews. "Many products and programs out there have affiliate programs these days. These programs allow instructors to earn commission or points that can be applied to the purchase of products. This helps keep the cost of implementing a program low."

Another important factor in packing group exercise classes is to not only keep up with the trends, but if possible, become a trend-setter. So while Zumba and bootcamp classes may be drawing crowds today, it is important to start adding classes that will bring those crowds back tomorrow - and beyond.

"The IDEA World Fitness Convention always features new and exciting classes. This year I was most impressed with what I see as intelligent progressions of old favorites," says Keller. "For example, MALLA is based on a 900-year old Indian warrior strength training tradition. Primal Movement was also of note. It focused on the evolution of movement from infancy to adulthood. Other classes of note included Piloxing, SBR (Speed, Balance and Range of Motion) and Body Weight Blitz."

Be it well-established group exercise classes such as Zumba or the next cutting-edge class, group exercise classes are a great way for military fitness centers to meet the needs of all members while adding to the sense of community on the base.

Interested in more military-specific content? Sign up for AB Military News, our weekly newsletter with content specifically for military sports, recreation and fitness professionals.

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