A group activity for everyone

While your members' boots may not be made for walking (unless they're hiking boots), their athletic shoes certainly are. So what are you waiting for? Walking programs are perfect for practically anyone. Even my 1-year-old, who is testing her wobbly legs out for the first time, is starting to get the hang of it, and will (unfortunately for me) be off and running very soon.

With a few tweaks here and there — and a little imagination — you can offer a walking program that meets the needs of a wide range of people: the very fit, new exercisers, the elderly, dog owners, nature lovers, you name it. You can conduct the program on a group of treadmills or outside. You can combine the program with running for interval training, encourage members to bring pets for a walk, tour through historic areas, hike through the woods…well, you get the idea.

To see what twists other clubs have offered with their walking programs, Club Industry spoke with some industry high steppers whose programs are off and running…I mean, walking.

  • Self-directed walking

    With 220,000 members, Multnomah Athletic Club in Portland, Ore., offers a large variety of walking programs. Self-directed walking, one of the more popular programs, allows members to set yearly mileage goals for themselves and keep track of their progress. When a member reaches her goal at the end of the year, she receives a reward.

    “We have people who walk 2,000 miles a year and some who walk 200 miles,” notes Linda Starr, Multnomah's walking and hiking program coordinator. “The whole point is to be individually motivating and self-directed.”

  • Outdoor excursions

    Every Wednesday, Multnomah's members can enjoy the great outdoors during a group walk or hike. Sometimes they walk through the city, and other times they hike in the hills and mountains. Either way, the treks always include some kind of historical tour or scenic value.

    Occasionally, the club adds some excitement by planning special trips and events around the group walks. For example, members kayak to the hike's starting point or take a scenic train ride to the walking trails.

    The walks/hikes vary in difficulty — anywhere from six to 18 miles. The advanced walks/hikes always include a less-challenging option.

  • Hound hikes

    When Laurie Cingle came to the Maryland Athletic Club in Timonium, Md., she created a dog/fitness walking program out of a necessity: She was new to the area and had to socialize her two dogs.

    Cingle started the program with two participants. Now, four years later, she has about 25 members who walk their pooches with her every Sunday morning. Participants meet in the park at 9 a.m. and hike 3 to 4 miles.

    Participants have to be able to walk for 30 minutes at a 3 mile per hour pace and a 4 percent incline, and their canine pals have to be able to walk uninterrupted for an hour. “We are out in the woods hiking,…going over rocks and streams, and up steep inclines, so you have to be in fairly good shape,” explains Cingle.

    Half way through the hike, participants stop at a pond so their pooches can swim and run around. This provides an opportunity for the dogs and owners to socialize — the main goal of the program.

    “I don't run it as a fitness program, although it is,” Cingle explains. “I bill it more as a ‘let's get together and socialize our dogs,’ and the people show up for the dogs. It is probably one of our more successful group exercise program.”

  • Pedometer program

    The Fitness Company West End in Washington, D.C., in conjunction with the Obesity Center at Columbia Hospital, offers the 10,000 Lifestyle Activity Program, which is based on the theory that people can maintain a healthy lifestyle by taking 10,000 steps every day.

    In the program, members wear a computerized pedometer that stores every step they take all day long. Participants then plug their pedometers into a computer port and upload all the information via the club's Web site, explains Dave Ruff, national fitness director of The Fitness Company, Gaithersburg, Md. Each person in the program gets his own Web page where he can check out his progress.

    Ruff believes one of the main benefits of the program is that members can work on their own and everything they do counts toward their 10,000 steps. They don't have to be at the club every day to check their progress or to work out. It's perfect for people with busy lives or people who are self-conscious about exercising in front of others.

    Another benefit: Since participants upload the information, club professionals can check on their progress and let them know whether they have to pick up their pace to meet their goals or back off because they are overdoing it.

  • Group treadmill classes

    You say you don't have an indoor track, and your weather is not conducive to an outside walking program. Fear not! If you have treadmills, you can still offer your members a walking program.

    Members at Hatfield Athletic Club in Hatfield, Pa., can take part in a group treadmill class that allows people of all physical abilities to exercise together. According to Jeff Garber, Hatfield's fitness director, group treadmill classes are safe, effective, fun cardio workouts. Done to music, the program features instructors who coach participants through various “terrains” (visualized) and teach them how to train at personally challenging intensities.

    An hour long, Hatfield's treadmill class incorporates stretching and abs. While it is a group exercise class, the program is completely individualized. Members are taught their target heart rate zone and how to achieve it.

    While elite athletes may need to run to achieve their target heart rate, most participants at the Hatfield Club walk during the class and manipulate the incline and speed of the treadmill to increase the intensity.

  • Outdoor adventure racing/boot camp/power walking/Tai Chi all-rolled-into-one program

    If you want to take walking to a new level, and really excite and challenge your members, try FitTrek, a new outdoor group exercise program that combines the rigors of boot camp, the action of adventure racing, the pleasure of power walking and the mindfulness of Tai Chi. (For more information, contact fittrek.com.)

  • Taught by certified FitTrek instructors, the program includes ergonomically designed trekking poles that participants use to increase upper-body involvement. They also use the poles in agility activities that simulate other outdoor adventure activities like cross-country skiing. And as participants' fitness levels increase, they add weighted gloves and light-weight backpacks.

    Crunch currently offers the FitTrek program, which lasts an hour, according to Donna Cyrus, the chain's national group fitness director. The class starts with five minutes of stretching, alternates every 10 minutes between walking, agility moves and strength training, and ends with 10 minutes of self-awareness activities, including breathing and balancing exercises.

    Cyrus claims that anyone can do the program anywhere at any time. For example, in New York, Crunch takes the program into Central Park, while, in Miami, Crunch members go to the beach for both day and evening FitTrek classes.


Key Issues for a Walking Program

  1. Know your market. To whom are you catering and what are their interests?

  2. Know your surrounding neighborhood. Do you have to walk inside or are there nearby parks and trails?

  3. Educate your participants on heart rate zone training. Teach them how to vary the duration and intensity of their workout so they get the best cardio workout.

  4. Appoint a committed/enthusiastic instructor to run your program. The program requires someone who will motivate and challenge your members.

  5. Give members goals to reach.

  6. Offer incentives for reaching those goals. People will stick with the program longer if they have something to achieve and know they will receive a reward.


Benefits of a Walking Program

  1. Everyone can participate, no matter what age or fitness level.

  2. Walking can be done anywhere.

  3. Walking programs provide a great opportunity for your members to socialize and build relationships.

  4. Accessible to all, the programs give members who are new to exercise more self-confidence when approaching physical activity.

  5. Walking is a great weight-loss exercise because most members can sustain the activity for longer periods of time.