gym community

How To Choose Staff Scheduling Software

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There are certain tasks any employer has to manage: hiring dependable workers, handling employee benefits, organizing HR paperwork. Then there is one particular task that presents unique challenges to employers in the fitness industry: staff scheduling. If you run a health club or other kind of fitness facility, chances are you know what I’m talking about. You employ many different types of employees, and your facility is open from early morning till late night (or perhaps even 24 hours a day). With a number of part-time jobs that need to be filled, maybe you hire students who have complicated schedules you have to work around. Perhaps you need after-hours cleaners to get your facility ready for morning exercisers. And then there are your personal trainers and class instructors, whose hours vary from day to day and who may or may not take individual appointments with customers.

Whatever the particulars at your facility, no doubt juggling employee schedules presents complications. These days, most fitness facilities find that juggling next to impossible without a software solution. Or, at the very least, attempting to schedule the old-fashioned way proves to be an enormously time-consuming and endlessly shifting task. Makes sense: With front desk personnel, sales staff, class instructors, cleaners, life guards, personal trainers, child care attendants, laundry room managers, and many other types of workers, a fitness facility manager has to piece together employee schedules like a puzzle. Computers, of course, are great puzzle-solvers.

However, you can’t settle on just any software solution for the important work of scheduling. Look for products that will allow you to create an unlimited number of job classifications, first of all. Make sure the software you choose offers the option to define specific pay rates for each employee. You also will need a solution that lets you run and export detailed payroll reports in a range of formats, including xml files, csv, pdf, MHTML, excel, tiff files, and Word formats. Also key is a program that allows designated employees administrator privileges to override staff clock in/out hours (because in and out hours aren’t necessary clear-cut). And it’s important to consider a program that lets you restrict clock in/out functions to specific terminals.

What’s more, you want an employee scheduling system that will help your facility optimize trainer and instructor productivity by scheduling recurring sessions and eliminating double-bookings. Such solutions should allow you to create daily, weekly, or monthly schedules for trainers and instructors; meet individual client needs by offering pre-paid and post-billed packages; create unique trainer logins to track individual schedules and earnings; define customized commission and pay rates for each trainer; run reports detailing payroll and commission totals and other elements; and automate email and text reminders to clients and trainers about upcoming sessions.

The bottom line: Do your research before you choose a software solution that offers staff scheduling capabilities. Generic solutions might not have the capacity to handle the particular needs of businesses in the fitness industry; a better choice probably is one geared toward the industry. You spend significant resources on finding and hiring the best staff you can; be sure you piece together their work schedules in a way that will most benefit your facility.

front desk help

Easing Rush Hour

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No one likes rush hour. The crowds, the slowness, the general irritation of having other people block your way — given the choice, most people would go far out of their way to avoid it. In fact, in a recent study by The Retention People, researchers found that the one complaint members of top-performing clubs have most often is that the clubs are too busy at peak times. This, of course, is good news for clubs: Too busy equals successful. But you have to balance that kind of success with retention. If your members become fed-up with crowded spaces and inadequate facilities, they might choose to leave and you’ll be stuck watching your retention rates sink.

Unfortunately for members, many of them do not have a choice about avoiding rush hour. They work regular business hours and tend to families, and that leaves few options for hitting the gym: before work, during lunch, or after work. In other words, rush hour. So what can you do to improve the rush hour experience for your members?

Interestingly, The Retention People study asked members a single question: On a scale of 1 to 10, how likely is it that you would recommend your health club to a friend or colleague? Respondents were categorized according to their ratings: “Promotors” gave their clubs a rating of 9 or 10, “Passives” a rating of 7 or 8, and “Detractors” a rating of 0 through 6. Respondents also were given the option of explaining their answer. Researchers then used scores and common phrases to identify issues. As far as the rush hour problem goes, some of the words detractors most commonly used were “crowded,” “changing rooms,” and “equipment,” in explaining their reasons for responding negatively. If you’re looking to improve rush hour, these are the areas you should focus on.

• Crowded: Assess the space in your facility. In particular, watch the flow of traffic into and out of the facility during peak times. Do customers wait in line to reach the front desk? If so, increase your front desk staff or consider whether you need to make staff changes. If employees are not the issue, is there another way to increase efficiency up front? Can you install automatic card readers (if you don’t have them already), so members can flash their IDs and go? What about other spaces in the facility? Where are the crowds? How can you even them out?

• Changing rooms: Assess your changing room areas. First of all, do you have the resources to expand them? If not, can you do a redesign? Ideally, of course, you want changing rooms to offer plenty of locker space, wide aisles for a free flow of traffic, and enough showers, bathroom stalls, and dressing-room spaces that customers never feel like they’re being made to wait. If your changing rooms are cramped or inadequate and reconstruction isn’t an option, can you designate secondary changing rooms (such as family rooms) for specific groups during rush hour only? Can you hire more attendants to ensure smoother operation?

• Equipment: Again, you need to assess your situation: Do you have enough desirable equipment — and enough space for it — that members never feel like they’re waiting for the treadmill, medicine ball, stationary bike, or whatever other item it might be that they want to use? If not, can you acquire more of the most sought-after pieces of equipment? Can you impose a rush-hour only time limit on those pieces?

It’s going to be impossible to give everyone everything they want during rush hour. Some members will have to wait sometimes. Some will have to grudgingly deal with time limits. Some will get fed up and leave. But if you can reduce the chances of losing members, it’s worth trying to do so. One other interesting thing to note about The Retention People study: Promotors at top-performing clubs — that is, members who rated the likelihood of their recommending the club to others very high — said that what they like about their club is the “fantastic staff”, “great service”, and “friendly team.” If reducing the rush hour crunch is too challenging, then you can always compensate with supreme customer service. That goes a long way toward solving every problem.

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Getting Green While Getting Clean

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We’ve talked before in this space about going green: making small changes to everyday practices in order to create more eco-friendly athletic and fitness facilities. We’ve talked about making big changes too: about using sustainable building materials and developing lighting, heating, and cooling strategies that leave smaller environmental footprints. One thing we haven’t talked about, though, is laundry. That’s why I was glad to see a great article about athletic laundry facilities on Athletic Business’s website.

The article points out the complications of working at an athletic laundry facility: the use of multiple fabric types in sports uniforms (today’s uniforms typically comprise five different types); the need to have a constant supply of towels available on demand; the expectation that workout clothes and other gear will be clean and ready whenever needed. Given the high-pressure environment, it’s not surprising that ecological efficiency is not the first thing on a laundry room’s agenda. But the laundry room is a place where a huge footprint can be left. From massive amounts of water, to massive amounts of energy used to power the water, to the chemicals required for those complicated cleaning jobs, athletic laundry rooms present big challenges to the “go green” effort.

So, if you run an athletic facility — or a fitness center with a laundry room for processing copious towels — what can you do to strive for greater eco-efficiency?

Start with the water. As the Athletic Business article notes, using programmable-control machines that automatically choose appropriate water levels for different wash jobs reduces human error in water consumption. Also, filling machines with appropriately sized loads makes a big difference. Most people underload, Gary Gauthier, a regional sales manager with the Pellerin Milnor Corporation, told Athletic Business. “This practice,” he said, “wastes water, chemicals, energy, and time.” What’s an appropriate load size? “I encourage that frontloading washer-extractors be filled until there’s a football-sized opening at the top of the basket,” Gauthier said. Other possibilities to consider: washers that have shower-rinse features along with bath-rinse features, washers that use polymer beads or other new technologies in place of most water, and washers that allow you to reclaim the water used for rinsing.

Next, think about chemicals. Taking steps to conserve water is just the beginning. Choosing the right chemicals also goes a long way toward reducing environmental impact. Cold-water chemicals that clean fabrics effectively save on costs associated with heating water. Ozone, a chemical less harsh than chlorine and equally effective in smaller amounts, disappears as it cleans and loosens fibers for softer, cleaner items; it also has the added benefit of conserving water because it requires less to get the job done. Whatever chemicals you choose for your facility, laundry experts recommend building up a good working relationship with your chemical representatives. “A knowledgeable chemical rep who can visit the laundry locally and solve cleaning issues is an ideal resource for any athletic facility,” Gauthier told Athletic Business.

Finally, review your laundry facility’s operational efficiency regularly. With continually updated uniforms, new styles of towels, changes in practice gear and equipment, and other frequently changing variables in the laundry room, it’s essential to keep your laundering practices up-to-date. Otherwise, it’s easy to keep cycling through routines established in past years (or even decades) without pausing to consider whether those routines are still relevant. Reviewing your operational efficiency allows you to analyze data related to towel loads, water usage, chemical optimization, and much more, and to make decisions related to your analysis. In other words, don’t let the laundry room operate on autopilot. Take charge of the controls, and you’ll find yourself with a more sustainable facility — and maybe even cleaner clothes.

personal trainers

Small Group Training Is Here to Stay

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Nearly every day, on my walks, jogs, or bike rides through Central Park, I see them: handfuls of people using benches for leg dips or tricep drills, doing pushups in the pathways, or swinging kettlebells in unison. These are the small group training classes, growing in popularity across the industry seemingly day by day. With each group is an instructor, carefully watching and giving tips and critiques as the exercisers push themselves toward whatever goals they separately and collectively have. That “collectively” aspect is significant, I think, because I also see lone exercisers — joggers, yogis, stretchers — and, on the whole, the ones in groups look happier. They laugh with each other, they chat while they’re mid-squat, they exchange eye-rolls when their trainer asks for ten more burpees.

Consisting usually of three to five students, small group training sessions hold benefits for everyone. Trainers get to take on more clients and increase their incomes; members get individualized attention at lower costs plus a ready-made, intimate community working toward similar goals; and fitness facilities get a new revenue stream, possibly new members, and very likely increased retention. Ultimately, small group training combines the most attractive aspects of a gym workout: They’re fun, they’re social, and they produce results.

Is it any wonder, then, that the phenomenon is continuingly increasing in popularity? In 2007, it was 19 on the American College of Sports Medicine’s annual list of trends driving the fitness industry. By 2013, it was 10; last year, it was 9. Health and fitness expert Pete McCall, at the American Council on Exercise (ACE), wrote in a blog at the end of last year, “[2015] may be the year we see revenue from small-group programming surpass revenue generated by one-on-one personal training.” Everyone seems to agree: It’s a trend that’s here to stay, and it’s only going to grow.

What does its popularity mean for your facility? If you haven’t already incorporated small group training into your offerings, it’s time to consider doing so. Getting started requires little to no upfront investment. Everything you need is already there: equipment, trainers, members. It’s just a question of programming and getting the word out. For the programming aspect, focus on designing classes that last at least four to six weeks — that gives participants a chance to bond with one another and see some results. Sessions should take place during set times, and often it is useful to design them around specific topics: in one class lower back health, for example, in another, leg strength. Put groups together either by advertising the start of a small group class that will focus on a particular topic and inviting participants, or by asking members to coordinate their own groups; trainers can then tailor the topics to the group’s needs and wants.

As for getting the word out, one great way to do this is to hold sessions in a central, visible location in your club. This will drum up interest from other members and also create an energy and can infuse the whole facility. Also, of course, advertise heavily on social media, through email blasts, and via flyers and posters in your facility. And rely on word of mouth. One of the best aspects of small group training is that it naturally encourages members to pull their friends in for workouts; let them spread the word about your exciting new offerings. Some of those friends could turn into new members, and with the intense bonds that small group training encourages among participants, those members are likely to want to stay.

sauna and spa

How to Clean a Sauna & Commercial Steam Room

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Soon after I first joined my gym, I was describing my experiences there to a friend of mine. “Wait,” she said. “Do you even work out?”

It was a valid question. Pretty much all I’d talked about were the sauna and steam room. I’m not ashamed to admit it: These were my absolute favorite features of the gym. Yeah, yeah, I’d get in a good workout — all well and good. But stepping into that steam room afterward? That was heaven. Cooling off with a cold shower after the steam room and then heating myself to dry perfection in the sauna? An even higher plane of heaven.

And then came the day when I finished my workout, went to the locker room, got myself all ready for the steam-filled wonderfulness — and found myself staring at a sign that said, “Out of Order Until Further Notice. Sorry for the Inconvenience.” I didn’t cry. I still had the sauna. Until soon after, when I found on the sauna door, you guessed it, a sign that read, “Out of Order Until Further Notice. Sorry for the Inconvenience.” I actually did feel almost on the verge of tears when I saw that one.

I don’t blame my gym. Saunas and steam rooms are hard to maintain. And eventually the facility got things up and running again, and in the long-run I wasn’t too terribly inconvenienced. But still. A sauna and/or steam room can be a huge draw for prospective members and a key to retaining current members. Figuring out how to keep them up — and keep them clean, welcoming, and well-maintained — is crucial for any fitness facility offering them as amenities. Here are a few sauna care tips to keep in mind:

1. Adopt a rigid cleaning regimen. It’s best to do this at the outset, so if you’ve got a brand new or recently renovated facility, you’re in a good position to make sure your sauna flor and steam room will look forever pristine. If you’re an established facility and your sauna maintenance cleaning regimen is only so-so, it’s time to step things up. At a minimum, require staff to thoroughly wipe and deep clean these rooms weekly; with some sauna cleaning products. Especially ensure that they scrub under benches with a damp cloth and mild detergent cleaner— that’s where all the sweat stains and dirt coming off of users’ bodies go.

2. Pay particular attention to surfaces touched frequently. Reino Tarkiainen, president of Portland, Oregon-based Finlandia Sauna, recently told Athletic Business magazine that new benches should be coated with a water-based sealant to allow for easier sponge cleaning and reduce perspiration stains from users. Wood, in general, is hard to wash, Tarkiainen cautioned, especially because a commercial cleaning agent can stain it — as can simply plain water. The best method, he said, is to ask patrons to use a towel. “It’s good protection for themselves, and that body moisture goes into the towel,” he told Athletic Business. He also said that facility owners should be prepared to replace wooden benches and backrests in a sauna frequently — even once a year. It’s a relatively inexpensive step that will extend the life of a sauna for years.

3. When it’s time to build or rebuild, choose materials carefully. It’s traditional for saunas to feature all wood and for steam rooms to feature all tile, but other, more durable options exist. Areas in a sauna that will be touched should be wood like red cedar, but other areas could be done in tile and stone, which last longer than wood. Doors can be aluminum, and special plastics designed to withstand high heat can be used in door handles and even floors. With steam rooms, tile can be replaced with specialized plastic that is resistant to bacteria and mold growth. Any materials prone to get moldy or rust — wood, metal — should be avoided in a steam room.

4. Keep saunas and steam rooms welcoming. Consider carefully the lighting used in your sauna and steam room. Typically, light fixtures in these settings appear to be surrounded by jelly jars set in a small cage. These can be hidden with valences or placed below benches. Alternatively, you can find ways to use glass creatively to bring in more natural light. And, for both steam rooms and saunas, consider aroma enhancement — if it smells right, it will feel clean, and patrons, relishing the relaxing environment they are privileged to experience, might even be more likely to follow the rules you set to keep your amenities lasting forever.

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Stepping Up the Locker Room Game

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Lately, there’s been a lot of locker-room talk in our industry. I don’t mean we’re saying inappropriate things; I mean, literally, we’re talking about locker rooms. It seems that facilities everywhere have begun to rethink the locker room and its centrality to the health, success, mindset, and even the reputation of a sports team. The old model — cold, ugly rooms; small, grey, smelly metal lockers; hard, narrow benches — is going the way of the all-leather soccer ball. The new model — mini barber shops, self-ventilating wooden lockers, football-shaped rooms — is cropping up at colleges and in pro-league facilities everywhere. It has evolved along with the evolving nature of college and professional sports, as competition becomes more intense than ever before, the amount of practice time increases, greater amounts of money and business investments are at stake, and game plans depend on technology more than ever before.

The Hatfield-Dowlin Complex at the University of Oregon is one example of a state-of-the-art locker room that has fans, parents, professional sports leagues, facilities directors — and, of course, players themselves — gawking. The complex has its own barber shop. Lockers are engineered to block odors, and they feature images of football players, with the actual names of the teams’ players’ names appearing on the jerseys in the images. Hidden doors create the sense that the locker room does not contain any lockers at all, and benches lined up against the wall under the lockers allow players to face each other during team talks.

At Oregon’s complex and in other facilities, technology plays a big role. Smart TV screens allow coaches to diagram directly on a screen or to pull up digital video footage of action that occurred in practice or a game. Almost all new locker rooms are hooked up with more power outlets than ever before to allow players and coaches to recharge their devices. Almost all are built to be wi-fi ready. Scott Radecic, senior principal at Populous, an architectural design firm with vast experience in sports facility strategic planning, told Athletic Business magazine, “At one point in time, some architects tried to design a locker space for a specific device — for an iPad, for an iPhone, for a Samsung. Well, these devices change so often that really the most important thing to do is provide a place to store the device, whatever it is, but make sure there’s power.”

And that’s what teams are doing. But technology is not the only thing advancing — changes in configuration and size are also at play. Both individual lockers and entire locker rooms are expanding. “When you say, ‘I want a minimum locker width of 42 inches and then I want to put every locker on the perimeter’… all of a sudden this becomes an extremely large room,” Radecic told Athletic Business. The new locker room in the University of Minnesota’s TCF Bank Stadium measures about 160 feet in length, larger than any other locker room Radecic has ever been in. Meanwhile, space layouts are becoming both more creative and more functional. That giant locker room in Minnesota’s facility is football-shaped; the idea is to create a huge, welcoming space in the dead of winter.

Underlining all of these changes is an awareness of the need to make an impression. At both college and pro facilities, locker rooms have become more public than ever before. People tour facilities and get a glimpse of private spaces. Before and after games, television cameras follow players around locker rooms. And players and teams themselves post images of their facilities’ inner spaces all over social media. These realities are creating a drive for a clean presentation; for extras, such as color-varying LED lights embedded in lockers or flat screens installed in each individual locker; for elaborate team logo displays. The result is an unprecedented kind of mood-setting in the locker room environment — and the hope is partly that that mood-setting will result in higher team morale and, ultimately, better playing.

Whether or not that’s the case remains to be seen, but certainly it’s true that players are finding themselves in greater comfort in their inner sanctums than ever has been the case before. Maybe it’s time for your facility to get its own locker room boost?

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Your Management Software Solution and Your Front Desk

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If you ask yourself where your facility’s nucleus of member service lies, what is your answer? The front desk? Most likely. It’s where almost all member-related activities take place, and it serves as the main communication point for prospects, members, trainers, sales staff, instructors, and managers. At the same time, chances are you rely on a management software solution that is the beating heart beneath your front desk, a system that, for starters, organizes, maintains, and stores member information and allows you and your staff to access that information instantly and easily. Given how important a software solution is to your front desk’s functioning, it’s crucial to ensure that the two elements—the desk and the software—are fully integrated. Here are a few ways to do so.

First, train front desk staff completely. If your software system is going to fulfill your needs, your staff will have to know how to optimize its capabilities. A software solution package should come with training support (if you’ve purchased one that doesn’t, it’s probably time to shop around for a better alternative). Sign up with your provider for a training course, and be sure to sign your key staff members up as well. Moreover, know how to answer your employees’ questions about the system (and where to go for answers if you don’t have them). At base, you — and at least some of your employees — should know how to use the system to process payments, manage sales leads, attract new members, retain members, address attrition, and forecast revenue. Get up to speed on anything you’re unsure about, and keep your employees up to speed as well.

Once you know your front desk staff is using your software system to its full capacity, you’ll want to focus on how well your security procedures integrate with your system’s security features. Management software enhances front desk security in a number of ways. First and foremost, it can pop up photos of members as they check in, allowing staff to verify that the member and the person present are the same person. Moreover, your management software can help you fine-tune access to your club. Member-specific features, such as image capture and fingerprint scanning, help deter nonmembers from entering. These features also can help alert front-desk staff if memberships are past due or expired, allowing them to deal with issues on the spot.

On a lighter note, your software solution can help enhance member experience by providing your staff members with instant, member-specific alerts. If someone checks in on their birthday, you can configure your system to display a happy birthday message, so that front-desk staff can convey their wishes on behalf of the facility. If someone is recovering from an injury that they have reported to your facility, a message to that effect can pop up, allowing staff to enquire about their progress. All in all, the front-desk experience can become a more personal and enjoyable one, helping to create an atmosphere that keeps members coming back (not to mention renewing their memberships and spreading the word to prospects).

One more feature of your management software solution to pay close attention to when it comes to front-desk business: back-up. As with any system that channels important information, your management software solution requires efficient data backup and storage. Find out what kind of backup/restore utilities are available with your system. How frequently does your software transmit information from your facility to your provider’s mainframe, and how often is that mainframe backed up? Do you have online access to member information? The last thing you want is for front-desk staff to be checking someone in, only to find out the system has crashed. Be sure to institute a regimen of periodically backing up your data, whether by archiving it on another network computer located off-site or distributing it to removable storage media. Review your regimen with key employees, and check it occasionally to be sure it’s functioning as intended.

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Matching Future Goals with Software Solutions

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When it comes to facility management software, it can be difficult to know what product will be a good fit for your company. What features do you assess in order to make a determination? How can you know, before putting money down, whether a given product will be right for you?

One factor that can set a product apart from others is what is planned for it in the future. As Athletic Business magazine put it in a recent article, “What are the vendor’s future plans — and yours? Given how rapidly technology is evolving, this might be the most important question to ask once you have your priorities in mind.” The question is crucial not only because of the pace at which technology changes but also because, as a business, your facility must grow in order to thrive. If you invest in a software solution that will not grow with you, you’ll find yourself in a few years having to choose a new solution all over again — or having to figure out how to live with an inadequate one.

To understand what a vendor plans for a software product’s future, you need to know two things: what additional features a company has in development and how your own needs might change. In talks with salespeople, ask what features the vendor plans to implement in the future, and when implementation is expected to happen. Some particular features to consider inquiring about: mobile compatibility (if the software doesn’t already have a mobile feature, will it? Will it work on all devices?), simplified registration for and checking into group fitness classes (will the software solution allow for one or two clicks that let members efficiently register or check in?), encryption techniques (will software updates include whatever encryption technologies are most cutting edge at the time?). Also, think about your particular future needs. If you’re a college rec center, perhaps you plan to offer occasional outdoor adventure programming — does the software solution you’re considering allow for this, or might it in the future? Are you considering implementing wearable integration, and, if so, can the solution support this?

Clearly, you need to undertake some self-reflection before you begin asking about the future of a given product. If you haven’t already, sit down with your core team and brainstorm how you want the next five years — and the next ten and fifteen and twenty years — to look for your facility. What’s your wishlist in terms of general development and growth? What do you imagine for your facility particularly in terms of technological implementation? What do you hope your management software will be able to do for you down the road? Once you articulate answers to such questions, you can begin to understand the kinds of questions you need to ask about management software products. Don’t be afraid to get carried away. If you envision eventually have a sixty-foot rock-climbing wall that ascends from the deep end of a swimming pool, but you currently have no wall and no aquatic center, make sure your management software package either has the capacity to handle a climbing-wall-cum-swimming pool or will have it. Anything you can project as a possible reality for your facility, you want your software to be able to handle — if not now, then at some point.

So think ahead, think big, and ask questions about what’s to come.

gym community

Making a Fitness Facility a Home

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Last year, my friend and I both started using a running app. The app coached us through sessions and let us keep track of our goals, routes, calories burned, and distances. It also gave us the option to link to our Facebook accounts so that our intentions and our successes (and, yes, failures) could be publicly broadcast. My friend chose to keep her Facebook community up-to-date; I chose to lie low.

You probably won’t be surprised to learn that she’s still running (she recently signed up for a 10K), while I’ve called it quits. We started out pretty equal in terms of experience, fitness, and determination levels — but she found the motivation to keep going, while somewhere along the way I got bored or distracted or lazy or something. To be honest, I don’t entirely know why I stopped. But I suspect I know why she didn’t: She had a community to support her.

It’s a scientifically verified fact that when we have a community supporting our efforts to accomplish a goal, we’re much more likely actually to actually accomplish it. In one study conducted by Weilos, a social media site where people post about their attempts to lose weight, individuals who documented their progress by publicly posting photos of their bodies lost 1.2 pounds per week, while individuals who relied only on a diet and exercise program lost .27 pounds. In another study, published in 2013 in Translational Behavioral Medicine, one group of participants enrolled in a weight-loss program was asked to publish progress, questions, and requests for support on Twitter; a second group was asked to post nothing. While the two groups showed equal amounts of weight loss, individuals who posted most frequently always lost the most weight. The message is clear: Establish a community and you’re more likely to stick to your goals.

The thing is, not everyone whose goals involve weight loss or fitness wants a virtual community. That’s where fitness facilities come in. With a fitness facility, you are able to provide exercisers with real-life access to a group of people with similar goals and real-life access to a staff whose purpose is to help further those goals. Those are huge assets, and we constantly hear industry stories suggesting that facilities with the best member retention and most successful word-of-mouth new membership campaigns are the ones that make people feel they are a part of something. As Anthony Wall, Director of Professional Education at the American Council on Exercise in San Diego, California, expressed it in a recent post on the IHRSA blog: “Exactly how a club creates a sense of belonging and community will depend, to some extent, on the type of facility. However, at the end of the day, it comes down to making members feel welcome…. the one thing that all successful health and fitness facilities have in common is staff who are genuinely concerned about members, and enjoy being part of their involvement in club activities.”

Ali Lucas, Director of Marketing for BodyBusiness Health Club and Spa in Austin, Texas, agrees. “Hire and fire the right people,” she said in the same blog post. “Define your purpose and values, and compare every decision against them. Compensate and reward employees based on their performance. Train them to create a consistent member and guest experience.” She tells the story of a former member who had to cancel because she was moving out of state. The member posted a video testimonial — which in itself is telling — saying that she was going to miss two things: her church and her health club. “Lots of gyms have nice equipment and good classes,” the member said in the video, “but it’ll be hard to find one with the same kind of heart.”

That’s what you want: for your members to recognize the heart in your facility, and to feel an emotional attachment to the community they have there. Building such a community depends first of all, on your staff. It also depends on your efforts to promote social interaction, whether you introduce members to each other, hold networking events, form clubs that address members’ interests, or, yes, build up an online social media presence. Whatever your approach, make it part of your membership and retention strategy to make your facility a true community. You’ll know you’ve achieved that when you hear a member call it “home.”

sporting event fans

Making Special Events a Revenue Stream

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Looking for ways to create a new revenue stream or beef up an existing one? Look no further than the space all around you. It’s all you need in order to pull in earnings over and above what you make through membership dues.

I’m talking about special events. You have the space. Chances are you have open time slots too. Given these, you have the opportunity to invite community groups, families, schools, and anyone else you can think of in for one-off or recurring events. You just need to figure out how to position yourself as the place to call when someone is looking for event space.

From an event planner’s point of view, pricing is probably the top concern. What you can reasonably charge probably depends a lot on where you’re located — there are facilities in Manhattan that charge upwards of $5,000 just for a kid’s birthday party; joints in small towns probably couldn’t get away with quite so much. Do some research and see what the going rates are in your area. Then figure out how little you can afford to charge. I know that sounds anti-intuitive, but the fact is that if your facility’s primary function is to provide lessons, leagues, games, coaching, and the like, maybe you can consider anything that comes in from special events extra. Keeping your fees low can help make you the most appealing place in town.

On a related note, don’t get hung up on providing extras. Keep those fees low by offering the minimum that groups and families need in order to create their own fun: a space. Maybe a space and a couple coaches, some sports equipment. Too many facilities think they’re competing with other kinds of venues that go all out providing decorations, food, entertainment, and the like. You’re not that kind of venue; you’re a sports center or health club with some space to offer. And many event planners want to choose their own extras anyway. If you feel you must offer more, think about devising package plans: space plus extras for those who want a “just-the-facts” option for those who don’t.

But do be sure to offer incentives. Give free passes to classes, practices, and training sessions to event planners; offer them the chance to secure the space a second time for half price. Brainstorm whatever other kinds of incentives might work best for your facility. And while you’re at it, don’t forget to see the event as a marketing opportunity. Ask your event organizers if you can hand out flyers during their events — or, better yet, flyers with coupons attached. Let everyone who comes know what kinds of classes and services you offer. And, most importantly, make sure you are pulling reports on sales of these programs and offers in your club management software.You will want the physical proof of your progress! If you do it right, special events can be more than just a revenue stream — they can bring you new members and clients, too!

puzzle piece

Helping Your Members Find Their Own Way

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I have a confession to make: Exercise bores me. Don’t get me wrong — I love staying fit, and I love the way I feel after a great workout, but no matter what exercise routine I try, after a while I get bored and want something new. For a while I was into spin classes. Then it was Zumba. Then aquatic aerobics, HIIT-style repetitions, and just plain jogging. Now I’m all about indoor climbing. I was starting to think there’s something wrong with me, but then I stumbled across a post on the “Be Active Your Way” blog, a publication of the Department of Health and Human Services. Written by Alexandra Black, a dietician and IHRSA’s Health Promotion Manager, the article is not about keeping exercise interesting — but it nevertheless put my mind at ease and inspired me to continue trying new routines.

What the article is about is this: using trial and error to determine the best workouts for individuals. “Each person,” Black writes, “has a unique genetic makeup, different life experiences, and varied medical histories that make it nearly impossible to prescribe one great diet or one great fitness plan for all.” Because of this, she says, the best way for individuals to figure out what works for them is through trial and error. The health and medical industries are beginning to recognize this, and the result of moving away from a one-size-fits-all mindset is better care and better long-term health for people. Black puts it this way: “As the trend towards individualized healthcare continues, we’re recognizing that every person is different, and that treating them as such — both in healthcare and in wellness — is often where the real magic happens.”

Which brings me back to my boredom issue. Reading Black’s thoughts on trial and error made me realize that the only way for me to find a routine that doesn’t eventually bore me is to keep trying new ones — and that it’s okay to do so. Maybe I just haven’t found the right one yet, and I need to keep searching until I do. Or maybe it’s the case that my genetic makeup, life experiences, and medical history make me a person who needs constant changes in her workout routine in order to most benefit from working out. Whatever the case, thinking about fitness as something that requires an individualized approach completely changes the way I think about working out. It gives me a feeling that I have permission to keep trying whatever I want to try.

Why am I sharing all this? Because chances are that an individualized fitness approach is something that would appeal to your members too. Of course, if you have personal trainers or some kind of personalized workout program, you already promote individualized fitness — but doing so explicitly could put your members at ease (enough so that they renew their memberships and talk your facility up to all their friends and social network connections). Defining individualized fitness and explaining its benefits — through posters, emails, social media, and one-on-one sales and promotion pitches — can help your members feel freer to engage in their own trial and error, giving new workouts and exercises a try, experimenting until they know what works best for them. And helping them in that way greatly increases the chances that they’re going to keep coming back to you.

gym community

Preparing Your Club For A Brand New Year

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I’m guessing you barely even have time to read this, so I’m going to get straight to the point: The January rush is on. You’ve been preparing for it, no doubt, since early last month. Take a breather (a really short one) and make sure you’ve got all your ducks in a row. If you don’t, don’t panic: You still have time to create solutions and ready yourself and your facility for the swell of 2016 resolution-makers you’re going to see in the coming weeks. Here are some top tips:
1) Ensure that any new staff members you’ve hired to handle the busy time are fully trained and confident. You probably lined those new employees up several weeks ago, and no doubt you’ve been teaching them the ins and outs of your facility’s operations. Don’t assume they’re ready to fly, though: You need to check in with them frequently (several times a day for the first week or so) to make sure they understand your procedures and are handling your most valuable resources (your customers) with great care. Give them ample opportunity to ask questions about anything they don’t understand. Create checklists for them to simplify their tasks. Hold staff meetings once a week, and publicly recognize the contributions of your temporary staff members so they feel invested in your facility.
2) With all staff, old and new, temporary and long term, make sure you’ve conveyed a clear idea about what to expect. They need to be prepared to handle lines of people checking in, chaotic situations, and possibly some impatient customers. The more prepared they are, the more likely they’ll be to keep their cool in tough situations.
3) Your sales team needs to be as highly prepared as your greeters and front desk staff. Educate the team about the specific ways in which your club stands out from the competition. In order to leave prospects with the impression that it’s simply a fact that your club is better, your sales staff should be able to spew off your club’s distinguishing features effortlessly and with great confidence. On a related note, if there’s any time of the year to offer sign-up incentives, this is it. Figure out what extras your facility can offer to attract new members, and make sure prospects understand exactly what those extras are.
4) Increase your staff’s efficiency. Arm sales people and other employees with tablets or other mobile devices that make processes seamless for both prospects and current members. Front desk folk can walk down the line of waiting customers, checking them in. Sales staff can iron out the enrollment process by having paperless forms at their fingertips.
5) Adjust schedules to accommodate heavy traffic. Slate classes for non-peak hours in order to channel people toward slower periods. If, during these heavily trafficked weeks, you realize your current schedule isn’t working, don’t be afraid to make changes. Customers will easily adjust once they realize their own needs are better served by more efficiently scheduled classes.
Whatever you do during this beginning-of-the-year rush, take note of what works for you and what doesn’t. Reflect on ways in which you might be better prepared next year. If necessary, make resolutions of your own about getting started in November this year. Post-Halloween is the perfect time to begin setting yourself up for New Year’s success — and to make things run so smoothly that you’re setting your new and existing members up for success as well.


How a Software Solution Could Maximize Your Time

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If you run a sports center, health club, gym, or niche exercise venture, chances are you don’t have enough time. It would take someone superhuman, after all, to open a facility early in the morning; oversee employees, attend meetings, troubleshoot, pay bills, coordinate with contractors, and do all the other zillion things required of business owners (including maybe even running a class or a training session or two); perform end-of-the-day accounting and shut-down routines (the end of the day often being 10 p.m.); and tend to post-work familial and social obligations while still having time leftover. Never mind finding the hours needed to grow your business in whatever way you dream of growing it.

Where Does a business software solution come in?

Software packages designed for the sports and fitness industries automate many of the processes that consume a great deal of time if you do them by hand or using basic word-processing or spreadsheet programs designed for other purposes. Business software solutions produce user-friendly reports, convey messages to employees and members, send out automatic notices to collect member dues, schedule trainers and instructors, track equipment, manage leagues, provide marketing tools, and much, much more. Automating these functions gives you more time for the things you want and need to get done. It also gives you the security that comes with knowing that one, overarching system is running your entire operation.

How do you choose the solution that’s right for your facility?

First, you have to know what needs the software must meet. Take the time to study your current business requirements, design, and mission. Review the hardware and software you already have in place, and analyze their current strengths and shortcomings. Consider also what kind of financial investment you are willing and able to make in a software package. (If all of this seems like too much of a burden on your already stuffed schedule, consider hiring an organizational analyst who can come in, determine your needs, and make recommendations. Sometimes having an outsider’s perspective is more helpful anyway.) A key part of this step: Consider not only what your business needs now, but also what it will need a year, five years, ten years down the road. You don’t want to invest in something your business will outgrow quickly.

Second, consider security.

With each passing day, more and more business applications use the cloud: that mysterious, invisible place where so much of the world’s data is stored. The more applications that use them, the more vulnerable businesses are to hackers and malware. Before you choose a software solution, ensure that the company that provides it has a reputation for security. Ask what security options the software includes. Does it encrypt stored data? What level of encryption does it support? Doing your homework in this area could save you many headaches down the road.

Finally, don’t evaluate just the software — also evaluate the vendor.

You don’t want to choose a company that executes great ideas poorly or mismanages its people or products. You do want a company with proven vendor stability. That’s not to say it has to have been around for decades, but the executive team should include industry leaders. You should consider the size of the vendor, what its core business is, and whether its software truly supports the sports and fitness industries.

Finding the right software can mean reduced expenses, increased profits, happier employees and members — and more time for you. If you’re not already using a software solution, start looking into the possibilities today. And if you are, consider an overall assessment to be sure the one you’ve got is the best one for you.

gym community

The Core Is Core

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So, here’s a question: How many of your facility’s offerings have to do with helping your clients strengthen their core? If you answered, “A lot,” that’s a good start, or so would say some industry leaders who believe focusing on the core is the best possible strategy right now — for both fitness businesses and clients. If you answered, “All of them,” you’re at the forefront of a new trend: facilities that make core-training the foundation of their entire business model. A recent, fascinating article on the IHRSA website takes a close look at the growing trend and at the expansion of core-training offerings at fitness facilities around the country.

Mike Z. Robinson, IDEA’s 2015 Personal Trainer of the Year and owner of MZR Fitness, a training studio in San Luis Obispo, California, told IHRSA he’s “seen a definite increase in the number of boutique studios that feature core-based movements — facilities that focus, for example, on Pilates and barre. Their main selling point is a workout constructed around the core. At the same time, traditional gyms are offering more core-centric classes, because consumers have become aware of the benefits. Program schedules are reflecting the trend, the demand.”

Some trainers go so far as to say the trend is taking over. Amy Dixon, the national creative manager for group fitness for Equinox Fitness and a master trainer for BOSU and Shockwave, told IHRSA, “For a while, we saw a push toward the high-intensity end of the spectrum. Today, I believe, the pendulum is swinging back…. We’re seeing clubs integrate core into all their classes.” In other words, the focus now is turning toward exercises necessary for sharpening the core and away from the kinds of high-intensity activities that stress the importance of raising, and then resting, the heart rate.

Why the renewed interest in core-based exercising? Dixon, Robinson, and other trainers argue that a strong core is the foundation of good fitness. “When you help clients improve their core strength,” said Kim Ingleby, founder of the Energised Performance studio in Bristol, England, “you’re making it possible for them to progress to more complex exercises while simultaneously reducing the probability of injury.” A strong core, therefore, lowers the chances of sprains and other pains, and increases the chances of improved results for members. At the same time, it reduces liability concerns for clubs, because clients are progressing through strength-training safely and appropriately.

How do you jump on the trend? It’s easy to incorporate core basics into an existing program. Think beyond crunches, which are effective but not as effective as other moves; it’s better to focus on motions that truly integrate the core, such as squats, push-ups, or lateral lunges. As Dixon puts it, “Multidimensional movement is the key.” Think about how you might pull such movements into, say, classes for skiing or triathlons. Also, keep in mind that manufacturers are coming out with more and more core-focused pieces, such as BOSU, CoreTex, and Core Stix. Other equipment mentioned by some of the trainers IHRSA spoke with include TPX, ViPR, and Life Fitness’s SYNRGY360. Also, consider designing a core-for-beginners class, one aimed at a population that never has thought much about its core, let alone exercised it before. “Everyone, no matter their age or their initial condition, needs core work,” Dixon pointed out, “and, with the right training, they will improve.” But they need to be given the chance to get started.

Wherever you boost up your core offerings, keep in mind that it’s crucial to let your clients know, first of all, that you consider core-work vital, and second of all, that you’re creating more possibilities for clients to focus on the core. Use social media, email blasts, face-to-face sales, and attractive flyers to get the word out. And make sure you emphasize the possibility for fun when it comes to core-training — and the great potential benefits.

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What Do Best-Of Lists Mean?

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“The 20 Best Gyms and Health Clubs in New York City,” “The Best Gyms in America for Every Workout,” “The 31 Best Gyms in America 2015”: Gyms, fitness centers, and sports facilities are subject to the near-constant publication of such lists, ones which, with varying degrees of validity, have great power to influence consumer decision-making. Every time you turn around, some magazine or other is ranking our businesses, comparing them with one another, and fitting their comparisons into some possibly arbitrary list that consumers might swallow wholesale when they’re contemplating putting money down. What’s a fitness facility to do?

First of all, don’t ignore the lists. It might be painful to read them, you might feel disempowered by them or frustrated by what you see as their meaninglessness, but you’ve got to keep in mind that your members are reading them, your competition is reading them, and your employees are reading them. And while you might not agree with their criteria or believe in their research methods, you need to keep up with what they’re saying about the industry. So, read the lists, even if you never appear on one or if you appear low down — or if you’re high up.

You want to read them not just because they give you information about what your colleagues, competitors, and membership know or believe to be true about fitness facilities, but also because they can give you clues about how to improve your business. Are the cleanest and hippest gyms the highest rated? If so, maybe it’s time to impose draconian standards for cleanliness and get yourself a new look. Are the sports facilities with former pro athletes the top-ranking ones? If so, maybe you need to reconsider who you’re hiring. Use the criteria in the best-of lists to help you make decisions about changes you could instigate in your facility.

That said; don’t give every list equal weight. Some best-of lists are drawn up with minimal research, and the meaninglessness you sense in the conclusions they draw is very real. Consider the publication the list appears in — is it one you think highly of yourself, or one you don’t really care about? Is it one with a large readership, or not much more than a cheap brochure? If it’s a web-only publication, how prominent is the advertising? That, more than anything, could determine who makes the publication’s lists and who doesn’t. Another factor to consider is reader input: Was the list created based on results of a survey that readers responded to? Or was it drawn up in an editorial meeting by people who perhaps have never been in a gym in their lives? If the latter, maybe you can take it with a grain of salt (read it, for the reasons stated earlier, but don’t pay it too much heed). If the former, you should tune in: The votes of readers and consumers probably do hold meaning, or at the very least probably can tell you what it is many of your members and prospective members consider important and attractive in a facility.

Take, for example, the article “31 Best Gyms in America 2015,” published recently by Active Times. While this magazine may not be as popular or as commercially significant as Fitness or Self, its best-of list is based on reader responses to a survey. What did the survey reveal? That cleanliness, community, and membership cost, in that order, are the three factors consumers consider most important when choosing a fitness facility. Would you ever have guessed that cost comes after cleanliness? Now look around you: How do you prioritize cleanliness vs. cost? Does your facility reflect members’ concerns adequately?

The bottom line is this: You can learn from best-of lists; you can even improve your operation based on what they say. And you should pay close attention when the lists are the result of reader responses. But you shouldn’t pay them too much mind overall — whatever list you’re not on today, you might be on tomorrow, and who can say why?


What Do Best-Of Lists Mean?

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“The 20 Best Gyms and Health Clubs in New York City,” “The Best Gyms in America for Every Workout,” “The 31 Best Gyms in America 2015”: Gyms, fitness centers, and sports facilities are subject to the near-constant publication of such lists, ones which, with varying degrees of validity, have great power to influence consumer decision-making. Every time you turn around, some magazine or other is ranking our businesses, comparing them with one another, and fitting their comparisons into some possibly arbitrary list that consumers might swallow wholesale when they’re contemplating putting money down. What’s a fitness facility to do?

First of all, don’t ignore the lists. It might be painful to read them, you might feel disempowered by them or frustrated by what you see as their meaninglessness, but you’ve got to keep in mind that your members are reading them, your competition is reading them, and your employees are reading them. And while you might not agree with their criteria or believe in their research methods, you need to keep up with what they’re saying about the industry. So, read the lists, even if you never appear on one or if you appear low down — or if you’re high up.

You want to read them not just because they give you information about what your colleagues, competitors, and membership know or believe to be true about fitness facilities, but also because they can give you clues about how to improve your business. Are the cleanest and hippest gyms the highest rated? If so, maybe it’s time to impose draconian standards for cleanliness and get yourself a new look. Are the sports facilities with former pro athletes the top-ranking ones? If so, maybe you need to reconsider who you’re hiring. Do the clubs that make the top of the list use an all-in-one gym management software? Perhaps you should think of investing in management software to streamline your business practices. Use the criteria in the best-of lists to help you make decisions about changes you could instigate in your facility.

That said; don’t give every list equal weight. Some best-of lists are drawn up with minimal research, and the meaninglessness you sense in the conclusions they draw is very real. Consider the publication the list appears in — is it one you think highly of yourself, or one you don’t really care about? Is it one with a large readership, or not much more than a cheap brochure? If it’s a web-only publication, how prominent is the advertising? That, more than anything, could determine who makes the publication’s lists and who doesn’t. Another factor to consider is reader input: Was the list created based on results of a survey that readers responded to? Or was it drawn up in an editorial meeting by people who perhaps have never been in a gym in their lives? If the latter, maybe you can take it with a grain of salt (read it, for the reasons stated earlier, but don’t pay it too much heed). If the former, you should tune in: The votes of readers and consumers probably do hold meaning, or at the very least probably can tell you what it is many of your members and prospective members consider important and attractive in a facility.

Take, for example, the article “31 Best Gyms in America 2015,” published recently by Active Times. While this magazine may not be as popular or as commercially significant as Fitness or Self, its best-of list is based on reader responses to a survey. What did the survey reveal? That cleanliness, community, and membership cost, in that order, are the three factors consumers consider most important when choosing a fitness facility. Would you ever have guessed that cost comes after cleanliness? Now look around you: How do you prioritize cleanliness vs. cost? Does your facility reflect members’ concerns adequately?

The bottom line is this: You can learn from best-of lists; you can even improve your operation based on what they say. And you should pay close attention when the lists are the result of reader responses. But you shouldn’t pay them too much mind overall — whatever list you’re not on today, you might be on tomorrow, and who can say why?

statistics and analytics

Grow Your Business with the Right Software Solution

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So you want to grow your fitness facility but you’re not sure how to do it. The answer might be staring you in the face — literally, if you’re reading this on a computer or other device. The best way to grow your business? Find a software solution that’s going to help you do so.

The right software solution can take your business to the next level in a number of ways. First and most obviously, a good software solution helps you store your key business and client information and access it whenever you need it, from any kind of device. If you’re relying on spreadsheets to track your key financial and client information, you’re quickly going to find yourself overwhelmed — or at least less efficient than you could be. With a business software solution storing your most important data for you, you have the capacity to instantly and easily find whatever information you need. Instant, easy access to crucial information equals a smarter, faster, bigger business.

Moreover, a business software solution allows you to run reports and perform functions that spreadsheets simply can’t do. Imagine seamlessly producing reports that allow you to ensure all of your books are reconciled, analyze your membership base, monitor member attendance, track referral sources, determine your most popular sessions, pin down your busiest time of day, identify underperforming classes, and run a range of financial and point-of-sale reports that highlight opportunities for business growth. For starters. And, again, all at your fingertips, with such reports available from any device at any moment. How much more smoothly would your business run? How much more quickly would you be able to develop ideas for growth?

Of course, the right business software solution also will help you with your marketing needs. For one thing, it will enhance your website by allowing you to embed key tools and features. Embedded class schedule, anyone? Also, customizable automations can help you reach out to students who failed to join your gym after signing up for a trial membership, or supply visitors to your website with key marketing materials when they click a “request more information button.”

Another way your software solution will help you grow is by making it easy for your clients to pay you. All well and good, you say, but how does this lead to growth? Essentially, if paying you requires effort — even slight effort — your clients will be more likely to cancel their membership. Think about it: Each month, they have to make a choice about whether to remain with your club or find another one (or quit club memberships altogether). On the other hand, if payments are automatic, there’s no monthly decision point. There’s no opportunity for your clients to — consciously or unconsciously — reevaluate the benefits gained at the cost of their membership. So what’s another thing a great business software solution will provide you with? An affordable payment processing option. Looking for the right one means finding one that makes it easy for you to make it easy for your students to pay.

All in all, investing in a software solution, or shopping around for one better than the one you already use, just makes good business sense. The more smoothly your operations run, the more time, effort, and resources you can devote to growing your business. Get that software solution going today.

nutritional facts

Working Together to Fight Obesity

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Really? We’re getting fatter? Sigh. It’s so disheartening, especially when the news seems full of reports about this health trend or that one, about the rise of wearable fitness technology and how data-tracking has revolutionized individual exercise plans, about the extraordinary progress a person can make by exercising intensely for small periods of time, about ever-increasing awareness of nutritional realities. Nevertheless, this is what the most recent report from the United Health Foundation, the American Public Health Association, and the Partnership from Prevention tells us: We’re getting fatter.

Issued annually for the past 25 years, the report, called America’s Health Rankings, tracks state-by-state health and fitness data. The most recently released report shows that in 2014 the nation’s obesity rate rose nearly 2 percent, from 27.6 percent last year to 29.4 percent this year. That 2 percent figure may sound small, but it represents an extremely large number of individuals. Moreover, at the time surveys for the report were completed, nearly a quarter of respondents said that they had had no physical activity or exercise for 30 days. That number increased from 22.9 percent in 2013 to 23.5 percent this year. And the even more grim news? In the 25 years that America’s Health Rankings have been published, obesity in the United States has more than doubled.

The question for us becomes: How can we, all of us who are leaders in the fitness industry, do more? How can we attract the people who are not inclined to exercise, and how can we help reverse the trend?

The key, I believe, is partnerships. One gym or health club or sports facility or fitness center can do only so much, and whatever we each can do, we have to do while keeping the bottom line always in mind (or else we won’t be around to do anything at all!). But a whole network of gyms and health clubs and sports facilities and fitness centers can do a lot. Make it part of your facility’s mission to work with other facilities to help improve America’s overall health. Join programs that allow members to work out at partner facilities at a discount. Combine resources to offer free or heavily discounted training and exercise programs to individuals who can’t afford normal gym rates. Get other facilities in your area to help host a day of city- or town-wide exercise fun.

But don’t stop at other facilities. The fact is, exercise is only one part of the overall health picture. Obesity numbers won’t drop until the food industry finds a better way of providing affordable, healthy food to the population at large; until health insurance companies start seeing health club memberships as reimbursable sickness-prevention tools; until schools bring back physical education and more effectively educate children about health and exercise science. If you’re going to be a part of the force chipping away at our rising obesity rates, you’ve got to consider ways of working with a whole network of organizations and industries that have an impact on individuals’ health and fitness. We can reverse the crisis. But we can only do it together.

personal trainers

Finding Time to Combat Epic Gym Fails

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Most gym enthusiasts will, at some point, observe an ‘Epic Gym Fail’ whilst working out. With smart phones in hand, there is plenty of supporting evidence that more and more people are being captured executing what can only be described as ‘Gnarly maneuvers’. These videos range from misfortunate to downright stupid. To add insult to injury (which is very likely) these videos end up online for all to see.

Putting aside the ethical debate of posting these videos in the first place, it’s clear from reading viewers’ comments that some people find these clips comedic gold. On the flip side, there are others that suggest the people capturing these videos would be better off giving advice rather than jeering at these poor souls’ lack of education and safety training.

Other than the humiliation and obvious risk of serious injury to the gym member, you have to ask what it’s saying about the facility these events take place in. Imagine signing up as a new Gym member and then witnessing some crazy guy doing a Tarzan impression with a weight machine on your social media feed? I know I’d certainly question whether the staff are giving the right advice, let alone, if I’d made the right choice in signing up for this gym.

Having witnessed several gym fails for myself, I’ve often wondered why there are no staff members monitoring the floor at all times. Surely if more staff were around they would step in to educate, combat and eradicate these events from occurring in the first place.

So how does one go about finding time when resources and budgets are already stretched thin? Make no mistake; it’s not easy juggling schedules, payments, memberships, attrition rates, marketing, disparate systems and other managerial duties involved in running a Gym. It’s no wonder some Gym’s find it hard to balance a good mix of monitoring their members whilst adhering to all the other business processes required! I’m sure, if given the chance, all Gym owners would love to find more time to nurture the wellbeing and success of their clients’ goals by giving hands-on help at all times – sadly that’s not always an option.

So my point is this: How do Gym owners and their staff free more time to spend with customers, ensuring safety, good customer care and, most importantly, no Epic Gym Fails?.

There are two very simple answers: The more obvious one is to employ more staff, which we have already established isn’t always a viable option due to lack of funding. The second less obvious answer is to work out how to streamline, consolidate and automate some of your business processes to free up valuable time and resources. As with any business the first place you can always look to do this is by assessing the software you use to run your business.

Generally speaking, finding an all-in-one software solution is usually the way to go. Having a unified system to manage all aspects of your business will always significantly increase efficiencies/productivity, save time and, ultimately, money.

Luckily, here at EZFacility, we offer exactly that! If you want to benchmark your existing systems to see how much time we can save you, then sign up for a free demo/trial and assess for yourself what EZFacility can do for your business! Streamline, grow, nurture, inspire – it’s EZ


Keeping Members Motivated

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A musically talented friend of mine recently joined a band and was thrilled to have the opportunity to create new songs and practice regularly with other musicians. But after a while she found it difficult to keep going. “It’s hard,” she said, “when you have no goals and no ambition.” She meant that without a set date for an on-stage performance, the band’s enthusiasm and drive were flagging. My friend is prone to exaggeration — in reality the band has plenty of ambition, and they honed their goals enough that they played their first live gig a few weeks ago — but she was right to pinpoint goals and ambitions as the keys to motivation. Researchers in the field of exercise psychology have long understood that without these ingredients, an exercise program is a recipe for disaster. In a 2009 study, for example, Kylie Wilson and Darren Brookfield estimated that only 50 percent of new members in a gym remain after six months. Without specific goals, they concluded, it’s highly challenging for an exerciser to remain committed to any workout plan.

Of course, it’s in your best interest to help your members stay motivated. How can you get them coming to your facility more than once a week? How can you get them to keep coming after six months, and to return year after year? Here are a few tips for helping them define their goals, feed their ambition, and stay loyal to you and your brand for a long time.

1. Highlight the importance of tracking results. We all know that it’s easier to stay committed to a goal if we can see progress. This begins with establishing a baseline — make it a practice to offer new members a free consultation with a trainer. The trainer should help the member identify exactly where she stands at the start of her new exercise routine and teach her how to measure her progress. Beyond that initial meeting, encourage your members to track their workouts by documenting the machines they used, their weight levels, and the number of reps and cardio routines they’ve performed. Offer them logbooks and workout sheets for this purpose, and promote fitness tracking apps that allow exercisers to stay on top of their performance electronically. Take it a step further by creating your own app or website function that allows for fitness tracking.

2. Design and host collaborative events, and get members to join in. Offering positive challenges that rally your club as a whole allows members to feel truly connected to the community you’re providing. Seasonal hooks can be a great way to get started. For example, around Halloween, host a costume fun-run. During the build-up to major marathons, challenge members to run or walk one or more miles of the marathon until the full distance is completed. Have dance-a-thons on Valentine’s Day, and get a huge volleyball tournament going at the start of summer (you might even cart in loads of sand and set up an indoor beach for this one). Whatever the event, get your members working together. The more fun they have, and the more of a community feel there is, the more likely they’re going to stick to their goals — and keep coming back.

3. Encourage members to think about the kinds of goals they’re setting. Emphasize the idea of SMART goals: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based. With goals clearly defined along these lines, members are well-poised for success. In order to set the right SMART goals for themselves, though, members have to understand what types of goals would work best for them: performance, process, or outcome. You can help them determine which goals they’re best suited for. Performance goals use an objective or measurable standard with a specific due date. Process goals focus more on method — how will an ultimate goal be achieved? What are the steps along the way? Outcome goals measure achievement in comparison to other people. For many individuals, identifying some combination of these three types of goals works well; a performance goal might be best relied on at the start of a membership, while process and outcome goals might be more effective later on.

On the whole, seek opportunities to connect with your members, the new ones and the existing ones, to elicit their feedback and create a caring, responsive, dynamic community. If your members know that you’re there to help them, if they feel you supporting their goals and cheering on their successes, they’re much more likely to stick around. In that sense, helping members stay motivated is helping your own bottom line.

Spacious Gym Floor

Do You Need a Redesign?

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On a recent trip to an out-of-state conference, I was lucky to have friends in the area who offered me a couple of free guest passes to their gym. I gratefully accepted the passes and had several terrific workouts at that facility — but I wished I could have blindfolded myself while there. Although the staff were friendly, the instructors top-notch, and the machines and equipment state-of-the-art, the facility itself was so visually and aesthetically displeasing that it felt oppressive to be in there. I couldn’t wait to get back to my own beautiful, thoughtfully designed gym.

Soon after that experience, I found an Athletic Business article by Rob Bishop and Barry Klein about classic health club design blunders. Bishop and Klein, contributors to the magazine and owners of Elevations Health Club in Scotrun, Pennsylvania, offer advice based on their own past mistakes and successes and their observations of clubs they’ve visited. “When it comes to great architecture and design at fitness facilities,” they say, “we defer to former Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s standard for obscenity — we know it when we see it.” “Obscenity” may be too strong a word to describe the mistakes some facilities make, but the points Bishop and Klein pick up on are spot-on.

1) First, they say, you have to allow for more space. This was a big issue at my friends’ gym: It felt so cluttered with machines, kettlebells, medicine balls, mats, and equipment that working out there made me feel claustrophobic. I compared it with my gym back home, which has a huge room lit up by skylights that, aside from supplies and equipment neatly lining one wall, is practically empty. This is the room where functional training takes place, and where large gatherings or big Zumba classes sometimes happen. There’s so much that can be done with it — but you don’t even know what you can do with a room like that if it doesn’t contain any open space. Bishop and Klein recommend eliminating old equipment (especially when you bring in new stuff).

2) They also make a strong case for choosing the right carpet. Bishop and Klein learned from a mistake they made in one of their own clubs when they decided to lay down single-color carpeting in some places. In a short period of time, the carpet acquired a worn and dirty look that seemed impossible to vacuum or shampoo away, or merely to hide. As they put it: “Have you ever noticed how industrial carpet typically has lots of patterns and colors? There’s a reason for that….” A multicolored one might have more of a busy feel than you want, but it will appear much cleaner for much longer.

3) They make a strong case for investing in decent lockers, even if it means “investing a bit beyond your initial comfort level.” Lockers, like front desks and group fitness rooms (and unlike equipment and carpets), stay in place for a long time. Rather than install pieces reminiscent of high school gym class, put some thought into what’s aesthetically appropriate for your club. Let your members feel like grown-ups.

There are other elements to consider too: ceilings, sinks and countertops, lighting. I’d add one more: Make sure your front-desk staff greets members with a warm smile. That goes a long way toward helping to create an environment that people want to work out in — and might even make up for some physical deficiencies inside your facility. The bottom line is this: Audit your facility to determine whether it needs a facelift. Figure out what funds you can allocate to a redesign (if you don’t have much available, focus on just one element you could improve). And take the steps necessary to make changes. Your members (and their guests!) will thank you if you do.

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different workouts

Attract New Members with More Creative Classes

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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.

gym community

Encouraging Exercise Partnerships

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Thomas Acquinas said, “Friendship is the source of the greatest pleasures, and without friends even the most agreeable pursuits become tedious.” The corollary, of course, is that with friends even the most disagreeable pursuits become less tedious. As far as exercising goes, whether one sees it as an agreeable pursuit or a disagreeable pursuit, one thing has been made adequately clear through both rigorous research and personal anecdote: Doing it with a friend makes it more effective.

Studies have shown, for example, that we lose weight better when we work out with a partner. At Miriam Hospital/Brown Medical School and the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, for example, researchers found that participants in a weight loss regimen that included exercise lost more weight when their support partners took part in the same program and were successful at dropping pounds. Others who participated alone, or whose workout partners did not lose weight, did not lose as much weight themselves.

It turns out that even just spending time with fitter friends helps. In the book Friendfluence, journalist Carlin Flora writes, “We seek out health and weight-loss advice, but the most effective plan might be to hang out with fit friends. Not only do they make it easier for us to eat better and work out by setting an example and dragging us along on active outings, but they also provide the human connection that fosters robust physiological characteristics, such as lower blood pressure and increased immunity.”

And, perhaps even more surprisingly, we don’t even need real-time interaction with friends to make exercise more effective; even just being part of an online group can help people achieve their workout goals better. For example, a Northwestern University study published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface found that people who actively engage in online weight-loss communities lose a higher percentage of their body weight compared with users who participate less. In the study, the most active participants, who recorded their weight and engaged with other members of an online forum that grants access to weight-loss tools, lost more than 8 percent of their body weight in a six-month period. The least active users, who had the fewest online friends and social interactions, lost only about 5 percent of their body weight in the same time span.

The question you should be asking yourself is clear: How can your facility capitalize on friendship? The more you can encourage your members and prospective members to come in and work out with friends, the more you’ll be leading folks to success in their exercise goals, and the better your retention numbers will be. It’s as simple as that. So, consider offering special “friendship deals” — classes half off for members and their friends, if they bring them. Or launch membership drives during which anyone who becomes a member by a certain date wins a month’s free membership for a friend? Or start a weekly “Friend Day” initiative: Members bring a friend to the gym for free on that day. Make sure that your club management software handles guest passes as well as robust reporting on membership data.  Also, consider whether you can build an online community for members to offer each other support. There are endless variations on these possibilities, and the potential benefits for your facility are huge — as are the potential benefits for your members and their friends.

gym community

Creating Opportunities for Better Mental Health

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Philadelphia’s Drexel University recently installed a mental health kiosk in the lobby of its recreation center. Part of a pilot program initiated by the nonprofit organization Screening for Mental Health, Inc. and the Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health & Intellectual Disability Services, the kiosk enables users to conduct quick, anonymous self-assessments to gauge their risk for mental health issues, such as anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and eating disorders, and provides information about the next step to take if treatment seems warranted.

Gyms, health clubs, exercise boutiques, and sports centers could take a cue from Drexel. After all, creating opportunities for fitness is about more than just encouraging people to keep their bodies in great shape. And retaining members requires efforts above and beyond simply providing the equipment to help them meet their weight-loss or fitness goals. It’s also necessary to promote overall wellness, so that your members leave your facility recognizing the degree to which it enriches their lives. If the physical part of the wellness equation is taken care of but the mental part is ignored, then they won’t feel they’ve achieved true fitness.

So maybe it’s time to consider how your facility could help members and clients work on their mental health alongside their physical health. Installing a kiosk like Drexel’s is one way to go. When your members come in for a workout, they could stop by the kiosk and take a self-assessment to determine whether their mental wellbeing is at risk. If so, depending on their results, they could get specific guidance regarding helpful steps to take for prevention or healing. Another option might be hiring a full- or part-time psychotherapist or licensed social worker. It might sound strange, but if you conceive of your facility as one with a mission to provide a holistic approach to health and wellbeing, it makes good sense. After or before a workout, or after performing a self-assessment at the mental health kiosk, members could sit down with the onsite therapist to discuss what’s troubling them.

Can your facility accommodate a pet room? If so, consider taking on board a therapy dog; this, in fact, is another approach that Drexel has undertaken. Drawing on studies that have shown that playing with a therapy dog can reduce blood pressure and lower anxiety and depression, the university’s recreation center hosts its own therapy dog (Jersey), who is available for sessions to help students cope with stress.

Other possibilities: Invite speakers knowledgeable on mental-health topics to address an audience made up of your members (and prospectives) and answer questions they might have. Hold a mental health fair, inviting local agencies, mental health providers, and meditation experts to come set up booths where your clientele can explore options for mental health upkeep. Increase your yoga, meditation, and other mind-body offerings, explicitly pitching them to members as initiatives designed to help them identify and/or address mental health issues.

For several years now, as gyms, sports centers, and other fitness facilities have expanded their offerings and redefined the concept of the health club, colleges and universities have been similarly expanding the role of their campus recreation centers. The campus rec center model, with its focus on providing educational programming and activities that aim to introduce lifelong habits for a healthy lifestyle, might be a good one for the fitness industry to adapt. The better our members and clients feel, and the more attention we pay to their overall health, the more likely they are to retain their memberships. And that’s ultimately what we want: for them to feel good enough that they keep coming back and keep coming back.

Brand identity

Your Mission: To Think About Mission Statements

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Recently, a post on IHRSA’s blog gave me pause. It features Fred Hoffman, owner of Fitness Resources in France, and it focuses on the relationship between personal trainers and member retention. What struck me is that Hoffman talked only a little about that relationship; what he emphasized is the importance of mission statements. As he put it, “Policies, procedures, performance standards—all should be based on [a] company’s mission statement and represent its core values.”

This got me thinking. Really, what is a mission statement? Hoffman argues that “whatever takes place in a club is a reflection of the company and its management.” In this conception, a mission statement is like a mirror you hold up to your club to make sure that it looks the way you want it to look. If you glance into the mirror and what you see doesn’t match your ideas about what you should see, then you know it’s time to make changes. If you don’t have the mission statement—don’t have the mirror—then you have nothing against which to compare your reality, nothing by which to judge how close your reality is to meeting your ideal. How then do you know what to change? How do you assess the “whatever takes place in your club” to ensure that it is a true reflection of your company and its management?

So, as Hoffman says, “If you have a mission statement, revisit it, and, if you don’t, draft and fine-tune one.” Your mission statement should do several things:

• Provide an explanation of what your club does

• Include a description of your corporate culture

• Incorporate examples to show how your corporate culture manifests itself

• Enumerate your club’s core values

• Explain how the core values are used to obtain desired results for members, staff, suppliers, and the business as a whole

Thus, it’s not enough to state your goals. As they say in the journalism business, “specific is terrific”: You need to explicitly state what you are, what you do, what activities and attitudes define you. You need to provide concrete examples, avoiding abstract language that ultimately doesn’t mean much. And you need to pull it all together to show how you accomplish everything that you want to accomplish.

How then do you use the mission statement, in practical terms? During your hiring process, share it with potential employees. Make sure that they understand it. If it doesn’t make sense to them, or if they can’t see how it forms the basis for everything the club does and every decision management makes, they might not be the right employees. If they do understand it, make sure they see how the role they would play within the club aligns with it. To use the personal-trainer-and-retention example, if one of the core values your mission statement outlines is member retention, make very clear how the responsibilities set forth in the job description relate to member retention. Show how each core value jibes with the various job responsibilities described.

Finally, make sure employees never forget the mission statement. There’s a reason why grade school children used to have to recite the Pledge of Allegiance every morning. You don’t have to make your employees recite the mission statement daily, but do post it prominently in a staff lounge. Do bring it up during staff meetings. Do discuss it with employees when you meet with them one on one. If your employees see how important the mission statement is to you, they’ll believe how important it is to them.