I have a dear old friend who’s always been a bit on the chubby side. In high school, he preferred sci-fi films and Dungeons and Dragons to sports or, really, any form of exercise. You get the picture. I hadn’t seen him for years and years and then unexpectedly ran into him the other day — and what a shock. I didn’t recognize him at all. He’s in such great shape that he puts Rich Froning, Jr. to shame. Okay, well maybe not Rich Froning, Jr., but he’s muscular and trim now, fitter than he’s ever been in his life. “How did you do it?” I asked. “Star Wars,” he said. Huh?
Turns out he’s been taking fitness classes inspired by the great epic film series. Several times a week, he duels with a lightsaber in classes at a local gym that incorporate marching maneuvers (a la Stormtroopers), one-handed cartwheels (the other hand holding the lightsaber), and handstands of the sort Yoda makes Luke Skywalker do (not one-handed, though). He learned about the classes through a friend of his who knew how much he hated — but needed — exercise. “My friend thought I might be willing to try it because of the Star Wars theme,” he told me. “I have to admit, I was skeptical at first, but I knew I had to do something, and this sounded like the only exercise I’d ever heard of that I was even remotely interested in. Now, I want to go every single day. I never knew exercise could be so creative and fun.”
Why don’t more people know how creative and fun it can be, I started wondering. Maybe health clubs, fitness studios, and gyms need to work harder to incorporate creativity and fun. What better way to entice non-exercisers off the couch and onto the exercise floor than to give them a way to forget that they’re exercising? That, said my friend, is ultimately what did it for him. “I’d get out there and start getting into it, and before I knew it, I was fighting with a lightsaber — I wasn’t working out. Forgetting that I was in the gym and just letting myself go all out with role-playing made it possible.”
A number of health clubs around the country are starting to launch Star Wars classes, and they’re benefitting by pulling in new members from a population they weren’t able to reach before. A recent article in California’s Orange County Register mentions a gym in Dallas that “developed a workout that included the Stromtrooper march and Wookiee sandbag slams.” The article also describes Star Wars-themed summer camps and sports facilities that are helping to reduce the U.S.’s childhood obesity epidemic by getting otherwise inactive kids interested in lightsaber-fights and related workouts. Appealing to these new populations, those gyms, camps, and facilities are boosting their membership numbers and, by making workouts fun, probably increasing the likelihood of retaining the new members they sign up.
If cult film-inspired exercise doesn’t seem like the right thing for your facility, don’t worry: There are other ways you can kick up your creativity factor. The key, again, is to design workouts that help people forget they’re working out. One trend that’s been catching on lately is 305 Fitness, classes that feel more like a night out at a dance club than like a class: live DJs spin records, strobe lights and colored lasers flash, and instructors incorporate high-intensity dance moves. Another is planting in an exercise studio props that approximate the feel of an outdoor park and letting members race around parkour-style. There are also always good, old-fashioned dance classes. Take the time to consider the ways in which your facility might appeal to new audiences with fun, unique, and creative classes. If you do, your audience will find you. Or, as Yoda might put it, the force will be with you.