Quick Checklist: The Health of Your Team

Quick Checklist: The Health of Your Team

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When energy radiates within a team, productivity is at its peak. The spread of energy through a motivational speaker has an incredible effect on the audience. Think of pro wrestling and game show hosts as examples of motivational energy. Both use short, simple phrases but delivered differently to bring the same stimulation from their audience. Even though they deliver their lines in different manners, both pro wrestlers and game show hosts exude enthusiasm and confidence, which is what gets the audience involved and excited. How can you promote this positive energy through your team? Read on for a few quick tips:

Enthusiasm & Confidence

“Just do it!” and “You got this!” are much different than what we think. Confidence is a buildup of self-esteem from within whereas enthusiasm has a higher chance of reaching a broader audience. When publishing outlets share motivational stories, they narrate the content with phrases like “This man reminds us to never give up!” that engage the audience and make them feel related to the story. Most motivational stories on their own, carry confidence rather than enthusiasm, so it is often the messenger’s job to add detail around the story to reach the audience.

Highlight the Little Things

Social media has brought attention to a lot of the little things in life. Relatable images, gifs and such are shared, spread, and watched by the millions of viewers every day. But popularity isn’t the only reason to highlight the little goals in your business, it’s a great opportunity to boost the human aspect of your business. A staff member got to the office extra early? Ask them to take a selfie and share it on your Twitter/FB page. Did someone bring a homemade healthy workout meal with them to work? Ask them to post a picture with the recipe in the text. You can even be a bit more marketing savvy and release ingredients only to the followers who like your post to encourage follower engagement!

Getting To Know Your Team More

Knowing your staff should be just as important as knowing your clientele. Which is a seemingly obvious standard for maintaining a good work ethic. However, going a bit deeper can also improve productivity in some areas. One way to start this objective is to identify the reactive and the active individuals in your group. It’s possible that not all members of your team will be recipient to situations in the same manner. For example, if a child has a minor injury while playing sports, one staff may go to the child first while another may contact the first aid kit. Both reactions are right in their own way, but effectively determining the character of each staff member can help you decide who and where to assign your team members.

The Checklist: The Health Of Your Gym

The Checklist: The Health Of Your Gym

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Warning: This is going to be a hard read if you’re eating.

It’s a bit ironic, that facilities for our health can pose bacterial harm if not properly cleaned. Although places like gyms are not number one on the list of highly germ populated public locations, they can be one of the most common areas to contract bacteria.

Nobody wants to think about all these microscopic germs and particles that coexist among us but to have a healthy fitness center inside and out, one must be properly equipped with both the knowledge, products and —oh your facility is well cleaned? Excellent! Now, how much do you spread that information around? It’s very well worth turning a quick spotlight on the cleanliness of your facility. Especially when the USA ranks number 28 out of the 188 healthiest nations despite being one of the most health data indulgent countries in the world.

So it wouldn’t be such a bad idea to remind the public you care about the shape of your gym right? Right! Here’s how to take advantage of a hygienic presence.

Provide Easy Access For Sanitation

You sneeze and there’s no tissue in sight. Here’s a worse situation. You sneeze into a tissue and there’s no trash container nearby! Avoid these minor inconveniences by providing disposable soaps, hand wipes or non-alcoholic hand sanitizers and easily accessible waste bins throughout your facility so your clients don’t have to interrupt their workout for long. They don’t have to be every two feet but a good presence of complementary products will give members a good impression of cleanliness in association with your business identity.

Establish You Have a Cleaning Schedule

Whenever that time for the full scrub overhaul of your facility comes around—that’s the chance to show off your results. Take a picture of your pristine facility and post in online. You could even incorporate fitness into the mix because who say’s scrubbing an entire building isn’t a workout? Or that just the act of cleaning is the only sign of a healthy gym? Share pictures of upgrades, new installations, or even a photo of yourself arriving early! Fresh products, an active mind, and up to date materials express not just a business but a business owner who knows when to make the right decision.

Signs & Reminders

One of the most common of contagions caught at facilities of mobility are skin infections. (Gross I know, but stay with me.) The reasons for these skin infections are due to the unfortunate contact with deposits of leftover sweat on shared exercise equipment and or materials. (How are you doing? Good! We’re going get through this!) The best way this can be avoided is reminders such as: “Always Wash Hands After A Workout”, “Shower after A Swim Please.” and “Remember Scandals On While Showering”. Have any of these signs in your gym? Personalize them a bit, maybe station yourself in front of it for a quick selfie on social media. The more human involvement the better. Just no sweat!

Show you’re a good example

The image of the business owner and staff is everything. Clean clothes clean hair etc. We’re not suggesting to have your staff share their selfies all over your social media but rather to have them included within photos of otherwise stagnant objects. Have cool new health advice to share about pink noises and its ability to improve sleep? Send out an email to you clients! Have new flyers ready to be sent out around the local area? Have one of your staff smiling on the side and snap a picture for social media sharing! There are numerous ways to apply human engagement and interactions to health and safety measures. One way to ensure you have someone on the floor making it happen is with our Employee Time Clock feature. Set up a task for the staff member of your choice so there’s no confusion on whose job it is to post selfies with the clients!

If you are wondering more about effective examples of gym management software, we recommend signing up for a free demonstration of one the most highly experienced, ranked, and trusted gym management software solutions.

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.

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.

Staying hydrated

Encouraging Proper Hydration

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Last weekend, my nine-year-old asked me to pack three bottles of water for his soccer match: one he could drink before the game and at half-time, one that I’d stuck in the freezer that he wanted to let partially melt so he could have it cold after the game, and one he could dump over his head when he felt too hot. When we got home, to my astonishment, I found all three bottles empty.

It was a good reminder for me. Athletes — whether they’re kids, varsity level, or pro players — get thirsty. The same goes for everyday exercisers. There’s a lot in the news about preventing and treating concussions, teaching gym members treadmill safety, setting swimming pool limits to prevent overexertion, and the like, but you don’t hear enough about the risks of dehydration. The fact is, fitness facilities, sports centers, coaches, trainers, and health club managers have as much of a responsibility to keep their members, clients, and players educated about hydration as they do to protect them from muscle or head injury.

So how do you do that? First, realize that many exercisers and athletes do not know that it’s dangerous to wait until thirst kicks in to take a drink. Studies have shown that most people underestimate their water needs; one researcher found that 98 percent of the members of one college football team started out daily workouts underhydrated. It’s important, then, to begin by reminding clients to drink water frequently. If you run a gym or other kind of fitness facility, have your instructors or personal trainers make periodic announcements reminding folks to take a swig. At sports centers, mandate frequent water breaks. In all facilities, put up posters that highlight 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. And consider installing a water cooler next to the exit with cute signs that draw attention to it.

Of course, social media is a great way to get the message across too. Start a hydration awareness campaign on Twitter, posting a daily tweet with facts about how much water the body needs. Put up relevant videos and photos on Facebook so anyone visiting your page will see that you’re serious about hydration. Another possibility: Consider partnering up with a bottled-water company for innovative ways to spread the word. Perhaps the bottled-water supplier would agree to giving away free bottles to your members and clients one day, or to co-hosting a hydration awareness day fair at your facility.

The more creative you are about getting the message across, the more effective your message will be. And your campaign will benefit your facility as much as it does your customers: It’ll give you a new platform for getting your name out there; it will establish your facility as a caring, community-minded one; it could help lessen your liability if an unfortunate event involving dehydration occurs; and it will give you chance to help improve the lives of exercisers and athletes everywhere.

Now please excuse me while I go fill up a dozen bottles to stick in my refrigerator and freezer for my son’s next match this coming weekend.

Creating Classes for the Cool Kids

Creating Classes for the Cool Kids

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When you think of exercise classes for the 8- to 13-year-old set, you probably think “ballet” and “karate.” You probably leave instruction in those fields to the kinds of niche studios that have been catering to children’s physical activities for decades. But things are changing in the world of kids’ calisthenics. Classes are no longer limited to the traditional ballet and karate. Now, kids are engaging in workouts that have fueled adult fitness for a while; such as cycling, Zumba, and CrossFit. Those workouts are happening not at kids’ boutiques, but in health clubs, gyms, and fitness outlets that are used to serve an adult population almost exclusively. The New York Times recently published an article about the phenomenon (and you know something is becoming a trend if the New York Times is reporting on it). The article features several gyms of various sizes and orientations that have launched classes created for adults, which were then subsequently adapted to meet the needs of smaller, more energetic types. Exceed Physical Culture, in New York City, is one of them.

Since 2012, the gym has offered adult classes involving jump ropes, monkey bars, and kettlebells. Soon after opening, owner Catherine Rocco discovered that parents seeking after-school activities for their kids were bringing them in and expecting to sign up. Rocco and her co-owner responded to that demand by creating a class for ages 8 to 13. Very soon after, they found themselves offering five classes per week for children only, and another for families on the weekends. AKT in Motion is the second company that offers classes just for kids. Based in New York, the dance cardio studio launched a regular eight-week session for children this past spring. Capitalizing partly on shrinking physical education time at school and on those late-afternoon hours when gyms and similar venues tend to get quiet, companies like these are finding kids eager for physical outlets that are not necessarily team or competition focused.

They’re finding parents eager for activities that keep their children happy, busy, and physically fit. That last point is key: In an era when obesity among children and teens is at an all-time high, parents want to get kids hooked on exercise early. According to the Times article, many parents take that a step further by enrolling their kids in classes at a gym. Parents are trying to convey a sense that getting a membership at a place where you can work out regularly is simply a normal part of life.

This is good news for gyms, health clubs, fitness centers, and other alike. Children’s classes pull in no less revenue than adults’ classes! In fact, they create a whole new revenue stream because they engage a separate segment of the population. Also, they offer venues the chance to create loyalty among a clientele that might develop those early gym-going habits their parents are hoping for and then stick around for a long time. The upshot? If you haven’t yet opened your doors to young ones, it’s time to sit down and start strategizing about how you’re going to do so. Start small, like the way Exceed Physical Culture did: Launch just one class, but have a plan for expanding. Because chances are, you’ll need to do so pretty quickly.

Helping Your Clients Through Injuries

Helping Your Clients Through Injuries

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The other day, a friend of mine told me an interesting story. She’s no athlete, but for 2014 she made a New Year’s resolution to get in shape. She starting running three days a week and she joined a gym. Against all odds, she stuck with her resolution, and ten months into it she looks great and says she feels better than she ever has. Except for her ankle. About three months after she launched her new workout routine, my friend twisted her ankle, and it’s never been quite the same.
I asked her how she manages to stay committed to an exercise program even with an injury. Wasn’t she tempted just to quit? This is where the interesting story comes in: She was tempted to quit, my friend said. She was on the verge of doing so. But the staff at her gym encouraged and supported her so much that she felt she couldn’t.
Shocking, isn’t it? But it shouldn’t be. This is how it should work. After my friend left the ER months and months ago, she headed straight to her gym. She had reserved a spot in a spin class for that morning, and she couldn’t imagine not going through with the class (even though her doctor had told her to keep her foot up and rest). By the time she reached the front desk, though, my friend broke down—her ankle clearly hurt too much for a spin class that day. My friend feared it hurt too much to allow for exercise ever again, and, through tears, told the front desk staff she wanted to cancel her membership. The receptionist came around from behind the desk and gave my friend a hug. She listened to the problem, and then walked her down the hall to the office of the gym’s Fitness Concierge.
The concierge told her to relax. “She said it was okay to miss a class. She said it was no big deal. Then she made me tea and handed me a chocolate chip cookie. She claimed it was a healthy version of the standard recipe, but she said it with a wink, and then I realized that it’s okay to miss class for a day, or even a week. It’s okay to eat a cookie if it makes you feel better. Because of her words and kindness, a great rush of relief went through me and I could think clearly again. Somehow, I needed her permission to not be a perfect exerciser.” The concierge also pulled over a chair so my friend could put her foot up, told her she could stay there in her office for as long as she liked, and started cracking jokes. “Soon she had me laughing about people falling over during aerobics classes,” my friend said. She squeezed her in for a consultation with a personal trainer who had experience dealing with injuries and with a physical therapist. The trainer gave her tips for adapting her workout. The physical therapist showed her simple stretches she could do to speed up her recovery.
I love this story. I love that my friend’s gym offered immediate, personalized comfort and care—and that it was true for everyone from the front desk staff to the physical therapist. I actually called her gym and asked for a tour, even though I’m fond of my own facility; I’m considering switching now. How are things at your facility? Does your staff know how to help clients handle injuries? Can they reassure an injured client and help him or her figure out how to push ahead with workout goals safely? Can they offer something we don’t usually expect from places of business—a bit of mothering? These things could go a long way toward boosting member retention and gaining new clients. Maybe it’s time to gather everyone together for a lesson on sympathetic responses.

Youth Obesity and You

Youth Obesity and You

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Earlier this year, reassuring news about childhood obesity emerged: For 2- to 5-year-olds, rates have plummeted 43 percent in the past decade. The data comes from a major federal health survey and is the first indication that America may be turning the corner on the childhood obesity epidemic. Given evidence that children who are overweight or obese at 3- to 5-years old are five times as likely to be overweight or obese as adults, this is very hopeful news.
But we’re not in the clear yet. It’s still the case, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), that 20.5 percent of 12- to 19-year-olds—or 1 out of every 5 kids—are considered obese. Moreover, the CDC reports, only 12 percent of kids ages 12 to 15 are getting the amount of moderate to vigorous physical activity recommended by federal guidelines: 60 minutes each day. The consequences of childhood obesity, or simply of too little activity in childhood, can be disastrous later on: cardiovascular disease, diabetes, bone and joint problems, sleep apnea, poor self-esteem, stroke, cancer, osteoarthritis—the list goes on and on.
Happily, health facilities, and in particular sports facilities that train youth, can make a big difference. First, help spread the word: Send newsletters, post on social media, hang up flyers in your facility, put up a billboard-sized sign in your window—however you do it, get the word out there that there is a problem. Use the numbers the CDC provides (they’re sadly impressive—for example: In 2010, more than one-third of American children and adolescents were overweight or obese). Also mention the good news: The fact that obesity rates for young children have dropped can be offered as a source of hope, and as motivation to continue making improvements.
Also, explicitly describe how your facility helps combat the dire figures. List the classes you offer that keep kids moving for at least 60 minutes; highlight any special deals parents can take advantage of. Invite new students in for free trial classes. Post videos showing kids having fun at your facility. If you’re a health club or fitness center that does not cater to kids, get the word out there anyway—and then explain why it’s crucial for parents, teachers, and other adult role models to stay in shape if they want future generations to stay in shape.
You can also consider doing what AussieFIT, a health club with two venues in Ohio, has done. In response to the CDC’s 2012 report, AussieFIT’s founder, Geoff Dyer, created a fitness initiative for local teens, offering free summer memberships to kids between the ages of 12 and 17. If such a program is impractical for your facility, perhaps there’s other programming—even if only educational workshops—you can offer.
If you help share the information that’s out there, show your members and clients (and potential members and clients) that you care, offer ways to make meaningful changes, and provide a free class or lecture to get folks started, you’ll be well on your way to both making a difference and boosting business.

Bringing a Taste of the Retreat into Everyday Life

Bringing the Taste of a Retreat into the Everyday Life

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Luxury health-fitness retreats have become something of a trend. Perhaps some of your members have tried them, or maybe you’ve given one a go yourself. If not, you can imagine the drill: At a beautiful resort somewhere exotic or simply far away from it all, you and your fellow companions spend a week or so hiking twelve miles a day, taking yoga and weight-training classes, and working out for as many hours as possible, and you do it all on about 1,200 calories a day (luckily, many such retreats also feature massages and facials, so be grateful).
Don’t get me wrong—I think this trend offers wonderful opportunities to people who want to kickstart a fitness regimen or who love a good workout and want to combine one with a vacation. There are many reasons why I’d jump at the chance to go on a fitness retreat myself. However, there are also many factors holding me back, several of which have to do simply with practical limitations: time, money, child care.
That got me thinking. What I really need is a luxury health-fitness retreat here at home. I need a week-long or ten-day crash course in intense exercise and healthy eating right here where I live and work. Boot camps, of course, abound in New York City and throughout the country, but what I want is something even more focused and intensive—something that gives me a sense of total immersion while also offering me a chance to get things done. I wonder if there’s an opportunity here for the gyms and health clubs, a hole to fill. It might be worth considering whether there’s a flexible form of health retreat that you could offer members (and nonmembers too, as a way to invite them to join your facility).
I imagine something that begins early in the morning, soon after I drop my son off at the bus stop. A two-hour class could ensue, followed by a healthy breakfast. Afterwards, there could be a three- or four-hour break for participants to get work done or run errands (and possibly wi-fi and lounge/workspace made available to those who want it). Another two-hour exercise period could follow the break, with a light lunch afterward—maybe offered while nutrition or fitness experts offer talks on the best ways to carry the effects of the retreat over into the everyday life. For the afternoon, childcare could be on offer while another class takes place, and after, everyone could be sent home with instructions for dinner. Facials and massages could also be offered on select days. Follow-up sessions in subsequent months might be something participants could elect to take part in for an extra fee.
Many variations of that scenario are possible, and it’s especially worth dreaming up options that might better suit office workers. No matter what form a hometown fitness retreat takes, the benefits could be immense, and not just for participants: Your club could find itself with a new revenue stream. Plus, as alluded to earlier, it can be an effective way to draw in new members (prospectives who take part in the program could be offered a discount on first month’s membership, or the like).

Become an Active Participant in Preventative Health Care

Become an Active Participant in Preventative Health Care

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Pomerene Hospital in Millersburg, Ohio, recently kicked off a deal to take over a local fitness center. The owner of the center approached the hospital, expressing an interest in a community collaborator. Seeing this idea as an opportunity to extend health care beyond its own walls, the hospital embraced it. Doing so, said Pomerene’s chief financial officer in a statement, is a first step towards aligning the hospital’s services with reform in the health industry—with the expanded focus to include a greater emphasis on wellness and preventative care.
I love this. It seems to me that all hospitals should run fitness centers, or at least partner with fitness centers to provide a more holistic set of health-related services. I feel this way about doctors’ offices too. I hate going to them partly because I resent the fact that I’m there in the first place. If I hadn’t gotten sick, or overstretched a muscle, or ignored the numbers creeping higher on the scale, then I wouldn’t have to be there. Sometimes, I am all too well aware of how prevention would have served me better than care.
Not all hospitals have the means or the resources to manage a fitness facility, and certainly not most doctors working independently. But they could at least actively take different approaches to encourage patients to focus on their own preventative care. They could give discounts on co-pays for patients who bring in a letter from a personal trainer, exercise instructor, or gym manager showing that they’ve worked out x number of times in the past month. Or, along with prescriptions, they could hand out certificates good for one free class at a local spin studio or for one free session at a gym. Hospitals, when they discharge patients who have the capacity to exercise, could give out vouchers for a free month’s membership at a health club. There are so many possibilities.
None of these can be realized, of course, if gyms, health clubs, fitness centers, exercise studios, and sports centers are not willing partners. The good news is that forming such partnerships could only be beneficial for businesses in our industry. Each certificate a doctor hands out or voucher a hospital gives away represents a potential new client. And new clients who find your facility through a health care professional or institution are ones that are likely to stay—a voice of authority is telling them loudly and clearly that there’s a link between how much they exercise and how healthy they stay. If nothing else, they’ll come to you to avoid having to go to their doctor or the hospital again.
If you haven’t already done so, maybe it’s time to start cultivating relationships with doctors and hospitals. Approach local ones with suggestions and offers; make it clear that you’re as interested in the health of the community as they are. That’s what the fitness center giving its management over to Pomerene Hospital has done. Honestly, I wouldn’t even need any incentives to join that fitness center; just knowing it’s managed by the same experts who understand my medical needs would be incentive enough.

Study Links Obesity to Lack of Exercise

Study Links Obesity to Lack of Exercise—What It Means for Your Facility

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You may have heard about a long-term Stanford University study that recently revealed interesting—and controversial—results. Obesity, the study concludes, is due primarily not to over-eating but to a decline in exercise. “Our findings do not support the popular notion that the increase of obesity in the United States can be attributed primarily to sustained increase over time in the average daily caloric intake of Americans,” said the study’s lead author, Uri Ladabaum, an associate professor of medicine at Stanford. “We found significant association between the level of leisure-time physical activity, but not daily caloric intake, and the increases in BMI and waist circumference.”
This is good news for the fitness industry for several reasons. First, amid all the clamoring voices in the media and among experts, it lends a weight of authority to the work we do. Every day, it seems, there’s a new report, or a new top-ten list, or a new “trusted opinion” about the value of exercise, the value of dieting, the value of exercising while dieting, the value of a health club membership. The Stanford study took place over a 20-year period. It rigorously examined obesity, waistline obesity, physical activity, and calorie intake among both men and women. It offers unique data: In 1994, for example, only 19.1 percent of women said they did not have any physical activity in their lifestyle; in 2010, 51.7 percent reported that they did not work out. The difference is similar for men: In 1994, only 11.4 percent of men didn’t work out; in 2010, that figure was up to 43.5 percent. During that time, body mass index increased .37 percent per year for women and .27 percent per year for men.
The upshot is this: Medical scientists who have spent two decades studying the issue have proven that people need to work out to avoid obesity. The opportunities for working out provided by gyms, health clubs, fitness venues, sports centers, and the like are unparalleled. In today’s society, with the pressures of work being what they are and the possibilities for sedentary activity being so attractive and plentiful, it is your facilities that give people a fair shot at lasting good health.
How can you use this information to your benefit? Make it known. Spread news of the study through your social media channels and through personal interaction—make sure your trainers and your sales staff know about it, and get them talking about it. Find ways to ask your members to tell their friends.
Also, create outreach programs. The study shows that the groups hit hardest by lack of exercise are African-American women and Mexican-American women. Consider creating affordable programs and make them available to these groups. Also, try to figure out the best ways to spread the news about them. People who don’t have easy access to exercise want it—and desperately need it—and they represent for you a virtually untapped source of new memberships. It’s up to you to design memberships that work for them.
But beware of one thing: The study results are, as I mentioned, controversial. Certainly eating habits in this country are problematic, especially in places known as food deserts, where nutritious choices are not always available or understood. Even in places where incomes and available options do allow for healthier eating, the prevalence of processed food, fast food, and just plain junk food often leads consumers to make poor choices. To show that you’re concerned with the total health of your members, try to make yourself a source of information about nutrition and healthy dieting. Offer programs to educate your members about healthy eating choices—and to set yourself apart from your competition. Your members are there to work out, and that’s the first step; give them the added bonus of increased chances at better eating. They’ll watch their BMIs drop quicker, and eventually you’ll watch your membership numbers grow.


New Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Commission Seeks Collaborators

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By now, you’ve probably heard of the report recently released by the Vitality Institute, a New York-based organization made up of leaders in both the public and private sectors. Their main focus is to strengthen the evidence base of what works and what doesn’t in health promotion and disease prevention. The report, Investing in Prevention: A National Imperative, offers recommendations on these topics. A particular recommendation that has people talking is one that some may find controversial: Companies should report their employee health metrics just as they report their financial earnings.
Eighty percent of non-communicable diseases could be prevented, the report states. Preventing these diseases by 2023 could save the United States between $217 billion and $303 billion per year—about five percent to seven percent of annual healthcare spending. How do you prevent the diseases? By collecting data on individuals’ health profiles, identifying who might be at risk, and presumably then encouraging healthy habits.
Any time an individual’s private data is collected, it’s controversial. But the report seems to argue that health-related data isn’t merely private—the information that it contains could reveal ways to help strengthen society at some of its most fundamental levels. “The consequences of non-communicable diseases have short- and long-term effects by forcing individuals to exit the workforce prematurely due to their own poor health, or to care for ill relatives,” the report states. “Lower productivity and higher absenteeism, combined with soaring costs of treatment, impede innovation and crowd out productive investment in education and research and development.” In light of that, the Vitality Institute argues, it’s imperative that we know the state of health of America’s employees.
Why should you care about all this? The commission that put together the Vitality Institute’s report represents high-powered public- and private-sector organizations, such as Microsoft Corp., IBM, AARP, Humana, Johns Hopkins University, Qualcomm, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. These organizations have promised to carry out four initiatives meant to revolutionize the prevention of diseases and the promotion of health in the United States. To launch these initiatives, the commission is seeking collaborators — and what businesses are better positioned to collaborate than gyms, health clubs, fitness centers, and sports centers, which already work toward disease prevention and health promotion? Now is the time to get involved.
In addition to building a Corporate Health Leaders Program comprising evidence-based workplace health promotion training courses for small, medium, and large employers, the commission also plans to “convene a workshop on ethical, legal, and social issues with respect to the use of data collected by personal prevention technologies.” Another initiative aims to strengthen leadership and advocacy through networks. All in all, these are sweeping ideas that could have a huge impact on the future of fitness in this country. That’s where you come in. And here’s an interesting idea for you: What if your company were one of the first to voluntarily begin reporting employees’ health metrics? You’d sure get noticed.

Improve Your Community, Gain New Members

Improve Your Community, Gain New Members

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Earlier this month, the American College of Sports Medicine released its annual American Fitness Index, ranking the fittest cities in America (congrats to the top three: Washington, D.C.; Minneapolis, MN; and Portland, OR). Boston, a city that prides itself on spiritedness and strength, celebrated to find itself in the top ten. Pulling in at number nine, Boston got points for its high number of farmers’ markets per capita, its high percentage of people using public transportation, biking or walking to work, and its high number of playgrounds per capita. Yet one of the areas in which the city ranked lowest was in access to exercise.
That’s about to change. In May, the Executive Director of Boston’s Public Health Commission, Barbara Ferrer, announced the Boston Parks Summer Fitness Series, a three-month program offering free exercise classes in 18 parks throughout the city. Classes will include, among others, salsa dancing, yoga, tai chi, Zumba, and Zumba Gold.
When a community becomes more aware of healthy living and the role of exercise in improving health and making a brighter future, everyone benefits—including gyms, health clubs, fitness centers, and the like. It’s almost like free advertising for the services you sell. After three months of regularly using a similar service, some people are bound to come seeking your services when the program ends. I guarantee that some facilities in and around Boston will be signing up new members come the end of August.
Chances are, your city is offering something similar. Free, municipally-run, summer exercise programs have become something of a trend in the past five years or so. That trend will only continue to grow. But why wait for your city to do the work? Why compete with your city? Why not become an entity helping your community to get fitter—while introducing the community to the benefits and wonders of your particular facility? You don’t want the summer to end and new exercise enthusiasts going to the gym down the road. You want them coming to yours. Offering a free summer program yourself is a good way to get them to do so.
Of course, as with anything, you have to weigh the benefits with the costs. Still, even a limited program—say, one free yoga class or one free Zumba class per week throughout the summer—will bring new potential members into your club. Once they’re in there, they’ll see what else you have to offer. You’ll be helping the community get fitter, and they’ll be walking out the door with memberships. It’s a win-win opportunity. And who knows, maybe next year, your own city will end up in the American Fitness Index top ten.

Workout Statistics

Get Fit with Exercise Snacking

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Have you heard the latest? Snacking is good for you. Not food snacking—exercise snacking. Researchers in New Zealand recently conducted a study that showed that multiple, brief portions of exercise in a single day—“exercise snacks,” the researchers dubbed them—may control blood sugar better than a single, continuous workout. The study was conducted on men and women with insulin resistance, a common precursor of Type 2 diabetes. Though, the news is relevant to anyone who wants to stay healthy by keeping blood sugar under control. In the study, participants who exercised for 12 minutes before breakfast, 12 before lunch, and 12 before dinner had far lower blood-sugar levels after dinner than those who exercised only once in a day, for 30 minutes before dinner. They also kept their blood-sugar levels lower for longer—over 24 hours as opposed to less than a day.

What does this mean for health clubs, gyms, fitness centers, and exercise boutiques? Well, you need to be prepared to serve members and clients who are looking to get to your facility three times a day. Also, if you want to help your members and clients reach their health-related goals (and you do, because their success is your success), you should probably think about how to encourage those who aren’t necessarily looking to get there three times a day to do so — and, let’s face it, many of them most likely struggle to get there once a day. Scientists have long argued that shorter, more frequent bursts of exercise are more beneficial than long, continuous spells. As the body of research supporting this hypothesis grows, more and more people will be demanding — and needing — to fit this new way of working out into their daily routines. This is especially true because, as researchers of the New Zealand study discovered, the blood-sugar benefits (and it remains to be seen which other benefits) are strongest when the exercise snacks consist of high intensity interval training. For most people, such training is much easier to do at a facility, with trainers and functional fitness equipment, than at home.

Here are a few ideas to consider:

1) Create a new three-times-a-day program. First, be sure to spread the word about the findings of the New Zealand study (and other studies that show the benefits of exercise snacking). Then, establish a structured program to help people get started. Designate a core group of trainers to work with the three-times-a-day-ers: They’ll have to work hard to motivate their clients to come before breakfast, lunch, and dinner. At the same time, they’ll need to plan out careful twelve-minute exercise sessions, preferably high-intensity interval routines.

2) Everything’s easier with incentives. What discounts, rewards, or deals can you offer your members for trying out a new three-times-a-day program? Can you provide a day pass that will allow them fast-track entry each time, or a free smoothie from the juice bar after they complete their third workout? Can you give a free month to members who manage to make it to your facility three times a day, three days a week, for one month? Or maybe you can offer a month at half price for anyone who comes in three times a day with a friend at least twice in one month. The possible variations are limited only by your imagination.

3) If your facility has the capacity to serve food, consider providing three-times-a-day-ers with vouchers for at least one meal on their exercise days. This might make it easier for them to contemplate the logistics of coming to and leaving your facility three times in one day. They might, for example, come before breakfast, head to work, come before lunch and then stay and have lunch, and come again before dinner.

4) If it’s feasible, consider offering three-times-a-day classes in a couple of satellite locations in addition to your facility (maybe there’s an empty warehouse somewhere on the other side of town?). That way, members who live or work further away from your facility have a choice in where to go, and choices make for convenience.

As the trend increases and the demand for facilities to accommodate for more frequent, briefer sessions grows, health clubs and other fitness venues will learn what works and what doesn’t. Now is the time to get started — put yourself at the forefront of the exercise snack trend, and you’ll find yourself the leader of a pack before long.

FDA’s New Nutrition Labels

FDA’s New Nutrition Labels

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For twenty years, Americans have known that if they want information about a food product’s nutritional content, they can check the label. Recently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) proposed a change to the labels we’ve grown used to. The government organization wants to replace out-of-date serving sizes; highlight certain parts of the label, such as calories and serving sizes; and include information about nutrients some consumers aren’t getting enough of, like Vitamin D and potassium. “To remain relevant,” explained FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D., “the FDA’s newly proposed nutrition facts label incorporates the latest in nutrition science as more has been learned about the connection between what we eat and the development of serious chronic diseases impacting millions of Americans.”
First, bravo FDA. It isn’t always the case that policies and laws are revised to accommodate findings from new research. Given what we know about nutrition and chronic disease that we didn’t know twenty years ago, the proposed new label has the potential to help improve the health of a great number of people.
Second, now’s your chance, health clubs and sports centers. You are better positioned than most other institutions to educate the public about the proposed new labels, and to use the FDA’s new nutrition labels as a way to boost your visibility and desirability. By being among the first to spread the news about the labels, and by linking the news to your own programs and offerings, you’ll remain relevant to your clientele in a way that can work only to your benefit.
As a fitness center, gym, health club, or sports facility, you probably already spend some time and other resources on keeping your members and clients informed about nutrition. (If you don’t, what are you waiting for? If people don’t get such information from you, they’ll get it from elsewhere. If you provide it, you have an immediate way of establishing how essential your facility is to health maintenance — along with how generously you provide value-added services.) There are many ways you can teach your clientele about the proposed new labels. Search FDA’s website for an example, and blow it up to poster size for prominent display somewhere in the gym. Invite people to speak with resident nutritional experts or trainers about the changes. Host a lecture by a nutrition advisor who can explain the changes and their significance. Invite the general public to the lecture as well as members — what better opportunity for attracting new members? Have instructors take a few minutes at the beginning or end of class sessions to explain and describe the new labels.
The goals here are to make yourself the source of the information, get a dialogue going within your four walls, emphasize your facility’s commitment to clients’ health, and prove yourself a dedicated member of a larger community. In the past, fitness centers and sports facilities were not expected to do much more than provide a place for a good workout or league game. The FDA is keeping up with changing times; make sure that you are too.

Making a Difference and Boosting Business

Making a Difference and Boosting Business

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Recently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released troubling data: Only about a quarter of kids ages 12 to 15 are getting the amount of moderate to vigorous physical activity recommended by federal guidelines: 60 minutes each day. This follows a report the organization issued last year, revealing that childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and tripled in adolescents in the past thirty years. We all know where childhood obesity, or simply too little activity in childhood, can lead: cardiovascular disease, diabetes, bone and joint problems, sleep apnea, poor self-esteem, stroke, cancer, osteoarthritis — nothing good.

The trend is worrying, but also worrying is the fact this data is tracked and reported year after year, and large-scale improvements seem nonexistent. In this year’s report, researchers write, “…tracking the prevalence of physical activity among U.S. youth may help inform public health interventions.” We need these interventions now.

Where they’re lacking, health facilities, and in particular sports facilities that train youth, can make a difference. The key is to connect news of the data to the everyday happenings at your facility. First, you have to help spread the word: Send newsletters, post on social media, hang up flyers in your facility, put up a billboard-sized sign in your window — however you do it, get the word out there that there is a problem. Use the numbers the CDC provides (they’re sadly impressive—for example: In 2010, more than one-third of American children and adolescents were overweight or obese).

Then explicitly describe how your facility directly helps combat the dire figures. List the classes you offer that keep kids moving for 60 minutes; highlight any special deals parents can take advantage of. Invite new students in for free trial classes. Post videos showing kids having fun at your facility. If you’re a health club or fitness center that does not cater to kids, get the word out there anyway — and then explain why it’s crucial for parents, teachers, and other adult role models to stay in shape if they want future generations to stay in shape.

Also, consider what new offerings you might develop in order to speak to the worrying reports, and make clear that your new offerings are a response to those reports — you can even mention the CDC’s data in your catalog of courses or on your website. As for those offerings: Have you studied your scheduling software to see where you might fit in an extra class or two? Have you hosted nutrition-information sessions for parents and kids? Can you send personal trainers into schools or camps, both as ambassadors charged with spreading the word about health and fitness — and, of course, your facility?

If you help share the information that’s out there, show your members and clients (and potential members and clients) that you care, offer ways to make meaningful changes, and provide a free class or lecture to get folks started, you’ll be well on your way both to making a difference and boosting business.

fitness business

The CEO Pledge

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Have you heard about the CEO Pledge? It’s a campaign promoted by the National Coalition for Promoting Physical Activity (NCPPA) to encourage CEOs to recognize physical activity as an important driver of employee health and business performance. In other words, it’s a great opportunity for health clubs to connect with corporate clients.
The idea is that company leaders promise to make their employees’ health and wellness — and their own health and wellness — a priority by providing opportunities and resources for physical activity before, during, or after the workday. They agree to implement at least six strategies from a list of suggested strategies to create a workplace culture of physical activity. The list of strategies is broken into three categories — behavioral, educational, and environmental/policy — and participants are encouraged to choose strategies from each category. Some of the suggested strategies include “organize onsite fitness classes,” “reimburse employees for purchases of fitness equipment or physical activity-related programs,” and “create an onsite fitness area or reimburse/subsidize the cost of an offsite fitness center membership.”

This is good news for fitness facilities, particularly because the campaign is pretty ambitious — its goal is to get every CEO in the United States to take the pledge. Why not make it easier for them to do so? Now would be a great time to reach out to companies in your area, asking if they’ve heard about the pledge and are willing to take it, informing them about it if they don’t already know, and offering special deals to organizations whose CEOs sign up.
While you’re at it, it might be a good time to review your corporate outreach program in general. Do you have one? Have you considered how corporate sales could positively impact your facility, and whether you have the infrastructure to support such sales? If you already have a corporate outreach program in place, is it robust enough? Have you kept up to date on the latest workplace fitness programs, read the studies about physical activity in the workplace, understood the issues, and come up with strong sales pitches?

With the CEO Pledge campaign under way, there’s an opportunity in front of you. Polish up your connections to corporate clients and knock on the doors of those CEOs getting ready to sign the pledge.

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Sharing Local Stories With Your Clients

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I don’t know Albert, a fifty-two-year-old marketing specialist and father of two, but I know he lost fifty pounds at my gym. How do I know? The gym posted a video on Facebook of him telling his story. Last month there was one of Maria, a stay-at-home mother of three who faced dangerous health conditions because of obesity. She hadn’t yet lost much weight, but she talked about her commitment to doing so. And recently, in a blog on the gym’s website, there was a first-person narrative by a twenty-five-year-old man who was confined to a wheelchair for eight months because of a car accident. When he was finally able to walk again, he realized that he’d gained thirty pounds while wheelchair-bound. Even though using his legs was still difficult and painful, he set a goal of losing a pound a week, and, taking it slowly and steadily, he’d already lost ten.

Now, I’m not the type of person who randomly clicks on website links and reads strangers’ stories. I never follow the path to those articles with headlines like, “How Did This Middle-Aged Mom Lose Fifteen Pounds in Two Weeks?” or “Amazing Story of Determination and Success!” But I do follow my gym on Facebook, and when I see that the gym has posted stories about fellow members, I happily read those stories. There’s something about the fearlessness of ordinary people describing their struggles, triumphs, and failures to others — and not just any ordinary people, but ordinary people who do the same things I do, who have similar goals, who maybe even live in my neighborhood.

We’re hardwired to pay attention to stories that are local. It starts in childhood: When you tuck your kids in at night and they ask you for an adventure story, they’re not looking for Lord of the Rings — they want a tale that stars them and their friends, one that takes place in their own backyards. And they want those stories — need them, really — because the stories teach them what is possible in their own small worlds; they teach them what they are capable of achieving. It’s the same for grown-ups. We need stories that come from close to home to show us what we can do. If Albert and Maria and the twenty-five-year-old go to my gym and they can do it, then I’m much more likely to believe that I can do it myself.

Are you sharing local stories with your clients? Are you letting them inspire each other to push themselves further, to hold on to their gym memberships even if they’re tempted to quit, to transform themselves through what your facility has to offer? If not, it’s time. Social media makes it easy, whether you blog, email, Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, or do something else. Talk to your members about their stories; ask them to share; post those stories widely, and trust that they’ll reach the people who need to be reached.

I should add that I saw Albert at the gym the other day. He was on the elliptical next to mine. I recognized him from the video.

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.

Childhood Obesity Awareness Month

Childhood Obesity Awareness Month

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It’s back-to-school month — and Childhood Obesity Awareness month. Even if your fitness facility caters mostly (or exclusively) to adults, you can contribute to the effort to draw attention to childhood obesity and its devastating consequences.

Why should you want to? The long-term health of millions of citizens is at stake; as an institution devoted to fostering good health, your investment in the wellbeing of the population at large is crucial. Moreover, the more than one-third of children and adolescents who are overweight or obese in this country make up your future clientele. In ten or fifteen years, they will be coming to your facility to try to reverse decades’ worth of physical damage — or they won’t be coming at all, because they’ll be too ill even to take that step. Finally, showing your support for the community, in addition to being good for the community, is simply good business. Parents and others who care for children’s health and their own will be more likely to choose your facility over another if yours is the one that’s been vocal about fighting childhood obesity.

So what can you do? At the least, advertise your support for Childhood Obesity Awareness Month so your clients know that it’s important to you. Hang up flyers or posters, send e-mails, talk about it on Facebook and other social media sites. Consider inviting experts to your facility to discuss childhood obesity and what can be done to fight it.
If space, personnel resources, and other logistical conditions allow for it, invite kids in for a fun day of physical activity. Have a dance party or set up an obstacle course; incorporate lessons on healthy eating and the importance of exercise. Emphasize the philosophy of personal achievement over competition — kids, especially kids who might feel self-conscious about their weight or appearance, need to understand that they can become healthier by focusing on their own goals and accomplishments.

Consider whether your facility has the resources to serve children’s needs on a more long-term basis. Rather than just a day of physical activity, can you offer classes for kids in addition to adults? If you already offer them, can you step them up in some way in honor of Childhood Obesity Awareness month? And can you offer special family-focused classes for the month, so that kids and parents can have fun working toward their fitness goals together?
Whatever you do, contributing in some way to the effort to raise awareness ultimately will benefit your facility. Give it a shot, and see what you get in return.

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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.

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.

What Kind of Happiness Can You Offer?

What Kind of Happiness Can You Offer?

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yellow flag with black happy face on it

In this industry, there’s a lot of talk about happiness – as well there should be. In recent years, studies have suggested that the presence or absence of happiness affects us at a cellular level: When we’re happy, our tissues suffer less damage, our bodies have less inflammation, and our immune systems are stronger. Because we know that regular exercise contributes to greater happiness, we remind our clients that coming to the gym is good for them, that it’ll make them happier. But, in the light of a recent study, maybe we should wonder whether we’re giving happiness enough thought.

The study, led by Barbara Fredrickson, professor of psychology at the University of North Carolina, suggests that different kinds of happiness can have vastly different effects on physical well-being. It divides happiness into two types: hedonic and eudaimonic. Hedonic happiness comes from instant gratification, such as eating a piece of chocolate cake or buying a new pair of boots. Eudaimonic comes from working toward a goal that results in a sense of meaning or a contribution to a cause.

The gist of the study is this: For participants, hedonic happiness resulted in physical effects that look much like the effects of misery and stress. That is, it increased the expression of genes involved in inflammation and decreased antiviral responses. Eudaimonic happiness resulted in lower levels of inflammatory gene expression and strong antiviral and antibody gene expression. Or, to put it another way, happiness that came from working for some kind of greater good — some positive effect outside of and bigger than the self — led to a much more positive genetic impact, and therefore better health.

So, back to the gym: When encouraging clients to achieve happiness, which kind of happiness are you pushing them toward? Is it the instant gratification that comes with a single tough workout? Or is it the more powerful — and healthier — sort of happiness that comes from sustained effort toward the accomplishment of a larger goal? And is there a way to increase opportunities for that other, better happiness for your clients? Can you establish a program in which if a certain number of exercisers achieves a certain goal — losing ten pounds, say — by a certain time, then you’ll donate to a good cause? Or if a member comes to the gym twenty-five times in one month, you’ll give one month’s free membership to an economically disadvantaged person in the community?

Creating possibilities for your clients to help others or to achieve some kind of greater good through their workouts could boost the positive effects of exercising even more — and that, in turn, could keep your clients coming back. Which makes everyone happy. What kind of happiness can you offer?


The Real Issues Facing the Fitness Industry

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Sometimes, when I’m brainstorming posts for this blog, I look around on Google to get a sense of what people are thinking and talking about. Today, I was struck by what came up when I Googled “Fitness Industry Issues.” I was looking for topics of discussion, ideas, or observations, but almost the entire first page of results linked to long rants and complaints: “The Fitness Industry is Corrupt”, “The #1 Problem in the Fitness Industry”, “Things That Bug Me About the Fitness Industry.” Or, my personal favorite, “The Fitness Industry Is Dead.”

On the heels of a report by the International Health, Racquet, and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA) that outlines the ways in which the fitness industry has grown recently, these headlines feel jarring. According to IHRSA, industry revenue reached $21.4 billion in 2011, with memberships totaling 51.4 million. Those numbers represent increases: 5 percent over 2010 in revenue and 2.4 percent over 2010 in memberships.

While the total number of health clubs saw only a marginal increase — 29,890 in 2010 compared with 29,960 in 2011 — dynamic changes at existing clubs have been underway over the past couple years, with more and more facilities devoting more and more time and space to functional fitness and to niche classes designed to fit specific needs of specific groups. Does that sound to you like an industry that’s dead? I didn’t think so. Of course, like any industry, it has its rough spots. So what are the rants and complaints? Here’s a brief synopsis:

1) Lack of Strict Regulation

Anyone can become a trainer, and even when a trainer is certified, “even highly regarded certification agencies are severely lacking in content and requirements.” In general, there’s very little integrity, research, continuing education, or professionalism.

2) Motivation Gets Lost Quick

#1 problem in the fitness industry is that people are not sufficiently motivated to workout, so overall enrollment in fitness programs remains low, and obesity levels remain high. Gyms and health clubs have not figured out yet how to make working out fun.

3) And Then The Generally Annoying Things…

Here are some of the generally annoying things in the fitness industry: (a) We’re too obsessed with achieving six-pack abs, (b) manufacturers spend to much time and energy trying to reinvent old equipment, and (c) too many personal trainers let clients dictate the course of their program. 4) The fitness industry is dead because fitness today is about achieving a certain look or weight instead of about performance. Honestly, I don’t get it. Certainly, some of the criticisms are worth considering, and it would be useful to start a productive dialog within the industry about those criticisms — perhaps a new industry conference devoted to dissecting the real problems and finding solutions.
But, in my opinion, most of these complaints are simply opinions based on anecdote rather than fact. The recent increases in revenue and membership speak for themselves, and the constant production of new classes that quickly become nationwide fads suggests a level of innovation in the field that is matched by the technology industry. Moreover, even if it can stand some improvement, why knock a field that is doing so much good for so many people, especially when we live in a nation where more than one-third of the population suffers from what is now officially considered the disease of obesity? I’m not saying don’t examine the problems; do, and then fix them.
But let’s avoid pointless rants and focus on the very good work that so many facilities accomplish. What are your thoughts? What are the real issues facing the fitness industry?