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2007 Group Fitness Trends: Make It Fun!

Looking for some ways to spice up your group exercise program? Ideas are all around you, including classes inspired by dance, the theater, martial arts and the playground!

Back in December 2006, the American Council on Exercise (ACE), San Diego, Calif., gave its predictions for group fitness trends in 2007. ACE said we would see more classes geared toward children and older adults, more classes under 45 minutes for those time-crunched exercisers, and more functional fitness and balance training classes featuring push-ups, pull-ups and balance tools. We're halfway through the year. Have these predictions come true? "I think, to a great extent, they have," says ACE spokesperson Fabio Comana. "We are seeing a great resurgence of group programming. Managers are realizing that members become incredibly loyal to their club based on successful group programming."

Overall trends

Comana has noticed a trend in specialized classes that cater to the needs of specific members. "Seniors, of course, are our fastest-growing segment. So, some classes are being designed for them," he says. "There's [also a] trend toward programming that reaches out to those who may be hesitant or new to the exercise arena. It makes sense that an unfit person will remain loyal to the club that made them feel welcome and provided a smooth transition into fitness." Blending different disciplines continues to be popular, but Comana thinks we are beginning to return to the classics, like basic step, hi-lo aerobics and sculpting classes.

Donna Cyrus, senior vice president of programming at Crunch Fitness, agrees with Comana. "I think the future will see people getting back to basics, but in a fun way. Dance classes are increasing in popularity as more people realize you can get a great workout that way." Basic strength-training classes are also heating up, according to Cyrus.

Reward training

Another interesting trend, according to Cyrus, is "reward training," where fitness centers offer rewards for completing a class. "We partner with Broadway shows and offer members a chance to win tickets to the show," she says. "People who complete our Bikini Body Bootcamp class can enter to win a trip to Rio de Janeiro."

Classes that move participants toward a common goal is another form of rewarding fitness. Is there a local 10K run or triathlon coming up? Plan a special class geared toward getting participants ready. If you live in a ski town, how about a ski season prep class?

Getting ideas

When it comes to boredom-busting creative group classes, Crunch Fitness is certainly a leader in the industry. "My goal is to blend exercise with entertainment and attitude," Cyrus says. "We change the schedule quarterly, and have hundreds of classes in the rotation." Cyrus comes from a theater background, and often gets her class ideas from movies, TV and Broadway. Crunch's Cardiostrip and Pole Dancing classes came from Demi Moore's movie Striptease, and Crunch tries to partner with a new Broadway show every quarter. "We are just finishing up with the show Wicked, and next quarter we're offering a class featuring the new show Legally Blonde," she says. Inspiration can come from anywhere - Cirque de Soleil, the Olympics or Hollywood stunt performers. If you're trying to come up with something new and exciting for your facility, just look around you. Who's getting sweaty on film? How are they doing it? How can you turn that into a class?

Cyrus creates almost all of the programming herself. "I have three main categories of classes: dance, chill out and action sports. I glean ideas from these three areas, and then make sure they have at least one fitness component: strength, flexibility or cardio." You may want to encourage your instructors to come up with ideas and develop classes, as well.

The easiest way to create new group exercise programming is with fusion classes. Anything goes with mix and match elements from traditional disciplines - cycling and yoga, balance balls and weightlifting. Kickboxing ballet? Why not! Mix up the music, too. If you're tired of fluffy pop tunes, add some world music, grunge, punk, British invasion, Big Band, even gospel. Ask your members what styles they like, and program accordingly. Boredom is your enemy, so get creative!

To get those gears turning, here's a peek at what's fresh and exciting right now.

Dance

Dance-based group classes have come a long way. Every year, new classes appear that focus on exotic music and moves. Fitness dance classes should include at least 20 minutes of elevated heart rate, as well as strength and flexibility components. Ethnic dance styles are hot right now, and the newest on the scene are Zumba and Bhangra.

Zumba. Zumba is a fusion of Latin dances (like salsa, merengue and samba) mixed with modern dance, hip-hop and plain old bootie-shaking. The moves are set to fast and slow Latin and international music to provide a dance party atmosphere. Participants say they don't feel like they're exercising, but just having fun. Instructors choreograph their own routines, changing moves often, but not so often that people get confused. Cues aren't spoken, but given through body language. This is so dancers don't get caught up in doing the movements perfectly, but, instead, pay more attention to cutting loose and having fun. Instructor certification is required to use the brand name. Visit www.zumba.com for more information.

Bhangra. Bhangra, or Masala Bhangra, is a high-energy dance from Punjab, India. Originally a medieval dance of thanks for a good harvest, Bhangra's full-body workout incorporates simple moves that imitate farming - bending and straightening, stomping and clapping, shrugging shoulders and swinging arms. Bhangra is not a brand, so there is no certification necessary. However, teachers should be familiar with the steps and the music. For more information, visit www.bhangrafitness.com.

Martial arts

Forza.Eastern forms of martial arts, kickboxing and western fusion classes continue to be popular in fitness centers. One new class on the scene is Forza, which takes Japanese sword movements like strikes and blocks and sets them to music. This full-body workout includes strength, stability and cardio components. Each participant uses a wooden sword, called a bokken, which can either be purchased or provided by the fitness center. "Everyone can do this no-impact workout," says Forza creator Ilaria Montagnani. "There's no intricate choreography, just beautiful strong movements performed in a controlled and flowing manner." Montagnani says participants feel empowered and can't stop looking in the mirror - well, really, how often does the average American get to swing a sword? "Forza is not too hard or too easy. It requires strength and ... concentration," he says. "It's also meditative; I definitely consider it a mind/body exercise." Because everyone in the class is wielding a long prop, class size is limited by the amount of space you have available. Instructors need special training and certification to teach Forza. Montagnani says the training is intense, but doesn't take long. For more information, visit www.powerstrike.com.

Playground fitness

Remember when the only fitness class you needed was recess? Playground classes are making a comeback with traditional toys sized for grown-ups. These formats are a part of a new trend toward "community fitness," where the class is less of a structured "teacher lecturing to students" environment and more like recess - just a group of friends getting together and having fun. If you don't think your market could support one of the following classes for a whole eight weeks, you could combine them into one class and call it "Recess."

Hoop dance. Hoop dancing has been an "underground" activity for more than a decade, according to Rayna McInturf, creator of Hoopnotica. "People started doing it at outdoor music festivals, and slowly it grew into an art form," McInturf says. Adult hoops are larger and heavier than the kids' version, so participants get a full-body workout suitable for all fitness levels. "You're too busy having fun to notice how hard you're working," says McInturf. Hoopnotica does not use choreography, but encourages free form improvisation to music once participants learn the basic moves and transitions. It's never the same workout twice. Obviously, with large spinning props in the room, class size is limited by studio space (though this class is a great excuse to take everyone outside in nice weather). There's more to dancing with a hoop than just keeping it spinning around your waist, so McInturf suggests some teacher training is a good idea. Hoopnotica offers personal training, or a do-it-yourself certification through a DVD and workbook at www.hoopnotica.com.

Jump roping. Jump roping expends an incredible number of calories, and the faster members jump, the better. Today's adult jump roping classes use weighted grip ropes and combine intervals of jumping for cardio with stretches and strength moves. Anyone who can jump can teach this class - no special certification is necessary.

Pogo sticking. Pogo stick classes use special Flybar pogo sticks designed to bounce a 200-pound person up to 6 feet in the air. Hardcore pogo-ers love to perform tricks and flips, but members can still get a great cardio workout with the regular bouncing.

Dodgeball. Ignore the gym class flashbacks. Dodgeball is more fun when you're older and more confident. Members don't have to worry about being picked last, they just get in there and have fun! This one also gets younger guys into group classes.

Theatrical fitness

Stiletto strength.Stiletto classes focus on building strength and coordination in the calves, ankles and feet, and were designed to help women walk in high heels. Cyrus says the idea came from members who complained about transitioning from flip-flops and summer sandals to office heels in the fall. The class also fosters a positive body image and attitude, as members practice their stiletto strut at the end of class.

Karaoke cycling. Get out the earplugs. Karaoke cycling has participants belting out their favorite songs while working up a sweat in this group cycling class. Singing not only helps the minutes and the hills speed by, but also helps cyclers judge how hard they're working. Members who don't like to be in the spotlight don't have to worry; everyone joins in on the chorus.

Broadway Hits. These quarterly classes team up with hot new Broadway shows. Wicked Yoga, for example, is a theme class featuring music and "gravity defying" moves from the show Wicked. As an added bit of fun, cast members from the show work out with members at the Crunch facility.

Yoga-palooza. Pack up those asanas and take them outside with this live music "Woodstock-esque" group class. Musicians and singers will tour the various Crunch markets like Los Angeles, Chicago and New York, and give traditional yoga classes a new twist.

Keep them coming back

Your goal with group fitness classes is to keep people coming back for more, preferably with friends in tow. That happens when your members see results and don't get bored doing the same old moves to the same old music month after month. By creating exciting, results-oriented classes with a community feel, you'll cover all the bases.

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