Group fitness brings people together not just for a good workout--but for a goal.
Going to college, getting married, having a child, buying your first senior-discounted movie ticket — these are all stage-of-life events that many of us will go through during our lives — not to mention a slew of other time-sensitive events such as the looming months before bikini season, the inspiring motivation of a fresh New Year's resolution or notice of a 20-year reunion.
These are the times people want to look good, and fitness facilities are stepping up to help. While in the past many group fitness classes were geared towards people with similar fitness levels, classes are now joining together people according to a common goal or similar time in life.
These so-called stage-of-life classes are no doubt bringing new groups of people to fitness, but are they keeping them there, or do most participants fall off the fitness wagon post-goal?
Family or parent-child workouts seem to be a new trend in group fitness — whether it's a mom getting in shape to help lose her post-baby weight or simply a family taking more steps to be active together. In January, the Pacific Athletic Club in Redwood City, CA, began its Mom's Gym, a physical education (PE) style class that allows moms, dads and caregivers to “play” with their children using the latest trends in fitness — kickboxing, strength and core training — and moves inspired by Pilates and yoga. While parent and child work out together, the class teaches children about the importance of exercise. Children can be between two-and-a-half to seven years of age, and adults can bring a maximum of two little ones.
Although the month-long class is still in its infancy, it is already showing promising results for the facility.
“It has received quite a bit of interest, and I believe, in the long run, it'll be a regular monthly program,” says Lloyd Merrill, group exercise director at the Pacific Athletic Club.
For the get-the-family-fit-and-off-the-couch stage of life that many Americans face, the Navy's Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) Department in Pearl Harbor, HI, recently created the Family Fitness Hour from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Friday nights. While not a traditional group exercise class, the class involves group fitness. Children ages 10 and older come with their parents and do either partner drills or perform individual exercises side by side. Trainers are on hand to spot their form.
“We are hoping to create a healthy habit for the entire family by having them work out together,” says Judy Kosaka, regional fitness director. “I have heard a buzz in the air [about the class], so we hope folks come out and give it a try.”
In addition to club classes, franchises and other trademarked classes targeting parents and babies have popped up in the last few years.
One such franchise, Stroller Strides, started when founder Lisa Druxman realized that after the birth of her son, she wanted a career that blended her passion for fitness with her role as a mom. Not having time to go to the gym, Druxman went outside with her son in a stroller and created a series of exercises to get back in shape. For fun she started classes with a few ladies in her neighborhood and before she knew it, she had class requests from her area of San Diego, then from California and eventually from across the country and around the world. The outdoor classes last 50 minutes and include power walking and total body toning exercises using the stroller and exercise tubing for resistance.
“The workout I created for myself as a new mom was one of the best hours of the day for me and my son,” says Druxman. “I realized then that lots of moms would want to do the same.”
While the class is franchised in 300 locations with more than 15,000 participants, Druxman is collaborating with health clubs to offer the class and is developing a fitness stroller and a book for Time Warner.
“People are realizing that there is no one-size-fits-all exercise program,” Druxman says. “They would much rather spend the time on a program that addresses their exact needs. In Stroller Strides, we are dealing with their physical needs in terms of recovering from labor and pregnancy and their emotional needs in terms of dealing with their new role as a mom.”
Families aren't the only ones health clubs are targeting. Numerous pre-wedding boot camps from bride-to-be group exercise classes to semi-private training sessions for an entire wedding party are springing up around the country.
One such program is Sports Clubs' Wedding Ready, a personal training program for anyone involved with a wedding — bride, groom, parent of the bride, bridesmaid or anyone else gearing up for the big day. Available to both members and non-members, the program includes working with a trainer twice a week for 12 weeks, a three-month Sports Clubs membership and a “honeymoon” tote bag filled with fitness goodies such as a heart rate monitor, journal, water bottle, and coupons good for sports massage and small group training at Sports Club.
Time of Your Life
While the boot-camp theme is common in group exercise and lends itself well to goal-oriented training, no one knows the meaning of boot camp more than the military. Take for example, the Navy MWR's Return to Readiness (R2R) class. In the Navy, sailors must pass a physical readiness test. For those in the military passing the test is a stage-of-life of sorts.
The test requires a one-and-a-half mile run, and timed sit-ups and push-ups. Body fat percentages must fall below a certain level according to age and sex. Most pass the sit-up and push-up tests but fail the run and body fat requirements, Kosaka says. R2R is a progressive workout targeted to meet Navy physical fitness standards by focusing on cardiovascular improvement, muscle strength and endurance. The Pearl Harbor Fitness Department began the R2R program almost two years ago. What started as two classes a day has grown to five classes a day. Participation in the program jumped from 50 to 150 people, and the most popular time for the class is 5:30 a.m.
“It's so satisfying to know you played a part in turning someone's life around,” Kosaka says. “To see their improvement and self esteem increase is amazing. Some actually go on to pursue more involvement in fitness like entering body building competitions or getting a personal training certification, so they can give back to others or stay in shape for themselves.”
Anyone can attend the classes, but sailors who have failed the test are required to attend. Most participants are between the ages of 20 and 23 years old, she says.
“They work very hard to exceed their goals and don't want to do [the class] again. It jeopardizes their job as well. They can get kicked out of the military if they fail again.”
Larger Than Life
While stage-of-life classes may help bring in new members or encourage your current members to try group fitness, what happens when the wedding is over or the child grows out of the stroller?
“If people make a decision to have a healthy and active lifestyle and if this [goal-oriented program] is the catalyst that gets them going, that's fantastic,” says Rob Glick, IDEA health and fitness group fitness committee leader and Crunch national program developer. “The con is, ‘I'm married, and now my goal is done.’ If that's so, then we need to have a carryover into inspiring them to make this a lifestyle.”
The key is developing lifestyle goals.
“You've come back from your honeymoon, and hopefully you've also fallen in love with working out. Maybe part of your workout was taking cycling classes with your bridesmaids. Now you need to get on that long-term program,” Glick says.
And, it always helps when a facility has a strong group fitness or personal training program waiting to help develop those goals. Even better, good stage-of-life group fitness instructors can help explain participants' options post-goal. And, for the record, Stroller Strides allows children of all ages in their classes, although most participants stop attending once their children reach preschool age. Dads are welcomed, too.
“We will address exercise for prenatal populations specifically and for kids eventually,” Druxman says. “We encourage the older toddlers to exercise along with us and make it fun for them.”
Glick considers stage-of-life classes semi-private and prices them according to size and the amount of time his staff or the instructor puts in to run the class. The new Mom's Gym at the Pacific Athletic Club charges $99 per month, which covers a caregiver and two children.
However, not all clubs view their stage-of-life programming as an additional revenue stream. The R2R program is free to those on base. Crunch's Yoga Mama class is also provided free with a Crunch membership. Although the yoga class is popular, it rarely brings new members in to the club. Instead, current members attend the class once they become pregnant or soon after they give birth.
“Sometimes members will bring a new person, but I wouldn't say we'd garnered new memberships,” Donna Cyrus, national group fitness director of Crunch, says about the Yoga Mama class. “It's more of a place to go to learn about what's going to happen. It's more like a service class.”
Not everyone is sold on the stage-of-life programming trend either.
“As a business professional, I don't see it taking off,” Kosaka says. “It's too tight a market. I'd rather reach the masses and show modifications for the different skill levels. Sure you may have to segregate the extreme like youth and seniors, but I think the seniors would rather be mixed in with the younger folks. It motivates [them] to work harder.”
No one disagrees though that getting folks in the door and teaching them how to lead a healthier lifestyle is the ultimate goal to any class — stage of life or not.
“One thing that clubs are doing is really recognizing that our goal is to be a partnership with that individual and it's life long,” says Glick. “[It's about} helping them find that club that caters to their personality and a place they're going to feel really comfortable in.”
Stage-of-Life Programming Ideas
- New mom's class
- Bride and/or groom boot camps
- College students (i.e., kickboxing off the “freshman 15”)
- Sports- and gender-specific training (i.e., golfing for women in their 50s)
- Senior issues (i.e., yoga for seniors with arthritis)
- New Year's resolution clubs
- Teens (i.e., weight training for high schoolers)