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.

Enhance Your Facility with Aerobic Accessories

Enhance Your Facility with Aerobic Accessories

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Looking for an easy, inexpensive way to freshen up your club, engage members, and create a viable non-dues revenue stream? Look no further than aerobic accessories. Club Business International magazine recently ran a great little piece about the advantages of relying on accessories to boost many aspects of your club’s offerings. It even described one Toronto-based club, Fitness Nation, which relies entirely on aerobic accessories as their training model, without offering a single cardio or strength machine. “Because these products offer so much value,” Marc Lebert, the owner of the club, told Club Business International, “they give startups, small operators, and personal trainers a lot of great choices for a modest investment.”
It’s not just startups, small operators, and personal trainers that can benefit, though: Larger clubs and sports facilities also can create innovative programs, find savings, and possibly ignite new revenue by incorporating aerobic accessories. The possibilities are nearly endless—and certainly endlessly versatile. With battle ropes, bodyweight trainers, kettlebells, medicine balls, slam balls, sand bags, gloves, grips, belts, wrist wraps, and a host of other accessories a club can incorporate, there are significant options for keeping members on their toes with new class offerings. Combining accessories in novel ways can result in exciting experiences for club members — ones that keep them coming back for more and spreading the word about your creative classes.
Another bonus, the article points out, is that new accessories involve a learning curve. They require proper instruction, and because of that they help foster engagement between trainers and clients. With engagement, clients are more apt to feel attached to their place of exercise, satisfied with their experiences, and ready to push themselves further. As Lebert explained to Club Business International, “The products have to be introduced with proper instructions, or you run the risk of [them] not being used.” To encourage instructional activity, Lebert’s club offers trainers online access to programming updates and other exercise content. Consider the possibilities for your own facility if you can offer relevant online content—perhaps to trainers and members alike—to promote the use of accessories.
Finally, the article points out that these accessories can provide clubs with a fresh revenue stream. Chanin Cook, the director of marketing at Harbinger Fitness, says, “It’s been proven that utilizing accessories in club programs boosts on-site sales, and instructors and trainers can exert tremendous influence here.” If you’re not already selling accessories, it may be time to consider doing so.
The takeaway? Incorporating aerobic accessories into your programming can benefit your facility, your clients and members, and the manufacturers who are constantly devising new and exciting products. It’s a win-win-win situation.

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).

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.

Spin class

Getting Past the Summer Attendance Blues

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This is it, folks—we’re now in the throes of what I like to call Summer Attendance Blues. Every year it’s the same story: June hits, attendance at gyms, fitness centers, and health clubs takes a dive. It stays low till the end of August. You watch in despair as a handful of only the most loyal clients straggles in for classes, while your front desk crew twiddle their thumbs and your locker rooms stay woefully empty.
Okay, maybe it’s not that bad, but some days can feel that way. What can you do?
It may be daunting to imagine cutting back on your group exercise schedule, but that could be the first step to take. On IHRSA’s blog, Anne Whiteside, program director at the Yakima Athletic Club in Yakima, Washington, says, “It’s absolutely necessary to cut back on group fitness classes during the slower months.” Frances Michaelson, Owner/Director of Muscle Up, Inc. in Quebec, Canada, agrees. “In the summer,” she says, “there’s always a drop in the numbers and it’s acceptable to reduce the number of classes.”
If you do cut back, you’ll inevitably displease some people, but both Whiteside and Michaelson say there are steps you can take to assuage them. Whiteside recommends educating members very directly about why you’re cutting back. “Inform them about industry averages for classes, and/or your own personal goals for the club’s group exercise program. Let them know what the numbers are, that that they’re falling off due to seasonal low attendance.” One possible benefit from doing so is that members may begin to pay more attention to the shrinking numbers—and they may start to encourage others to attend regularly in order to keep the classes on the schedule. Another option is to combine classes, says Michaelson. “For example, if you offer a step class and a toning class that are both popular, then why not put the two together with a circuit-style format, and call it ‘Step ‘n Tone’?”
If reducing the number of class offerings doesn’t seem like enough, or if it’s something you’re simply not willing to do, there are still other steps you can take. You could consider instituting summer hours, keeping all your offerings but compressing them into just four or five days a week. Or design an incentives program. Perhaps if members attend 35 classes between July 1st and August 31st, they receive a discount for September, or if they bring a friend to at least 10 classes during that time, their friend gets a month’s membership free. Think about what kind of program would work best for your facility, and get creative. You might also try simply getting members to pledge at the start of summer that they’ll make it to your facility a certain number of times before the summer ends. Studies show that people are more likely to stick to promises and goals if they take the trouble to state them in a formal way.
Whatever your plan, make sure you have one, even if it’s just doubling down on efforts to keep attendance high during the fall, winter, and spring. The last thing you want is that experience of sitting around watching the numbers dip, feeling powerless and waiting for the year’s sunniest season to end. And remember: Summer does end. Everyone will be back.

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.

Gym community

Helping Your Members Connect

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Every weekday morning, my sister-in-law heads to a functional fitness center and undergoes a grueling routine involving kettlebells, ropes, medicine balls, and heavy chains. The center is located in a small warehouse with a homegrown feel. There’s one instructor and a small number of regulars for each time slot; it’s the kind of place where the instructor greets everyone by name and asks about their kids and pets. My sister-in-law took me to a class recently. When I arrived, she introduced me to each person there, and they welcomed me so warmly that I felt I’d known them all for years.

The workout that followed made me want to lie in bed for three days and moan feebly, but I had a great time while I was doing it. It was great partly because functional fitness is just plain fun and the instructor was wonderful—but I know the main reason it was great, was that I felt instantly comfortable around all of those people. I felt accepted; I felt both gently teased (when I collapsed after the ten-thousandth burpee) and brilliantly supported (when I discovered a natural flair for kettlebell action); I felt a genuine interest in all of my classmates, and it was clear that feeling was mutual. I left with a whole new set of friends.

My sister-in-law lives far away, so I can’t join the class, but I know that if I could, I would (despite its tortuous aspects). There’s one simple reason why I would: to be a part of that community. Anthropologists and social scientists have long known that human beings function best when they function within a community. We have our ideas about independence and autonomy, but when it comes to basic questions of survival, or just to getting through each day—or, say, to getting through a workout—we need to have others around us, and we need to feel some connection to those others.

For owners of gyms, fitness centers, training facilities, and health clubs, these facts are crucial to running a sound business. If you build a supportive, intimate community, you’re much more likely to both retain members and find new ones. So where do you begin?

1) Introduce members to one another. This one is simple, but it works, perhaps even better than anything else. I don’t mean just play icebreaker games at the start of a class; I mean make personal introductions based on your knowledge of your clients. If a new member who is a schoolteacher joins, bring her over to the schoolteacher who’s been working out at your facility for years and get them talking. Of course, you can’t facilitate connections on this level without first knowing—or ensuring that your staff knows—members personally and thoroughly. Getting to know them personally and thoroughly takes a great investment of time and energy, but it’s one of the most worthwhile investments you can make. Members will feel valued, and their positive feelings will translate into referrals, loyalty, and longevity.

2) Form clubs to address specialty interests. Find out what your members are interested in doing outside of your facility (you can use surveys, registration forms, or just personal chats for this), and see what happens if you form a club around that activity. Outdoor biking, bellydancing, macrobiotic cooking — whatever it is, you can get things started, and you don’t have to do much else. Put up a sign-up sheet, and let the members themselves take care of the rest. They’ll form personal connections and you’ll benefit.

3) Get social. I’m talking about two kinds of social here: real and virtual. On the real side of things, host cocktail hours (or juice bar hours), get-togethers, and meet-and-mingle events. Match members up for training sessions. Hold talks and seminars. On the virtual side, welcome new members to Facebook, offer incentives to members who post to your Facebook page or comment on posts you put up, create a Facebook group that members can join in order to stay connected. Explore other forms of social media too. Again, your members will form a valuable community; you’ll reap the rewards.

Outdoor Workouts

Outdoor Workouts

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I don’t know about you, but now that the long winter finally (finally!) seems to be drawing to a close, all I want is to be outdoors. I want that so badly that I almost, for a very brief second — full disclosure — considered letting my gym membership expire. I’ll just start a new one in September, I thought. It was only a fleeting idea; happily, I know that I get too much from my gym to ever really let go of my membership so easily. But a lot of people don’t know that. A lot of people do exactly what I thought of doing: let their membership slide in the warm months and rejoin (or, worse, join somewhere else) when the cold sets in again.
One way for a gym, or any type of fitness or sports center, to combat this phenomenon is to take things outdoors. In recent years, it’s become more of a trend for health clubs to institute outdoor programs. Large cities hold yoga-in-the-sun classes. Gyms offer boot camp in the park. So-called “street workouts” are becoming more popular, with exercisers using poles, park structures, even swing-sets to build up core muscles and practice other forms of strength training.
If you haven’t yet cashed in on the trend, it’s time to do so. Your audience is hungry for it (google “outdoor workouts” and you’ll see what I mean). The question is, how do you make it work? How do you move operations outside?
Start with an existing class — it’s probably your most portable commodity. Go for a low-key class first, one that doesn’t rely on music or heavy equipment. (Once you get things up and running and you understand how to coordinate outdoor sessions smoothly, it’ll be simple enough to fiddle with sound systems and free weights; til then, keep things easy for yourself.) Think of props that naturally work well outside: balls, jump ropes. Get your instructors to incorporate these items and, if necessary, to modify their routines to suit the outdoors. Of course, promote heavily. Your social media channels should be screaming, “New outdoor class!” The walls of your facility should be littered with posters and flyers. Make sure the logistics are clearly communicated: Will the class meet in the gym lobby and then follow the instructor out? Will there be a meeting point in the park? Spell it out.
Once you’ve seen how it works — and what the potential pitfalls are — think of creating classes specifically for nature. Call upon the expertise of your trainers and instructors; find out their favorite outdoor workouts and ask them to develop these into teachable sessions. Scout out potential locations carefully and make use of what’s out there: trees, old jungle gym sets, park benches. Anything fixed to the ground is fair game.
After you’ve built up an outdoor clientele, think about investing in equipment. Life Fitness recently developed a “jungle gym” series for outside; other companies are following suit. If you’re in a location that doesn’t easily allow for outdoor access, consider doing what my gym in New York City does: use the rooftop. You might have to partner with a school, community center, or other organization that already has outdoor space. (If you’re using parks, keep in mind that many municipalities require permits for the use of public spaces, and often there are restrictions about how existing structures, including trees, can be used. Do your homework.)
Follow these steps, and you’ll be well on your way. The only thing left to figure out will be how you can sneak into one of your own facility’s outdoor sessions — because once you have the option, there’s no way you’re going to want to stay inside.

Foster Partner Workouts

Foster Partner Workouts

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A recent blog post and a recent study, although differing significantly in content, come to essentially the same conclusion: We have more of a chance of staying healthy when we partner with someone than when we try to go it alone.

The blog post, written by a sports writer and athlete for the popular Greatist website, notes that studies show working out with a buddy can increase accountability, keep spirits high during exercise, and spur better results. The post lists 35 great ideas for partner workouts. The study, a collaboration between the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg and policymakers in the Canadian province of Manitoba, suggests that younger children learn about health from older children more effectively than from coaches and teachers. Researchers looked at a program called Healthy Buddies, in which older kids mentor younger ones about healthy foods, physical activity, and positive body image; elementary school children who took part in the program reduced their waist sizes and showed improvements in self-esteem.

Why should all this be important to you? Of course, as a fitness club or sports center owner or manager, you’re interested in retaining current members and attracting new ones. One way to do those things is to make workouts or practices fun. If science is proving it’s more fun for people to workout with a partner, it would behoove you to think of ways to foster partner workouts. If you don’t yet have classes designed to accommodate buddy exercise, it’s time to develop and offer some. And maybe it’s time also to experiment with new ideas: How about designating a weekly time slot for partner workouts in the cardio room? Anyone can come, and no one will be forced to work with someone else, but singletons who want a partner can ask others looking for the same if they want to pair up during that time, and duos can be encouraged to come. Trainers can be on-hand with ideas for buddy exercises.

Really, with the studies in hand that prove the effectiveness of partner workouts, there’s no limit to ideas you can try launching based on that information. And let your clientele know that you’re reading up on these studies and developing new ideas based on what’s best for them — that’s another good way to keep the members you already have and gain new ones.

As for the study about older kids mentoring younger ones for better health, this is information that will be useful to sports centers that cater to youth. Whether you specialize in baseball, soccer, track and field, or offer general athletic programming, why not start thinking about how older kids at your facility might be able to help teach younger ones? Can you offer one night of mixed-age practices, pairing elementary-schoolers with high-schoolers and letting the learning take off? This same strategy might work for fitness clubs too — not necessarily using age as a guide to matching mentors and mentees, but creating a program that would allow members who have successfully met their weight loss and exercise goals to mentor members who are still struggling. Doing so could only strengthen your community, and strengthening your community can only be good for business.