A Natural Alliance – Gyms and Schools

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In New York City, it’s common for schools to raise funds by holding yearly auctions. In the months leading up to an auction, parents stump all around town, trying to win donations from local businesses so auction attendees will have a wide variety of items on which to bid. Common donations include free piano lessons, handmade jewelry, restaurant gift certificates — and month-long gym memberships.

Now you see what all that was leading to. Full disclosure: I did not belong to a gym until a couple years ago, when I bid on a month-long membership during an auction for my son’s school. For $35, I had full access to the facility: pool (including family swim times), cardio court, all classes, trainers, massages, steam room, sauna. After a month of indulging in these pleasures, I was hooked: There was no way I could any longer imagine my life without them. I bought an annual membership and I haven’t looked back since.

Schools could represent an untapped source of new business for your facility. Not all schools hold auctions, of course, but there are other ways to give to a school community and grow your business as a result. Many schools sell raffle tickets; could you donate a month’s membership as a raffle prize? As with auctions, raffles can be doubly rewarding because they spread your name not just to the adults in a given school community, but also to friends, relatives, and professional associates of those adults. Could you open your doors for special kid-oriented free activities once a month, or once a quarter, and ask the local school to hand out flyers? Could you offer a discount to all parents, faculty, and other staff members of a certain school, or sponsor the school’s field day, or donate water bottles, your logo prominently displayed, to the football team?

It’s a natural alliance – gyms and schools. Children are the original physical fitness experts, after all. Parents are always looking for ways to run them around, and maybe you have a facility that allows for that. Even if not, the parents themselves need a way to run around — they need to blow off the stress of parenthood, among other stressors, and maybe they also need to lose the ten or fifteen pounds they put on since having kids. If you start trying to reach new members through schools, you will gain a bunch, without a doubt. And if you can attract them first with a clear incentive — that $35 month-long membership I won felt like such a boon — then all the better; you’ll probably hold on to them for a good long time.

Turning Your Racquetball Court Into a Yoga Studio

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I love my gym. I do not, however, love my gym’s yoga offerings. The first time I went to one of its (few) yoga classes, I left with a longing for the studio I used to live near, where I’d gotten into the habit of attending daily classes. It was a struggle to fit the classes in to my busy schedule, but I loved the instructors, who had studied and taught nothing but yoga for years and who could even make me chant without feeling phony or self-conscious. I loved the wide, airy room, with candles and overgrown plants on the windowsills and a giant Buddha statue near the entryway. I loved the long, green, silky curtains that billowed out when a breeze came in through the open windows — it was the perfect space, with the perfect people, for a practice dedicated to awareness of the spirit/body connection.

At my gym, yoga, zumba, and something called Belly Boot Camp are all held in the same small space. There are no windows. There are no decorations. It smells of sweat. The fluorescent lights in the ceiling remind me of my high school homeroom. The instructors, while well-meaning and good class leaders, sound more like drill sergeants than dharma students. So, although I revel in my gym’s cardio court, run around its elevated track whenever I can, and have a great time with my son in the pool on the weekends, I go elsewhere for my yoga fix.

What if I didn’t have to? What if my yoga studio were inside my gym? According to a recent article in Club Industry, some health club facilities are beginning to create spaces solely for the practice of yoga, Pilates, or some other boutique-type exercise. Many clubs are reluctant to do this; the commitment required to create a dedicated space, find high-caliber instructors, and pull together a devoted marketing team seems too daunting. But, the article argues, the clubs that have taken the leap have reaped economic benefits and increased member retention rates.

In general, the article states, yoga and Pilates studios were among the top 10 fastest-growing industries in the United States in 2012 — despite the recession. Health clubs that have opened studios of their own have found members willing to pay extra for workouts that address both their body and spirit. Carol Tricoche, vice president of education sales for Toronto-based Merrithew Health and Fitness, told Club Industry about her experience as director of group exercise for Pilates and yoga programs at the Claremont Club in Claremont, California. While there, Tricoche helped convert existing racquetball courts into a Pilates studio. “[Members] embraced it as a Pilates studio, and they paid for it,” she said. “Pricing was very comparable to the Pilates studios in the area. They still had their showers, the day care, things they could not get at the studio down the street.”

That’s what I want — my studio, where there’s the kind of yoga I want to practice, inside my gym, where there’s a steam room and a sauna and a locker full of my things. Like the clients at the Claremont Club and at other clubs featured in the article, I’d be willing to pay extra to have that. And my gym would benefit — an added revenue stream, plus the ability to hold on to members like me, who sometimes wonder whether the membership fees are worth it when we spend most of our workout time at the yoga studio. Maybe it’s time to look into how your facility and clients might benefit from turning your racquetball court into a yoga studio. If you are thinking about transforming your racquetball court, checkout out our yoga studio software to make class check-in a breeze.

Reviewing the Basics of Gym Management

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I was talking the other day with a friend of mine who manages a gym in New York City. He had recently attended an informal networking meeting for gym managers, and he said they got reviewing the basics of gym management — the fundamental tasks that gym managers should undertake each day to make sure they’re doing what needs to be done. I got him to share his notes with me, and now I’m sharing some of them with you. Nothing here is earth-shattering, but even my friend, who’s been in the field for at least a dozen years, found it useful to have a refresher in the basics. Here’s what the group covered:

  1. The Importance of Walking Around: Every day, gym managers should stroll around their facility, looking at all areas of the gym and consciously seeing the spaces in the way clients and members might. Ask yourself: What problems need fixing here? Does everything look orderly? Is the equipment working properly? Are gym systems functioning as expected? What about the HVAC system? Lighting? Be as detailed in your observations as possible.
  2. The Necessity of the Notepad: With scores of details to keep track of each day, a good gym manager will never be seen without a notepad. During your daily rounds, note down anything that doesn’t meet your usual standards, any ideas you have for improvement, any significant comments you overhear from members, anything at all you think you might want to return to later.
  3. The Usefulness of Checklists: Make sure your notepad contains a checklist that tracks specific items to pay attention to each day. All the equipment working properly? Check. Safety standards being met? Check. Locker rooms and public areas up to cleanliness standards? Check. Let your checklist be a living thing, something that can change and grow each day. Never had “Water fountains functioning properly?” on your checklist before? Time to add it.
  4. The Primacy of the Immediate Problem: As you do your daily walk, some days you will encounter some problems that can’t just be noted down and attended to later – They need immediate attention. For example, if there’s a health or safety issue that could affect a client, it will be necessary to resolve it before moving on to anything else. Be prepared to make the fix yourself or to call on a staff member with the skills and training to do so.
  5. The Beauty of the To-Do List: The best thing about to-do lists is that they remind you of what needs to be done — later (but not too much later). Unlike immediate fixes, to-do items should be gathered in a list in the notepad, and that day or the next day the manager should assign the task to a staff member, give him or her a deadline for accomplishing the task, and follow up on the deadline or the next day to make sure the task has been completed.
Helping Your Clients Through Injuries

Can Your Staff Adapt to Client Injuries?

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I had a nice little visit to the emergency room the other day. I injured my foot, and I wish I could say I did so while training for a marathon or participating in an Insanity workout or some such thing, but truthfully I was just racing my seven-year-old downhill, and I landed on it awkwardly.

Needless to say, the seven-year-old won. As for the injury, it’s thankfully only minor, but I still have to go easy on it for a few weeks. The first question I asked the doctor: Do I have to stop working out? She told me I could continue with my usual routine — as long as I put absolutely no pressure on the foot.

I had no idea how to do both things at once — continue with my usual routine and put no pressure on the foot. Thank goodness for my gym. That’s where I headed straight from the ER. First I asked to speak with the Fitness Concierge. She sat down with me right away while I explained that I injured my foot but I still wanted to work out and I wasn’t sure how to go about it. She offered me some water, cracked a few jokes, and did me a world of good just by listening. Then she squeezed me in for a consultation with a personal trainer who had experience dealing with injuries and with a physical therapist. The trainer gave me tips for adapting my workout. The physical therapist showed me simple stretches I could do to speed up my recovery (and made me promise to take it easy for a few days). I left the gym feeling like one very lucky patron.

What is it like at your facility? Do you offer such immediate, personalized care? Can your staff adapt to client injuries? Can you reassure an injured client and help him or her figure out how to push ahead with workout goals safely, despite the injury? Can you offer something we don’t usually expect from places of business — a sympathetic ear and a comforting presence? I can guarantee that if you do, you won’t ever have to worry much about member retention.

Retaining Members Effectively

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For many gyms, the end-of-summer push for new members is coming to a close; that effort won’t be ramped up again for another six months or so. So what do you concentrate on in the meantime? Retaining members, of course! As profitable as new sign-ups, or sometimes, with upselling, more profitable, retaining members is a goal all clubs have — but the goal is sometimes elusive. Here are a few refresher tips on retaining members effectively.

  1. Train Your Employees to Treat Each Member Like a V.I.P. – If you make your members feel important, no matter how big or small your facility, they’ll want to keep coming back. And the truth is, they are important — each one is someone whose loyalty is valuable to you. The trouble is that, as a manager or owner, you can’t be on the floor everyday, personally greeting members and doing whatever you can to make them happy. Showing them their importance starts with training your employees to treat them right — greet them with a smile, recognize them and address them by name (this can work wonders), and always be approachable. These are gold standards.
  2. Offer Something Special – During college application season, you sometimes hear the phrase “cookie-cutter” being tossed around. Schools are eager to make clear the fact that they are not “cookie-cutter” institutions — that is, that they’re not like all the rest. Don’t be a cookie-cutter facility. Find something that makes you stand out. Offer a service or a product that your competitors don’t; if your competitors start to offer it, move on to the next thing. Be the pioneer in discovering new offerings; your members and clients will stick around just to see what you come up with next.
  3. Cultivate Suspense – This is related to Number 2. A few months before your new offering, let your members know that something exciting will soon be revealed. Tease them a bit; mention it often in e-mails, on blogs and social media sites, and via posters and flyers in-house. Get them worked up about seeing what’s to come.
  4. Incentives – This one needs little explaining. We see it work all the time, because all successful businesses engage in it. Just as airlines, credit cards companies, banks, and other institutions keep their customers loyal by offering incentives — frequent-flyer miles, cash rewards, appliances or other products — gyms and health clubs must find incentives that keep members signing up again and again. A free month, a discounted session with a personal trainer, a discount at the facility store or juice bar — all these are viable options. If you’re not sure what kinds of incentives your members would be interested in, ask them. You can send out e-mails or, more effectively, have your front desk staff or trainers take an informal, in-person poll, and find a service (such as Perkville) to help automate the reward process.  Your members will appreciate the personal touch, and you’ll gain valuable information.

These are tried-and-true methods for keeping current members happy. If you haven’t given them a shot, begin doing so immediately — you’ll see results. And if the worst thing happens, if a member leaves, don’t give up on him or her. Pick up the phone and make it clear that you’ll do what it takes to get them to sign up again. Then offer whatever discounts you can to get them to come back, or figure out how to fix what was making them unhappy. If you can’t win them back, at least try to get them to tell you why they left — you’ll know what to fix for the next client.

HIIT the Gym

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I (and millions of other people) have a new obsession: high-intensity interval training (HIIT).   It seems that everyday there’s a new study showing how effective HIIT is as a method for keeping the heart in shape, burning fat, increasing muscle, and generally just feeling great. But what I love most about it, and I know I’m not alone in this, is how quickly it’s over.  It’s true that, for the seven, twelve, twenty, or however many relatively brief minutes you’re doing it, you think you’re killing yourself — but then you’re done (done except for the fact that, as an added bonus, you raise your metabolism and continue burning calories at rest).

I love how quickly it’s over because I never have enough time for everything on my to-do list. Between work, child-rearing, housekeeping, socializing, and all the other demands of modern adult life, I was always desperately trying, often unsuccessfully, to squeeze in workouts.  Adopting a HIIT approach has helped hugely — except for one problem; I want to do my working out at the gym. Sometimes it’s hard to justify leaving the house when travel time to and from the gym takes longer than my actual workout. I’ll admit it: Sometimes I just do it in my living room.

How can facilities make it worthwhile for members to continue bringing their workouts to the gym floor when those workouts are short and sweet (well, short anyway)? One answer is machines: Most people do not have treadmills or stairmasters or other such equipment at home. Though it’s possible to raise the heart rate doing jumping jacks in the living room, a thirty-second treadmill sprint followed by a sixty-second walk on the same machine, repeated a bunch of times, is simply more efficient. The trick is making your members aware of this: Convince them that their HIIT routines will work better if they’re carried out using your equipment.

The other answer is personnel. I don’t have a trainer wandering around my living room, giving me tips on posture and performance, pushing me to work harder (if only…). Sometimes, when I’m really in a rush, it’s easy to believe I can do it just as well myself. But the truth is, I work out better when there’s a knowledgeable professional helping me out. We all do.  Just having one in the same room — even just having other exercisers in the same room — makes me push myself harder. I know this. And this is one of the best things any gym has to offer: a supportive community. HIIT might change the game in a lot of ways, but that’s one thing it doesn’t change.

As a fitness facility, you’ve got your core strengths. Machines and personnel are two of them. With HIIT workouts increasing in popularity day by day, you have to find a way to put your core strengths in the service of providing the best HIIT experience possible — and you’ve got to communicate to your members that this is what you’re doing. And not only to your members: You’ve got to communicate it to prospective clients as well. Pull them in by showing them how seamlessly you’ve incorporated HIIT techniques into your facility.

All right now, I’m ending here because I’m off to HIIT the gym.

The Personal Approach To Collecting Feedback

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I have a confession to make. I never, ever fill out surveys. I feel irritated when any business interrupts my day with an email seeking my feedback. The impersonal nature of the questions, the idea that I’m just a source of data to be collected, the time it takes to respond — all of these things push my buttons. It’s not that I don’t understand why businesses do it and how the information they gather is useful; I know it’s so that services can be better tailored to consumers. But I can’t help feeling that the cost of filling out a survey, no matter how short and sweet the survey might be, isn’t worth the benefits I reap.

That’s why a recent Q&A on IHRSA’s blog caught my interest. The association asked two club presidents and a chief executive officer what methods they use for eliciting feedback from members. Each of the respondents said they use email-based surveys to gather information about customers’ experiences.
I know not everyone feels the same way I do about responding to questionnaires; some people are more generous with their time and opinions. But I also know that I’m not alone. We’re all overwhelmed with emails all the time; how many of the people who receive a request to complete a survey actually go ahead and do it? How many hit the delete button and move on?

I was pleased to see that email surveys aren’t the only methods clubs are using. The respondents to IHRSA’s question also reported using suggestion boxes throughout their facilities, including “give us feedback” links on their websites, and training employees to make note of customer opinions and share those opinions with management. It’s this last method that speaks to me the most. If I’m at the gym and a smiling employee approaches me and asks how I’m doing, how my workout is going, and whether she can talk to me for a few minutes about my experiences, I’m going to be all ears. And mouth. That is, I’m going to happily talk about it. This is the personal approach to collecting feedback.  A human being genuinely interested in how I feel and having an actual exchange with me rather than half answering cookie-cutter questions — that feels worthwhile to me.

If your club has the resources to invest in in-person information gathering, go for it. It’s by far the best method. If not, or if more details than can be gathered that way are needed, try a mix of methods: email surveys, web-based links, old-fashioned suggestion boxes, and opportunities to interact with staff. Whatever you do, don’t just rely on email surveys alone. You’ll be missing out on the thoughts and opinions of a significant portion of your membership if you do.


Drink Up

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This summer, I was fortunate to get to spend some time at California’s Joshua Tree National Park. One morning, I got up early to view the sunrise from atop a boulder in the park. At 4:45 a.m., I was wearing jeans and a sweatshirt; by 7:30 a.m., my sweatshirt had been abandoned, I’d donned a wide-brimmed hat, and I felt like my jeans were on fire. What’s more, I needed a long swig of water every fifteen minutes or so.

Luckily, every Joshua Tree brochure or website you read — especially during the height of summer — tells you to carry water with you wherever you go, even if it’s just a few steps from your car. I’d followed the guidelines and was glad I did. Keeping well-hydrated, I was able to hike some of the trails in the park and see incredible rock formations, weird vegetation, and an adorable jackrabbit.

This mini adventure got me thinking about hydration in other contexts, especially at the gym. As a gym owner or manager, how do you know your clients are drinking enough water?

As with most things, the best way is to educate. Many exercisers, even veteran ones, do not realize that it’s dangerous to wait until thirst kicks in to take a drink. Studies have shown that most exercisers underestimate their water needs. One researcher found that 98 percent of the members of one college football team started out daily workouts underhydrated. And many have never heard of the National Athletic Trainers’ Association’s rule of thumb: Drink 7 to 10 ounces — about one cup or a little more — of water or a sports drink every 10 to 20 minutes during a workout. The Association’s guidelines for post-workout imbibing are even more intense: Weigh yourself nude before and after workouts to discover how much weight you lose from sweat, and then drink fluid equal to 150 percent of the weight loss within two hours of exercising.

The trick is to get the message across to club members. Send e-mails, hang up informational posters, offer lectures. Even just a chalkboard in the cardio room with the word “water” written across it in big letters could make a difference — a friendly reminder about what our bodies need. Or you might want to try hanging up a photo of the desert: Trust me, it will make everyone want to drink up.

What Does Being Sensitive Have to do With Running a Gym?

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In a recent post on the International Health, Racquet, and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA) blog, fitness consultant Michael R. Mantell discussed “the 4 S’s” of membership retention. To keep members — and keep them happy — you have to pay attention to four things that begin with the letter S: Social, Success, Sensitive, and Science. Three of these are pretty intuitive: For the “Social” element, you have to have a friendly, well-trained staff; for “Success,” you have to find ways to motivate your members toward meeting their own goals; for “Science,” you have to pay attention to new advances in technology and how the rest of the fitness world is putting them to use. But what’s this about “Sensitive”? What does being sensitive have to do with running a gym and keeping membership retention high?

Here’s what Mantell writes: “Today’s thriving clubs are busy cultivating relationships with medical and other health professionals, creating critical services to help people live healthier and otherwise better lives—fit, happy, and exceptional. Does your club make it easy for the overweight and obese individual to feel comfortable?”
It’s that question that made me realize that it’s true: As a service provider in the business of helping people find their fittest selves, a gym, health club, or fitness center does have to be sensitive. You can replace the “overweight and obese” part of the question with any descriptor, really: Does your club make it easy for the elderly individual to feel comfortable? Does your club make it easy for the disabled individual to feel comfortable? Does your club make it easy for the foreign individual to feel comfortable? Whatever the particular condition of the individuals in question, it’s worth considering what your club is doing to make everyone who walks through the door feel welcome. Do you offer services that meet your members’ needs? Does your staff speak the languages they speak? Are you cultivating relationships with medical professionals and others who might enhance your offerings? What can do you do to ensure that you’re being sensitive to their needs?

Retention is, of course, a tricky business. But at the same time it’s straightforward. Would you want to stick around in a place where no one is sensitive to your individual needs and issues? Probably not. Your members don’t want to, either. It’s a good piece of advice: Think about who your members are; ask them what they need; try to provide it. If you do, you’ll find they stay members for a long, long time.

Too Much of a Good Thing

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Having dedicated members is every fitness facility’s dream — the ones who come in regularly, several times a week, pushing themselves through a routine that leaves them feeling good about themselves and good about the place where they choose to work out. But what if members become not so much dedicated as compulsive? Is that good for them? And is it good for your facility?

Psychologists call people who can’t stop working out “obligatory exercisers.” Pushing themselves and their bodies through physical routines that carry them beyond the requirements for good health, such exercisers forget that physical activity can be fun. They sneak time from work, school, and relationships in order to work out. They exercise to get rid of feelings, and if they miss exercising they feel anxious, guilty, or empty. They also risk working out when injured or sick, and they tend to be fanatical about weight and diet.

What’s the problem with exercising too much? Is there really too much of a good thing when it comes to working out?  Some researchers point out that obligatory exercisers often come to resemble drug addicts. Like addicts, these exercisers find no pleasure in their primary activity. They report that working out has taken over their lives, and that it no longer feels like a free choice. Doing it provides temporary relief and feelings of euphoria, but not doing it leads to overwhelming anxiety that mirrors the experience of withdrawal. And the potential for physical pain is huge.

If you have obligatory exercisers at your facility, you probably know it. You see them everyday, maybe multiple times a day. They speak of nothing but their workouts, their training schedules, and their injuries. When injured, they take no time off; you might even see them exercising in casts. They’re clearly not having a good time doing what they’re doing, and they’re never satisfied with their achievements, even if those achievements seem significant or outstanding.

How do they affect your facility? First and foremost, there are safety issues: You want all your members working out in the safest way possible. If someone with an injury is pushing him or herself beyond where he or she should, then safety is being compromised. Also, you want happy members. You want to see them looking happy, and you want other clients to see them looking happy. Most of all, you want them to feel good about what they’re doing and why they’re doing it — and to feel good about where they’re doing it. If you’ve got compulsive exercisers who are in your facility because they feel like they must be, because exercising has taken over their lives and they have no choice, then you have people with a lot of negative emotions associated with your space.

You can help them. The most effective step might be to pair them with a personal trainer. Trainers can help obligatory exercisers set limits and stick to them. Just knowing that someone is paying attention, that someone cares about whether they push themselves too hard, could be enough to start turning an obligatory exerciser around. Also, make your members aware of the danger. Some might not realize that it’s a disease; they might feel alone in their subjection to exercising, not knowing that there are others like them — and that help is available.

Finally, train your employees. Help them understand the warning signs, and teach them how to reach out to sufferers. Your interventions could benefit your facility as much as it does your members.

Video Games and Exercise

Video Games and Exercise

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A friend of mine recently told me about a deal she cut with her twelve-year-old for the summer: He’s allowed to play video games for an hour a day, provided he spend at least two hours running around outside first. She was starting to get worried about how much time he spent indoors in a sedentary position.

Of course, she’s not alone. For decades, parents have been worried about their kids sitting around too much, and the problem seems to grow worse each year. And this issue affects adults too! After my friend told me about the deal she made with her son, she admitted that she’d privately made a deal with herself as well: She’s allowed to watch television at night (and, she sheepishly said, to play her own video games) only if she’s managed to take 10,000 steps during the day.

But what if she could take her 10,000 steps while playing video games? I wouldn’t advocate this for her son — I want him to get outside and learn the joys of real-life play before he gets bogged down in all the grown-up responsibilities that make it such a challenge for his mother, for all of us, to get the exercise we need. But new developments in video games designed for the purpose of enhancing workouts could help us feel like we’re getting in both the exercise we need and the kind of entertainment-relaxation we want.

Blue Goji is a company aiming to produce video games for workouts. Established by the creators of the popular video game Guitar Hero, Blue Goji has spent several years devising games that can safely be used on the treadmill or elliptical, and that track exercisers’ heart rates and other data. The idea, the creators have explained, is to provide distraction from the workout so that exercisers don’t even pay attention to the pain and boredom and discomfort they might be feeling. Television monitors attached to exercise machines — or just stands that hold magazines while you run — have long served this purpose.  Through interactivity and the incentive of having something to win, video games might do so as well, perhaps even more effectively.  Also, video games are potentially more addictive — this time, in a good way.  If you start a workout game, you might be highly motivated to get back to the workout so that you can continue playing the game.

The Wii console has melded physical activity and video game play for a long time, but Blue Goji’s product is made exclusively for use on gym equipment. Other companies are working on similar products, and also on other types of video game exercise products, such as ones that use virtual reality devices. What does all this mean for gyms and fitness centers? It might be time to start researching how you could incorporate video games and exercise into your facility’s offerings.

The Fittest Cities-They Are Worth Paying Attention To

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In June, American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) awarded their number-one ranking for fittest metropolitan area to Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota, for the third year in a row. Last week, Virginia Beach, Virginia, won Facebook’s number-one ranking for the same title.  But were these rankings based on the same factors and set to be used for the same purposes?  Club Industry took a good look at both claims and explained the differences. The ACSM based its list on factors like the level of chronic disease conditions, access to health care and community resources that support physical activity, number of pedestrians and bikers, and park-land as a percentage of city land area in the nation’s 50 biggest metro areas. Facebook based its list on number of fitness-related mentions, check-ins, and fitness apps used on the social networking site over three months for cities with at least 200,000 Facebook users.  ACSM’s list aims to help cities become healthier; Facebook’s aims to show how people use the site to track their fitness goals and progress.

So which is correct? And, more importantly, why should it matter to you?

Because the lists differ so vastly in their intents and criteria, it’s impossible to say one is right and the other is wrong.  Either way, they are both worth paying attention to, because they can help you make decisions about how to improve your gym or health center.

The main thing is to consider your own reasons for being interested. Do you want to know which cities have the most health clubs, so that you can better gauge where to open a new branch?  Take a look at Facebook’s list — it’ll give you a sense of where people in a given city are working out, what they like to do at the gyms they visit, and how close those gyms bring them to reaching their fitness goals.  Then, figure out how your facility might differentiate itself in a given market.

Or are you more interested in understanding what exercisers in your city are doing instead of checking in at the gym? Are there many public resources for fitness activities offered by the city? Perhaps they’re enrolling in free community yoga classes, or in group runs in the park. The ACSM list will help you there, and knowing which activities the general population is choosing can help you pinpoint areas you need to improve in your own business or offerings you might add.

What about cities that don’t make it on to either list? After Minneapolis-St. Paul, ACSM includes in its top ten, in order: Washington D.C., Boston, San Francisco, Hartford (Connecticut), Sacramento,  Portland (Oregon), Seattle, Denver, and Austin (Texas).

After Virginia Beach, Facebook includes, in order: Colorado Springs, Austin (Texas), San Antonio, Livingston (New Jersey), Portland (Oregon), El Paso, Oklahoma City, Tacoma, Washington, and Albuquerque. Pasadena, California, and Portland, Maine made it on to both lists.  Does that mean those might be cities worth venturing into, if you’re looking to expand your business? Are there markets in those cities and in others that don’t make the cut just waiting for a gym like yours to move in?

The Fittest Cities-They Are Worth Paying Attention To.  There’s rich information to be mined from each list, and your facility can only benefit from rich information.

Gadgets in the Gym

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Wristbands that count your steps, clothing that monitors your heartbeat, watches that know when you’re asleep — in a market continually and increasingly flooded with fitness gadgets, it’s useful to keep track of the latest ones and to consider what, if anything, is the role of gyms and fitness centers in relation to them. When your clients have them, how can — and should — you make use of them?

In a recent post on the American Council on Exercise’s website, Ted Vickey, the former executive director of the White House Athletic Center, reviews three such products, each of which has recently launched:

  • The Basis Watch
  • UnderArmour’s Armour39
  • The FitBit Flex

What these devices have in common is their on-body sensors which make them more accurate than mobile fitness apps.  Theses gadgets can track heart rate, number of steps, time, and even blood pressure.
All well and good, but again, as a gym or fitness center, or as a personal trainer or instructor, how can you help clients use such devices to get the most out of their workouts?

As with the data that basic exercise machines give about a workout, clients should be reminded to see their numbers in two ways: first, as monitors that tell them when they need to push harder and when they need to pull back; and second, as motivators. The best thing about workout-related numbers — whether they’re from an on-body sensor, a machine, a mobile app, or good, old-fashioned counting — is the encouragement they give individuals to compete with themselves. As a service provider in the fitness industry, you can help clients get the most from their gadgets by paying attention to the data their gadgets are tracking. Point out when a client has surpassed a personal best and provide tips for success to clients who are trying to reach a specific number.  You might even consider installing an on-the-wall chart that highlights the previous day’s highest numbers in various categories.

Moreover, know how to use the devices clients are using. Vickey has pursued a PhD in technology and fitness; that’s not an option for everyone, but you can still keep yourself up to date on what products are out there, how to use them, what the pros and cons of each one is, and which work best for which purposes (The American Council on Exercise’s website is a good place to start). Your clients come to your facility in part because they need the expertise of you and your staff; provide that expertise partly in the form of knowledge in not only fitness, but the gadgets in the gym.

The Power of a Friendly Greeting

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Recently, IHRSA put forth an interesting argument in a blog post on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Physical Activity Guidelines website. It called, simply, for individuals to exercise in a way that makes them happy — as opposed to forcing themselves into one workout routine or another just because that routine is convenient or much talked about.

The suggestions for finding happy exercise are basic and sound: Work out with another person or other people, work out in an aesthetically pleasing environment. Because social engagement and beautiful spaces tend to increase happiness, IHRSA argues, designing an exercise routine that incorporates these elements might make people happier exercising, which in turn will keep them exercising.

But what really caught my attention was IHRSA’s third suggestion: As the blog post puts it, “Sometimes we want to go where everybody knows our name.” Besides cleverly working in a reference to the old T.V. show Cheers, this statement contains great truth. “The secret weapon of many successful health clubs is the friendly front-desk person who seems genuinely pleased to see you and greets you by name,” the post states. “It’s nice to feel welcomed and valued. That quick interaction makes us feel happy and more likely to seek out a similar interaction in the future.”

We’ve said similar things in this space before, but it really cannot be overstated: If you have a friendly staff, especially a friendly front desk staff, your members are going to walk away with positive impressions — even if it’s been a bad workout day, or if other elements of your facility do not meet their standards. And positive impressions become referrals. They become renewals. They become word-of-mouth praise. Their value is immense.

At my gym, unfortunately, the front desk staff is not overly friendly. They’re not mean, but they don’t smile automatically when they see a client walk in, they certainly don’t greet anyone by name, and they don’t thank anyone just for checking in. Forget any efforts to make small talk, or to get you to smile, or laugh, or generally just to relax and enjoy yourself. The towel attendants in the locker room are a different story. There’s one woman in particular, Asha, who smiles broadly each time someone walks in. “Welcome!” she says (and often that’s “Welcome, Marjorie!” or “Welcome, Maria!” or welcome any of the other seemingly hundreds of clients whose name she knows). She’ll ask how you’re doing; she’ll make a joke about the sweat-quotient in the gym that day; she’ll tell you you’re looking good and you better keep it up. I swear, some of my fellow gym-goers find the motivation to go only because Asha makes it seem like she’s waiting for them.

At any rate, IHRSA is right: It’s important for people to exercise in ways that make them happy. Your task is to find out those ways and incorporate them. Start with your front desk staff by teaching them how the power of a friendly greeting can make a difference; you’ll be happy you did.

The Early Bird Catches the Great Deal

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I’ve always wondered how it feels to get in a good workout at 3 a.m. I don’t belong to a 24-hour gym, though, so there isn’t much of an opportunity for me to try. But this winter I came close. My gym launched a “sunrise special” for early birds: For $29 extra a month, members could access the facility starting at 5 a.m. on weekdays and 7 a.m. on weekends. As a pilot program, it ran only January through April, but I’m hoping it starts up for good soon; I loved waking up with the birds and finishing my whole drill before most other people were even reaching for their snooze buttons.

You might want to think about instituting such a program for your facility, if you don’t have one already. The extra cost associated with doing so is relatively small – personnel-related, mainly – but there’s a potential for some nice new revenue. Most members won’t mind the cost (at my gym, less than a dollar a day) when the pay-off is an uncrowded cardio room, no one to jostle with on the machines, and the opportunity to accomplish the day’s exercise before work and other demands kick in.

If you’re worried about that uncrowded cardio room, fear not: chances are enough members will want to take advantage of the program to make it worthwhile. I know that even when I reached the gym right at 5 a.m. when the sunrise special was on, there were always a few other people (sleepily) stumbling in with me. The stream was small but steady throughout the morning — not enough to make me feel like I had to battle for equipment, but just enough so that I never felt I was there on my own. In fact, it was a little bit like a secret club; the other members and I would acknowledge each other with a knowing smile that seemed to say, “So you’ve figured out that this is a great deal too, eh?” And with a program like this, incentives work well: Come ten times before 7 a.m. and receive a free massage, or something along those lines.

Try an Early Bird type program. Your members will love you for it.

Want to Retain Your Clients? Motivate Them

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Back in the fall, when I joined my current gym, I signed up for a free training session. The trainer I was assigned, Cliff, was friendly, knowledgeable, kind, and encouraging. I met with him twice. I felt I could learn a lot from him — if nothing else, I found him motivating, and I knew I needed motivation — so I intended to meet with him again, but, somehow, I didn’t manage to. (As I’ve confessed before in this space, my gym-going became — I don’t want to say a complete fantasy, but it certainly didn’t happen too often.)

Recently, thanks to my gym’s cheerful and persistent fitness concierge, I worked up the courage to return to my old routine. On my first day back, I didn’t see Cliff. Honestly, I was a little worried about seeing him. Would he grill me about why I hadn’t been there for so long? Would he take it personally? Would he think badly of me, or judge me in some other way? On the other hand, he probably wouldn’t even recognize me. I’d met him only twice, and I hadn’t shown my face there in several months.

On my second day back, I walked in, and the first person I saw was Cliff. “Hello!” he said to me, grinning broadly. He came over and high-fived me. “I haven’t see you in a while!” “I know,” I said sheepishly, and I launched into some kind of pathetic excuse. “Aw, that’s all right,” Cliff said, chucking me on the shoulder. “You’re here now, right?” “Right,” I said. “Well, get to it!” Cliff said, tossing me another grin and leaving me to do my thing.

That was all I needed. I worked out harder that day than I had on my first day back. Now I notice that each time I go, if Cliff is there my workout is better (we usually give each other a little wave when I walk in). If he’s not there, I think about him, not even about what his expectations for me are, but about the fact that he has somehow become a partner in my success, someone who’s in it with me, and I find myself pushing harder.

This is what a good trainer does. He or she makes your clients feel like they’re not alone in their endeavors. It’s extraordinarily motivating to believe that someone cares about what you’re doing, cares and believes that you can do it (and will tell you, when you need to be told, to get to it). Finding motivation can be one of the hardest parts of sustaining an exercise routine — and your clients sustaining an exercise routine means your membership retention rates staying high. You can help them (and help yourself) by providing staff members who will inspire motivation in them — staff members like Cliff, or like my fitness concierge: smiling, caring, sympathetic, encouraging people who prod clients, spur them on, welcome them back (and even recognize them!). I’m pretty sure now that when my membership expires, my gym will find it’s had no problem retaining me.

Bottom line – if you want to retain your clients? Motivate them!

An Innovative Idea — and the Benefits of Sharing It

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Recently, Colleen Kennedy, the director of membership at The Houstonian Club, wrote a blog about an innovative sales program at her Houston-based fitness facility. They call it The Houstonian Lotto, and Kennedy says that it has been instrumental in increasing both sales and referrals. She also says that it’s a program any club can duplicate — and that it costs little.

It works like an actual lotto. For a specific period of time — one month, say — members receive a sealed envelope when they provide a referral, and new members receive the same when they sign up. The envelope contains a certificate for a prize. One lucky member will receive the top prize, and the rest second and third prizes. The prizes offered will depend on the club’s business model and member demographics, Kennedy says. As she puts it, “For clubs with moderate initiation fees and dues…, the top prize could be one year’s free dues, with second and third prizes of, respectively, a free fitness evaluation or a smoothie at the health bar. For clubs with higher initiation fees and dues, the top prize could be 30 percent off the initiation fee, with second and third prizes, respectively, of two months’ free dues or a free personal training session.”

For the program to work, Kennedy says, the enrollment period to participate must be short; the number of envelopes available must be limited (for example, she says, 25 if your marketing plan stipulates acquiring 30 new members that month); and the program must be marketed to your membership, prospects, the community, and your sales force with great enthusiasm.

Great idea, right? But what I like most about Kennedy’s blog post is the fact that she wrote it. All fitness facilities and health clubs can benefit from fresh ideas for inventive, inexpensive programs that boost sales and referrals (not to mention retention). The best way to gain new ideas is to talk openly with others who are in the same boat.

Kennedy’s post is detailed and generous, and it even includes her email address for anyone who has questions. When this kind of sharing happens in the industry, everyone wins (or, to continue with the nautical metaphor, a rising tide lifts all boats). Feel free to share your own ideas — whether about programs that have proven successful or about ones you have yet to test — in the comments section here. We all want to know about them.

Matching Clients with Trainers

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Recently, the fitness concierge at my gym sent me an email to remind me that I still had one free orientation session to use. When I joined last year, I was given two. I used the first one right away but forgot about the second, and I appreciated the reminder, not only because I didn’t want to let such a gift go to waste, but also, embarrassingly, because it had been a while since I’d made it to the gym. I needed that refresher course.

The trainer assigned to my case was a sweet, older man who looked like he might be on the verge of retirement (or perhaps even past the typical age). He clearly knew his business, and yet I wondered whether I might not be better off with a trainer who “matched” me more than that one did. Would a woman, and one closer to me in age (let’s just say I’ll soon turn 39 — again) know more instinctively what kinds of exercises I’m most in need of? Would someone who is also the mother of a young child have a sense of the constraints I face and help me figure out a work-out plan accordingly? Would someone a little, er, rounder in the thighs (and elsewhere) have more specific experience that could push me to reach my goals more quickly?

Maybe not. But it got me thinking about how we choose trainers when a member or client calls and wants a consultation. At my gym, the process is random — you get whoever’s available during a given timeslot. A better way to do it might be to ask some questions before pairing a customer with a trainer: age, gender, height, weight, body type, health issues, goals, special concerns or considerations. I did fill out a questionnaire that elicited this sort of information — but only after I’d arrived at the gym for my session.

I liked my trainer, but I have to admit that when he gave me the hard sell at the end, trying to convince me that I should sign up for a three-session training package with him, I declined. Maybe if I’d filled out that questionnaire beforehand and been assigned to a trainer who was a better match for me, I would have shelled out the money. Honestly, I could really benefit from those sessions — just not, I think, with that sweet, older man. If you are interested in learning more about effective examples of personal trainer software, we recommend signing up for a free demonstration.

What Mothers Really Want

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Mother’s Day is a holiday that always makes me cringe a little bit (and not just because I’ve usually forgotten to send a card to my mom). What I don’t like about it is that it encourages showering mothers with gifts we really, truth be told, don’t need. Flowers, chocolates, breakfast in bed? No. What every mother I know truly needs, more than anything else, is time — and, in particular, time to work out.

There are a lot of activities a mother can, and does, learn to do with her children: cleaning the house, cooking, getting groceries, going to the doctor, even completing part-time work. But working out is a different matter. You can run around with your kids, sure, or jog alongside as they ride their bikes, but the focus necessarily is the kids and their needs. In order to get a true, satisfying, fully beneficial workout, a mother needs to go it alone, but daily demands on the schedule often make carving out time impossible.

What can your gym do to help? The best thing would be providing childcare for the length of a class or workout session. If this is an option for your facility, consider giving your clients who are mothers a voucher for a free or discounted babysitting session this Mother’s Day. If you don’t have the capacity to provide childcare, how about making available class packages that never expire (allowing mothers, for example, to purchase ten classes but not specifying that those classes must be used in a month or six months or some other period of time). You might also consider offering more classes during school hours. I love my gym, but it offers most classes in the morning, when I need to work, and in the evenings, when I’m home with my son. What I long for is yoga or Pilates or cycling at 2 p.m. — but between the hours of 1 p.m. and 6 p.m. there are generally very few choices.

One of the reasons I feel strongly about the need to make it easy for mothers to get to the gym is that mothers are particularly susceptible to unhealthy habits. We gulp down a few quick bites on the run, or we grab pizza because it’s what our kids our eating (but our bodies sure don’t process the pizza like our kids’ bodies do). We take care of everyone else and forget to take care of ourselves. We prioritize household chores over working out.

Caitlin Moran, a comedian, writer, and feminist thinker, points out another, more serious problem that many women who are caretakers face: “Overeating is the addiction of choice among carers,” she writes in her excellent book How to Be a Woman. “… It’s a way of [messing] yourself up while still remaining fully functional, because you have to…, [of] slowly self-destructing in a way that doesn’t inconvenience anyone.” It’s true: a lot of women who overeat do it because the stress of being a “carer” drives them to seek some kind of outlet, but a kind that won’t cause dramatic trauma, as a drug or alcohol addiction might. For such mothers, the ability to work out would make a world of difference. Your facility can help by helping them find the time to focus on fitness.

Workers Need You

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Yesterday was International Workers’ Day, a holiday created to commemorate Chicago’s Haymarket Affair of 1886 and the events leading up to it. The long and short of it is this: in 1867, the federal government passed a law guaranteeing federal employees an eight-hour work day; all Illinois workers were covered by a similar law. But the government failed to enforce its own law, and workers in Illinois were forced to sign waivers of the law as a condition of employment. So, on May 1, 1886, labor leaders organized a protest to demand adherence to the eight-hour rule. It ended badly, a few days later, with riots, police killing protestors, and someone throwing a bomb into the crowd.

What does all this have to do with anything? Well, it seemed like a good day to talk about a recent study that found out what today’s employees desire most: onsite fitness facilities. In a way, this could speak to the failure of the demand for eight-hour days so long ago; although eight hours is still the law, millions of salaried workers work ten- or twelve-hour days, or even longer, and just a few months ago Eric Cantor, the Majority Leader of the House of Representatives, called for ending overtime pay for hourly workers. Clearly, employees need a way to shake off the stress of their long days.

But more than that, it speaks to our present-day understanding of how crucial fitness is to health, and the link between fitness and productivity. According to the results of a survey, titled Principal Financial Well-Being Index: American Workers, twenty-five percent of workers who did not have an onsite fitness facility in 2012 wanted one, up from 19 percent in 2011. (The second most desired benefit was fitness center discounts; twenty-three percent of workers who did not have an onsite fitness facility in 2012 wanted those).

Now, only 12 percent of workers who participated in the survey said their company offers an onsite fitness center. What does this mean? There’s a demand for your services, and so far the demand is going unmet. Have you visited local companies to talk to Human Resources folk about how you might be able to help keep their employees happy, either by bringing your business into their building or offering discounts and opportunities in your facility? If not, it’s time to think about doing so. And then go ahead and knock off of work early today—you’ve probably been there for too long already anyway.

Targeting the Golden Ager

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My son recently learned how to ride a bicycle, and the last time I took him to visit my parents, he insisted on bringing his new, bright green set of wheels along. My nearly seventy-year-old father, mostly sedentary and not in the best of health, surprised me by pulling his old bike out of the shed, dusting it off, and declaring that he was going to join in on a ride. He was slow and creaky at first, and he fell off once — with nothing more than hurt pride, thankfully — but he went a full four miles with my son (who streaked along with abandon, delighting in his ability to outpace Grandpa).

We don’t see my parents as often as I’d like, and I don’t want my father waiting around for our quarterly visits to get his exercise. When I told him he should join a gym, he laughed, saying he’d be embarrassed to show his old self among all those young, fit bodies. When I told him there are gyms especially for the elderly, and ones with programs geared just toward that group, he was surprised. He’d had no idea.

What can such gyms do to be sure they’re reaching golden agers like my dad? While advertising in obvious places — AARP magazine, for example — is probably a good idea if you’re a national establishment with branches around the country, many older folks, my dad included, have a more local focus. They want to go someplace right in town, and they like venues that seek their business in personal ways. One effective move might be to visit a senior center near your gym or health club and put up simple flyers — or, better yet, send one of your trainers who is knowledgeable about the older demographic. Have him or her give a presentation, demonstrate easy exercises for seniors, and maybe do one-on-one consultations. And make sure business cards get handed out, perhaps along with membership or class coupons.

Another option might be to sponsor a Walk for Senior Health in your area, something a local paper might write about. You’d not only drum up some business, you’d also raise awareness about the need for seniors to pay attention to their health. I know my dad could use all the reminders he can get.

In general, keep in mind the kinds of places people more advanced in years might go: in addition to senior centers, libraries, clubs like the Elks or Rotary, town halls, and doctors’ offices are all good options. Then head to those places and start talking about your programs that might interest them. If you remind them that working out regularly will help them keep up with their grandchildren, they’re likely to sign on with gusto.

A Fitness Concierge Makes a Difference

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I have a friend in lower Manhattan who joined a gym in August. For a couple of months, she went regularly, and she found herself getting into a routine she liked. And then Hurricane Sandy struck. Her kids were suddenly out of school, and for a couple of weeks life was upended: no electricity, no running water, no public transportation. When things finally returned to normal, she was ready to resume her routine — but somehow she just couldn’t. Having been thrown off course, she found it impossible to pick up where she’d left off, no matter how much she wanted to.
Then, a couple of weeks ago, she received an email from her gym’s fitness concierge. “I didn’t know they had a fitness concierge,” she told me, “or even know what a fitness concierge is.”

The email was short and simple: “It looks like you have not checked into the facility for a little while, so I wanted to touch base and see how everything is going. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions or concerns regarding your membership.”

The fitness concierge, it turned out, was there to help her establish and stick to a workout routine. She listened as my friend told her she felt blocked about returning to the gym. She strategized with her about how to fit a workout into her complicated routine, around child care duties, school schedules, part-time work, and a volunteer commitment. She picked out classes for my friend to try and even went with her to a spin class, giving her pointers and encouragement as she tried to find her feet again.

This changed everything for my friend. Even the email alone had a big effect. “Just feeling like someone there cared, like they were keeping an eye out for me and they wanted to help me, made a huge difference,” she said. “It’s a giant gym. Hundreds of people belong to it. But the concierge turned her attention to me. She listened to me. That somehow made it possible for me to make the decision to start again.”

It can be easy to forget, when fitness is your bread and butter, that going to the gym is hard for some people. All kinds of psychological, logistical, and emotional factors come in to play. Helping people who are having trouble getting there is sound business practice — those people will come back again and again, and they’ll tell their friends how great your facility is. But it’s also much more than just sound business practice. It’s bringing to the forefront the humanity behind the business. It’s the real reason for getting into this line of work in the first place. Does your facility have a fitness concierge? Is it time to think about hiring one?