Record numbers of lycra-clad women and men joined health clubs in the early ‘80s to grapevine and pony in sweaty unison to the latest top 10. Aerobics was born. Racquetball courts were converted into aerobics rooms as club managers calculated the value of 20 people in a room for an hour vs. two people. More women in clubs, special music, clothing and shoes — the fitness industry would never be the same.

While aerobics classes have evolved, the importance of group exercise as a key component of club fitness endures. We queried program directors and instructors to get their read on group exercise today.

Maintaining strength, flexibility, stability, balance and emotional well being are now the ideal. Still hot: Yoga, YogaFit®, Tai Chi, Pilates-based programs and aqua fitness. On the rise: Resist-a-Ball®, Bosu, CORE Training and Qigong.

Members like the range of benefits they see and feel fairly quickly with these formats. Pilates Reformer small group classes are the hottest new classes in New York City, says Joy Karley, MS, fitness professional in New York.“They've been successful over the last couple years at New York Sports Clubs (TSI) and The Xercize Studio, and they are being introduced at the Plus One facilities where I teach,” she says.

Tina Lanzoni, corporate fitness director, the Merritt Clubs, says that mind/body classes are still popular and will continue to be as people age and become reflective.

One of the hottest trends are classes that use traditional equipment, such as indoor cycles and steps, and create new programs based on innovative formatting and specific training goals. Predictable class formatting with a set cardio component followed by strength and stretching is giving way to a variety of training options and formats. This flexibility allows clubs to use existing equipment and offer shorter classes that combine more than one element. Still hot: Indoor cycling, step, Body Pump® and the related Body Training System programs, group stair and rowing classes. New: The step's cousin, the Ramp®.

“Members are asking for fast-paced programs that peak their interest and engage their minds. Our best-attended class is kick, step and sculpt, an intense, fast moving, switching-type class,” says Val Gokenbach, RN, MBA, director emergency services, Beaumont Hospital; fitness professional, Detroit.

Equinox Fitness is implementing several programs including Cycle Tech, a sport-specific indoor cycling program that will revolutionize cycling classes at all of its clubs, says Patrick Goudeau, group fitness manager, Equinox Lincoln Park, Chicago.

Suzi Schumacher, program director, Gold's Gym, Lubbock, TX, says that sport-specific training classes with high school athletes is more important as coaching staffs don't have the time or resources to devote to physical training for their sports.

The key to any successful group exercise class is the instructor. Program directors want instructors who take their work seriously and present themselves as professionals; education and training in several types of programs; strong cueing and teaching skills; enthusiasm and warmth; and caring about people. So, invest in your instructors. They're the ones who keep your classes filled, not the latest piece of equipment.

Marti West has been a fitness industry leader for 25 years. West is president and CEO of Healthclub.com (www.healthclub.com).

Dance and a Return to Fun

The hottest exercise trend is classes that focus on enjoying movement vs. technique. Grueling classes are out, giving way to fun and humor. A component of this trend is the growth of dance-based programs that provide the joy of movement without years of dance training. Hot: Balletone® and salsa. On the rise: the Rhythm Workout®, jazz and other dance classes.

“Balletone is definitely hot. I launched the program and had 32 people in the first class at a time when there were two other concurrent classes. Since then, the classes just keep growing,” says Suzi Schumacher, program director, Gold's Gym, Lubbock, TX.

“Dance is back. I'm digging out my 1980's music and choreography.I'm wondering if I should have saved my old leg warmers,” says Elizabeth Horton, activities director, The Oaks at Ojai, CA.

“With the overwhelming amount of stress and uncertainty in the world, you just can't sweat the small stuff.If someone is on the wrong leg, it's not the end of the world.As long as nobody gets hurt and they get a good workout and enjoy themselves, that's all that matters,” says Joy Karley, MS, fitness professional, New York.