The most important member to appeal to during the busy winter season is the new exerciser. Many centers will experience more visits from new exercisers now than any other time of the year. A crowded, busy fitness center with lots of new equipment, activities and classes can be intimidating to the new exerciser. Offering introductory group fitness classes, new member orientations and equipment orientations create a more welcoming environment for new members and can prevent them from getting lost in the shuffle, but they are only the start. Following are some other ideas for turning new members into regular members.

  • Offer members an opportunity to work on New Year's resolutions. The club can offer a contest, challenge or event that will motivate them to come regularly to the center. Extend a prize or reward to every member who completes at least two regular workouts per week for two to three months. Even a small reward such as a t-shirt or a guest pass can motivate members to not skip their exercise session. Several months of regular physical activity may help members make a permanent lifestyle change.

  • Weather is another factor that drives many people into fitness centers. During the busy winter months, outdoor enthusiasts are forced indoors to train for their favorite outdoor activities like cycling, running, walking, rock climbing, basketball, volleyball and even swimming. Winter months present a valuable opportunity to turn outdoor athletes into fitness center enthusiasts. For example, creating indoor group cycling classes that will help people train for a local bike race is a great way to introduce cyclists to the benefits of group cycling classes. Running clubs, walking groups and adult swim teams can provide the same structured training to other race enthusiasts. Basketball and volleyball leagues, tournaments and conditioning clinics can also encourage members to continue to train during their “off season.” Leagues, clubs and classes bring members with common interests together and form positive relationships between members and staff.

  • Introduce new group fitness equipment. This can add appeal to any class. Many of this year's innovations can be used in a variety of classes. In group fitness classes for example, balance and core stability training are hot topics. Equipment like balance boards and therapy balls are relatively inexpensive and can be incorporated into a variety of classes, including even the most traditional hi-low and step classes. The same equipment can be used to add interest and challenge to weight training, yoga, Pilates and aqua classes.

  • Pilates equipment companies have designed equipment that is stackable, portable and affordable. The purchase of portable Pilates equipment can allow a group exercise studio to convert into a semi-private Pilates studio in minutes. Small group training and other equipment-based Pilates classes are great ways to help Pilates enthusiasts take their training to the next level.

  • Introduce new group fitness classes during the busy season. This is key to exposing new fitness classes to as many people as possible to accelerate the success of a new program. Hot new trends include ballet-training classes like Balletone and balance/core stability training classes using balance trainers or core boards. One of the not-so-new-trends that continues to be a popular topic at group fitness instructor conferences is circuit training. With a little creative thinking, any instructor can design innovative circuits using inexpensive tools like tubing, balls, weights and steps.

  • Kick off an exciting year of fitness programs with a little creativity and special attention to the interests and needs of old and new exercisers. Offering a variety of new classes and refreshing their favorite programs with new ideas and equipment will keep members coming back for more all year long.

    Laura Csizmar is the fitness programming manager at Akron General LifeStyles in Akron, OH. She can be reached at 330-665-8130 or by e-mail at lcsizmar@agmc.org.