Group boxing classes are down for the count. So are martial-arts-based aerobics and mixed-impact aerobics classes. And you soon may kick kickboxing right out of your club. These group exercise classes, once hot, increasingly are not. Instead, they are being replaced in popularity by yoga and Pilates, according to the 2002 IDEA Group Fitness Trendwatch survey of club owners.

Group activities increasing in popularity at health clubs are core conditioning, personal training, combination classes, seniors-specific classes, stability ball training, group strength training, stretching/flexibility, sport-specific training and kid-specific training.

“What's hot? What is going to create results and keep people in the clubs,” says Lori Lowell with Gold's Gym. Increasingly, that means yoga and Pilates.

Another survey by the 2002 IDEA Group Fitness Trendwatch found that yoga has experienced the most growth as a class offering during the past seven years with 54 percent more fitness facilities offering this format in 2002 than in 1996. During this same time, boxing-based classes had a 47 percent growth rate, fitness assessments increased by 23 percent and personal fitness training was up 21 percent.

Of health clubs surveyed, 87 percent offer personal training sessions and group strength training classes, and 85 percent provide yoga instruction.

Yoga and Pilates are hot because everyone can do them, says Lowell.

“It's hard and challenging but it's slow and comprehensive,” Lowell says. “We live in a stressed society and people are saying, ‘I can't bounce around like that, but I need that meditation.’” In addition, the instructors for these types of classes are nurturing, something stressed-out baby boomers are looking for, she says.

Yoga and Pilates offer strength and flexibility, but not as much cardio, so the classes need to be supplemented with group cardio.

“You have to have mind/body in your clubs,” Lowell says. “Yoga and Pilates are imperative, but you have to support that on the back end of the club.”

Crunch, which develops some of the trendiest group programs, offers Pilates and yoga, as well as programs that are a hybrid of the two. However, the 18 Crunch clubs in the United States that target urban professionals between the ages of 25 and 45, also are known for introducing inventive classes, such as a strip tease aerobics class.

Crunch members expect new, “out-there” classes, says Donna Cyrus, group program director for Crunch. “I have to keep on the cutting edge. I have to have new programs that become hot at Crunch and then elsewhere,” she says.

However, Cyrus acknowledges that classes such as strip tease aerobics aren't developed to necessarily become a staple at health clubs. Many of these trendier classes have a life span of about six months, she says. Equipment-intensive programs in which there are problems with equipment breakage also are often short-lived.

However, Cyrus does expect other new group programs at Crunch to become hot and stick around for the longer term. One of those programs is BOSU (which stands for “both sides up”). In BOSU, participants balance themselves on a half ball. It's similar to a step class, but it helps with core stabilization. She's also excited about Revolution in which participants use a flat, sphere-like weight. The class combines yoga, sculpt and dance with new age music to provide strength training.

Cyrus finds that members are once again interested in low impact and high impact programs. Younger members have not seen this type of group programming before because they were too young during its original incarnation. Cyrus once again is scheduling high impact and low impact aerobics, but she's packaging them under different names.

For Lowell, the best group programs are those that address both mind and body and that are scripted so that regardless of the instructor, the program will be the same each time for a member. Lowell is a big fan of Body Training Systems programs because the programs include a sculpting, aerobics, yoga and a strength component.

The program, however, is a big monetary investment for a club. Cyrus, while not commenting specifically on Body Training Systems, says that she stays away from programs that require a large equipment investment, instead focusing on programs that require no equipment or inexpensive equipment.

While kickboxing and martial arts are scripted, Lowell and Cyrus agree that their popularity is headed the way of Tae-Bo — out the door. Unfortunately, issues with injuries developed and some instructors weren't as well trained as they should have been.

Other programs/products fading in popularity include the slide and the core board. Cyrus also sees the popularity of step waning, but Lowell disagrees.

“Step will never go out. Owners know that they have to have this,” Lowell says.

Current members can tire of some group fitness programs rather quickly, which is why new programs are introduced. Some might say that the variety of group classes is a plus, but others see down sides in variety.

“Too many options can create a lack of consistency,” Lowell says.

New classes must also target potential members. Classes such as strip tease aerobics, which play in many larger cities, may be somewhat intimidating for non-club members in middle America, Lowell says.

“We want to service the world, not just the people who are already there,” Lowell says. “Too many companies are creating gadgets that are servicing just the people who are already on the bandwagon.”

Regardless, new group programs are being introduced each year, and the ones that hold the interest of current members and pull in new members now, may some day fade into the background as fitness programs progress and members tire of the same old, same old. That's why club owners must always keep their pulse on the level of interest in group programs, or they could end up investing a lot of time, space and money in a program that's on its way out.

Does your club have a credible reputation that is distinctive or unique in its marketplace? Does your club create something that has meaning and value to your customers? Is your club known for having members who get good results? Does your staff have the ability to create and deliver innovative programming that has quantifiably made a positive difference in the eyes of these consumers? Can your members and non-members expect the following:

  • a consistent experience,
  • an intentional experience,
  • a differentiated experience, and
  • a valuable experience?
  • If you answer “yes” to these questions you have solved the mystery of establishing the value of fee-based and non-fee-based programming options through membership growth, membership retention, membership referrals and growth in services-for-a-fee. It means that you have created a brand identity that works for you. Congratulations. Your organization is one of the few in our industry that has made it.

    If you answered “no” to these questions you have to do a lot of work to get there. The question now is how to turn your “no” answers into “yes” answers.

    Get Results

    A project that has been going on at GENESIS, a club in Wichita, KS, since January, 2002, can shed some light on how to change your answers from “no” to “yes.”

    GENESIS, a four-club chain, with 33,000 members has started to generate “yes” answers by creating a great brand experience for consumers. The GENESIS management team developed an aggressive five-point action plan that was built on a mission of creating something that has genuine meaning and value in the eyes of its consumers. That something is called results-based training (RBT).

    Developed as a creative programming concept by Holmes Place, PLC, in the United Kingdom in 2001, RBT was designed to position the programming resources of the club organization as a value-added conduit that would address the service needs of each member. The essence of the Holmes Place, PLC or the GENESIS brands is to deliver what the clubs promise to the members. The delivery system is club programming, which is comprehensive, individualized, unique, consistent and experiential with a focus on results that is organizationally supported. The ultimate objective is to get the non-members in the front door because they see value in their club experience and make sure they don't leave through the back door because they are not satisfied.

    You can accomplish this by having your club create a “gatekeeper” that is responsible for making sure that your organization is able to guide and direct each member to the programming and service options that can address the service needs of each member. At GENESIS, the gatekeeper function is provided by the fitness department, which includes group exercise and personal training programs.

    From a personal training perspective, the RBT at GENESIS is focused to provide each member with a program design and training progression option that is based on the Reebok University five-point movement functional screen. The result of the screen is used to quantify which equipment the member should or should not use and what exercises they should or should not do. The ultimate objective is to deliver the service/results that each member wants.

    The key to the success of RBT at GENESIS is the ability of your club to have synergy between group exercise and personal training programming, and to have a gatekeeper that serves as a “go-to” conduit for each member. Without these two components, as a minimum, your members will have the following results at your club:

  • an inconsistent experience,
  • an unintentional experience,
  • an experience that is not differentiated, and
  • an experience with no value.
  • According to GENESIS, “…the more elements of our club that the member uses, the greater the chance of retaining that member's loyalty; the more we connect with our members, member retention at GENESIS will increase.”

    GENESIS Five-point Action Plan

  • Quantify and translate member fitness, health and wellness objectives into programming requirements and services.
  • Quantify and translate non-member fitness, health and wellness objectives into programming requirements and services.
  • Develop and re-position programming options that will support members' needs.
  • Establish a “gatekeeper” as someone who will micromanage club member programming needs through member expectations and objectives.
  • Creat a synergy between fee and non-fee-based services through redefining and repositioning the GENESIS Club's brand.