Too often, the fitness and health club industry is viewed strictly by the bottom line or interpreted from company or industrywide trends. But there are plenty of other stories and trends to be found inside the four walls of almost any type of club.
What better way to find those stories than to take a tip from the late John Belushi and the rest of his Delta House brothers and go on a road trip?
The editorial staff of Club Industry traveled by planes, trains and automobiles to visit various clubs from different regions around the country. Occasionally, they got lost along the way or found an empty club waiting for them — and maybe found a toga party or two as well. Those visits — without the toga party stories — will be presented over the next three issues, ripped out of each staff member's own travel log.
This issue, senior editor Pamela Kufahl, starts our journey with her tales from the Southwest.
Ah, the Southwest. Land of mystery. Land of the sun and the desert. Who wouldn't want to visit the Southwest? Los Angeles (okay, more the West Coast than the Southwest, but for this trip's purpose, it was close enough), Las Vegas, Phoenix and Albuquerque. I admit, as I prepare for my trip, I am excited to visit each of these cities, two of which I've never been to before. However, I have some apprehensions. After all, it is the first week in August. It is Vegas and Phoenix where at certain times in the summer you can scramble an egg on a cactus. However, I decide to brave it. Besides, it's dry heat, right?
So, I pack my bags for this big adventure — eight days on the road with a map of each city, a camera, a tape recorder and appointment after appointment booked at various clubs throughout the Southwest. It is all part of my quest for knowledge, trends and a good travel story for the magazine.
My flight heads out bright and early (too early for me) on this Sunday morning. Even my cat is too tired at 4 a.m. to tell me goodbye — she lazily sleeps at the end of the bed while I lug my bags down the steps and to my car, wondering if their extreme weight indicates that I have overpacked.
The uneventful flight through Dallas, brings me to the City of Angels by 11 a.m. Pacific time (1 p.m. my time). I am hungry! The airlines fail to see the need to feed their passengers anymore. After getting my rental car and hoofing it to my hotel where I find that I can't get an early check-in, I head to my first appointment, stopping on the way for drive-through (what a way to start the trip!).
12 p.m. — Spectrum Club, El Segundo, CA
The Spectrum Club is a delightful first stop on my tour. Not only are the surroundings visually pleasant, but my hosts are welcoming and open to talking about their club. Carol Mendelsohn, regional marketing director; Sean Dohrmann, regional fitness director; and Stephen Spurgeon, vice president of The Blaze Company, the public relations firm for Spectrum (he prefers to remain in the background, but I can't leave a mention of him out!) show me around the facility, which includes recently renovated, posh locker rooms and a child-care area.
For the first of many times on this trip, I hear about the popularity of mind/body exercise not only at this Spectrum club, but also at the eight others in southern California (the company also has 10 clubs in San Antonio).
“People are getting more into wellness and people are realizing that it's just not about having a healthy body; it is also about having a healthy mind,” Mendelsohn says. Because the club is located in the Los Angeles area, the proclivity of Hollywood celebrities to tout their involvement in yoga, Pilates and other mind/body exercises also has influenced Los Angelenos.
Private training also is proving popular at the club, which averages $100,000 a month in personal training revenue, says Dohrmann. The club's members generally excel in their careers, can afford personal training and have the attitude that if they are going to belong to a gym, they are going to get results. The club even has an area dedicated to workouts with a personal trainer.
As we walk into the club's dedicated Spinning room, Mendelsohn remarks that Spinning has remained popular at the club despite her original thought that it would be a fading trend.
“It doesn't seem to be dying down,” she says. “We have a dedicated spin studio in every one of our clubs and most of the classes are packed.”
The club allows instructors to be creative in leading the Spinning classes. In fact, one of the instructors brought in footage that he and a friend had filmed of them riding on their bikes in different locales. He projected those images on a large screen in the classroom while playing electronic/techno music.
That creativity is also seen in the club's willingness to try out classes such as Hip-Hop Yoga, Mommy and Me and On the Ball, which uses the stability ball.
My visit ends more quickly than I had thought it would, and I say goodbye to the three, snapping a few photos on the way out the door to my next appointment.
2 p.m. — Westchester Family YMCA, Westchester, CA
My next stop, the Westchester Family YMCA, shows me a completely different atmosphere. Instead of the large building, spacious parking lots and open, posh entryway of the Spectrum Club, the Y greets me with a tiny parking lot and a few benches and flowers on the outside entry area to a small interior entry with tan tile floors. Pamphlets about programs and classes stand in racks to the right and left of the doorway. A small check-in desk with a green countertop sits only a few steps from the front doors.
I hear children yelling, whistles blowing and weights dropping as I open the front door to be greeted by Will Nathan, a total nutrition counselor. Nathan grew up going to this YMCA and now works here while attending college. He gives me a tour of the building, showing off the basketball court area, the cardio and weight areas and the group exercise room.
The facility offers 92 group exercise classes each week including yoga, Pilates, Brazilian dance, salsa step, jujitsu and Spinning. The facility offers summer camp for children. Kids programming, such as Iddy Biddy Sports classes (soccer, basketball and tee-ball) and swimming lessons are popular. The Teen Fit program teaches teens about nutrition and how to work out properly.
The facility's family-friendly atmosphere is good for children because they can see their parents and other adults working out, which shows them the importance of exercise, says Jennifer Fusco, another total nutrition counselor at the Y. Fusco also grew up attending this Y and came back to work here after college.
The Y is important to the surrounding community, she says.
“Most YMCAs are family oriented, but ours in particular is really community oriented,” she says. “There's a lot of people that come and work out here that live locally. We have everything that any other gym would have, all the equipment and everything, but we have so many different children's programs that we offer. And that is just a completely different kind of gym.”
My first day's appointments over, I return to the hotel to check in and take a quick nap, but that quick catnap turns into a two-hour slumber. (Hey, I woke up at 3:30 that morning for my 6 a.m. flight!) So, I spend the evening eating a light dinner and reading a good book that lulls me back to sleep again.
9 a.m. — Equinox, West Hollywood, CA
I wake early to beat the rush hour traffic, which I have heard is horrendous, but I don't experience much of it as I drive to West Hollywood to visit the Equinox club, which opened just a month prior to my visit. As I draw closer to the club, the Hollywood Hills loom larger, becoming more impressive even though they are cluttered with condos, houses and huge billboards promoting clothing lines, movies and TV shows. I park on the street outside the Equinox club, which is surrounded by coffee shops, restaurants and boutiques on a neatly manicured section of Sunset Boulevard.
I meet with Dos Condon, regional director of Los Angeles for Equinox. He tells me that the outdoors is important for people in the Los Angeles area. That's why the company built the 32,000-square-foot club with plenty of vistas of the outdoors. The company integrates a total fitness routine for their members so they will use the spa, take a Pilates class and do the strength training instead of just walking on the treadmill day in and day out.
“We encourage people to really look at fitness in terms of a holistic offering,” Condon says. The club educates members through periodic seminars about how the body gets fit and how it plateaus.
Condon calls his company a lifestyle company. “We're an extension of people's lifestyles,” he says. “So whether it's their homes, their professional life, their leisure life, culture or whatever, when it came to health clubs they had to settle, let's say, for a different product.” However, he says that Equinox offers the same level of quality that members have in the rest of their lives.
“It's not just going to a health club,” Condon says about Equinox. “It's going to a customer service center more than anything else. It's just not that we have trainers; we have a personal training program. We don't have yoga classes; we have a yoga program.”
The club offers 40 kinds of group exercise programs and 78 classes a week with plans to increase that to 90 as membership grows. Classes include Pilates, yoga, Spinning, body sculpt and traditional group fitness. Condon expects the day spa to be popular as well.
“So I think that we address all of the components of strength, cardio, flexibility, mind, body, and wellness in our little 32,000 square feet here,” Condon says.
As I leave the club, I spot a coffee shop across the street and realize how hungry I am since I didn't grab breakfast earlier. I run across the street, sheepishly ignoring the stare from the clerk when I order a small banana muffin and water but no specially blended coffee or latte or espresso (I may do calorie- and fat-filled bread items, but I don't do caffeine).
11 a.m. — Sports Club/LA, Los Angeles, CA
My trip takes me next to the Sports Club/LA. Rebecca Harris, who works for the public relations company representing the club, greets me and we soon find Nanette Patee Francini, co-founder and executive vice president of the company, still glistening from the Pilates class she has just taken.
“We always have been focused on five-star service, personalized attention, luxurious environment with a lot of options under one roof,” Francini says. “We have highly trained staff in all areas, the top certifications with the private trainers, the most experienced of group exerciser instructors. We are focused on cleanliness and maintenance, a couple of things that a newcomer to fitness might not notice when they join a club, but our members would definitely notice.”
It's no wonder Hollywood stars are attracted to the club. The club's Web site mentions some of its “star” members, but I don't see a single one of them while I am there, although Harris assures me that Tom Cruise swims laps in the pool.
Many of the members end up staying all day at the club, which Francini refers to as a luxury sports and fitness complex. What's not to stay for? The 100,000-square-foot club has a full-service restaurant, a cafe, a bar, a Junior Olympic swimming pool, cardio and weight areas, two 2,500 square foot aerobic studios, a cycling studio with 50 cycles, full court basketball and volleyball gymnasium, rock climbing treadwall, rooftop driving range, three racquetball courts, two squash courts, five outdoor paddle tennis courts on the roof, luxurious locker rooms with towels provided, personal training, Michaeljohn hair salon, spa facilities, conference room/banquet facilities, outdoor sundeck, pro shop, shoeshine service, car washing and detailing, and valet parking.
The well-heeled of LA enjoy many of the programs popular throughout the rest of the city: yoga, Pilates, Spinning, dance-type classes and blended classes, such as dance and martial arts or karate and yoga.
“And you've got all the private training, which is huge,” Francini says of the profit center. “I mean, something that wasn't even really in the focus five years ago is the whole focus on balance, core, posture, flexibility.”
So what's the next step in fitness?
“People always want to know the next big thing, but truthfully it's a little bit of an evolution,” Francini says. She sees body/mind, blended classes and core strength sticking around. She also sees clubs tackling the nutrition issue more with members.
I leave the club keeping my eyes peeled for a famous or even just a semi-famous face, but I make it back to the car without a single sighting. But, Malibu lays ahead of me. Perhaps I'll spot J Lo and Ben (this was pre-break up) on the beach or Harrison Ford driving around town with Calista Flockhart.
3:40 p.m. — Malibu Health, Malibu, CA
I find my way to the Pacific Coast Highway and head for Malibu. The drive is scenic and not as busy as I'd feared. I find Malibu Health with little trouble — it's right along PCH (as I soon learn locals call the Pacific Coast Highway).
Situated on the side of a hill with a view of the Pacific Ocean, the Malibu Health building houses parking on the main floor, the health club on the second floor and offices on the third. A breezeway greets me when I exit the elevator onto the second floor. To my right is the office, group exercise room and spa area. To the left is the weight and cardio room. Both areas are fronted by a large expanse of glass with a view to the ocean.
Gordon Michaels, co-owner of the 7,000-square-foot club, is manning the front desk when I arrive so I stand at the counter and ask him questions between phone calls and members popping in the door with friendly greetings and hugs.
The club is associated with the doctors and chiropractors in the rest of the building and includes a spa with massage services. A lot of the members are dealing with injuries.
“It's hard to coordinate your health care and your preventive care,” Michaels says. At this facility, members can get a workout program, have a trainer design a program after coordinating with a chiropractor or a massage therapist or one of the medical doctors. They also can get information about nutrition and diet.
“We started out as an integrated concept because there really wasn't anything like it,” says Michaels. “And we're not a bodybuilding gym. We're sort of dealing with, you know, a Malibu crowd.”
Yoga, Pilates, Body Bar and Body Sculpting are popular with the 600 members. Average class size is six people. Also popular are boxing, weight training and personal training.
Even though the business is successful, Michaels doesn't have plans for expansion or a second club.
“I mean, we could be ambitious and, you know, look to do the corporate thing,” he says, “but, you know, we're happy paying attention to this and not being so stressed out.”
As I leave the building, my stomach rumbles. Thankfully, dinner at Guido's in Malibu awaits me.
After dinner with one of the magazine's sales reps, Patricia Allen, who lives in Malibu, I make my way back to LA along PCH. I stop at the Santa Monica Pier to take in the site of the sun setting over the ocean and to step barefoot in the sand. On the way back to my car, I spot a homeless man digging through the trash for dinner. Mission successful, he sits down a few yards from the can with a half-eaten sandwich and promptly finishes it.
My flight for Vegas leaves at 10:05 a.m., plenty of time to turn in the old rental car and get to the gate. I arrive in Vegas and wait in line to get my new rental car in the loud and busy (I don't know which is louder and busier — the crowd of people or the carpeting) rental car area of the Vegas airport. As I wait, a commotion erupts behind me. A gray and white striped cat, escaped from its tiny cage after a stressful plane ride from somewhere, shoots through the crowd but is recaptured by a man braving clawing and biting. Rental car keys secured, I step out of the airport to be greeted by a breath-stopping heat. Oh brother, I think. How did I get so lucky as to travel to Vegas in August?
While driving to my first appointment, I notice how brown and wide open everything is in the desert. The openness must lead the residents to build these stucco walls around all of their neighborhoods, I think. Maybe building barriers gives them a greater sense of security against the wide-open spaces that surround them.
1:30 p.m. — Henderson Multigenerational Center, Henderson, NV
My first appointment in Las Vegas takes me to the Henderson Multigenerational Center in Henderson, NV, a fast-growing and prosperous suburb of Las Vegas. It sits in a wide open space with two other new-looking buildings: the police department and the library. Inside the rec center, I meet with Annette Mullins, executive director, and Sheri O'Berto, recreation coordinator.
The 84,000-square-foot recreation center, opened in January of this year, serves all the citizens of the community with various programs, including a 3,000-square-foot fitness room, an aerobic room, a jogging track, a swimming pool, a rock climbing wall and a basketball court. A child-care facility is also available. Seniors who participate in the Senior Dimensions program can use the fitness room and pool for free.
The individuals who use the fitness center are generally beginners or those who just want to stay in shape, O'Berto says.
“It definitely is a recreational environment,” says O'Berto. “And, you know, you can come work out while the kids are playing in the game room or in their own ballet class or whatever. So it's truly a family atmosphere.”
The facility's popular offerings include yoga, Pilates, Tai Chi, Jazzercise and aquatic exercise classes.
While the lower fees and family recreational atmosphere set the recreation center apart from private facilities in the area, the opportunity to sample a variety of classes also sets the facility apart, O'Berto says.
“That's our goal is to introduce everybody and give them some memories, give them some skills,” says O'Berto.
My introduction to this facility over, I say goodbye to Mullins and O'Berto and head next door to the library to catch up on phone calls. I eat a late lunch of tuna salad sandwich, fruit cup and water at the café in the library. The quiet but polite manager of the cafe brings me a small smoothie for free — strawberry and banana, my favorite!
4:30 p.m. — Ladies Workout Express, Henderson, NV
My next stop is at Ladies Workout Express where the co-owner, Sandee Boyd, is open about the challenges of starting up a franchise. She and her husband previously owned a gas station but decided to sell it at the same time that Boyd began looking for a place to work out. Her search for a gym for herself led her to what she thought would be a good business for the two of them. Boyd and her husband opened the facility in November 2003.
Her first summer in business has been difficult, something others in the franchise had warned her about. The residents of Henderson have a tendency to skip town for the summer. Boyd enjoys the support she receives from other Ladies Workout Express franchise owners. She often hears from them or calls them herself to see how business is going.
“It's kind of a really neat network of people,” Boyd says. “I've probably met more people from all over the United States in the last nine months than I ever had before.”
Boyd prides herself on offering personalized, one-on-one service to her members. She even goes so far as to work with them on problem areas after their circuit is done. She keeps weights, bands and bars at the back of the facility for working on target areas, and she doesn't charge extra for that service. Boyd even lets women stay for an hour instead of the normal 30 minutes. That personal service keeps her female clientele coming back, she says.
“I wanted this to be a really individual, family-oriented thing where these women get to know me and I get to know them,” Boyd says.
Boyd has an eye for the future with plans to bring in a yoga class. She already has a mini pro shop of sorts set up at the front of the facility, which is located in a strip mall.
“I am going to start looking for more profit centers because you do need them, you really do,” Boyd says.
After thanking Boyd for her time, I drive back to Las Vegas and down the strip to see how the strip has changed since I was here five years ago. It has changed more than I imagined with a new shopping area full of up upscale stores at one end of the strip and a few new casino/hotels spread throughout the rest of the strip.
8:30 a.m. — 24 Hour Fitness, Las Vegas, NV
The next morning, I awake early and enjoy the complimentary continental breakfast at my hotel before heading to 24 Hour Fitness. This facility is so new that carpenters are still putting the finishing touches on some of the club. However, there is already a bustle about the building.
My first visit is with Amber Pucci, operations manager, who leads me on a tour of the facility. The general manager, Will Paccione, then fills me in on some of the trends he's seeing at his club. He sees a change in the workout of men and women with more women now entering the weight room and more men daring to do group exercise — that is if the group exercise is group cycling. Spinning is extremely popular at the club, and Paccione predicts it will remain popular for quite some time.
“Everybody who takes that class (Spinning) comes out sweating, panting, and they're saying, ‘I want to go back,’” Paccione says. The club has a dedicated group cycling room with black walls and blue lights that allows for an unique atmosphere while class is in session.
“They love that class and building a separate room like that — that alone can sell the gym to some people,” he says.
Paccione says that yoga and Pilates are here to stay. Whole body training also is big, says Bus Leach, the fitness manager.
“Health and fitness has taken a new step into the future and it's not just the fundamentals,” Leach says, although stating that the fundamentals still need to be there. “We're doing a lot more training that's integrative and based on the foundations of incorporating the whole body so we're integrating a lot of different pieces of apparatus and using the whole body as a system instead of focusing on just bulking the person up. There's so much more to health and fitness than just the muscle, lift and dig.”
My early morning visit over here, I head out for my next appointment — yet another facility in Henderson.
11 a.m. — ClubSport Green Valley, Henderson, NV
Kristine Drinovsky, general manager of the club, and Janine Williams, vice president of operations for Leisure Sports Inc. (the parent company of ClubSport), welcome me to this facility, taking me on a tour of their complex, which includes the fitness building surrounded by lush and well-manicured landscaping, a child care building that's under construction, a swimming pool, outdoor tennis courts and two tennis courts in a bubble enclosure.
Inside the main building is another pool, cardio and weight areas, a basketball court, squash and racquetball courts, a Spinning room, a spa and a lounge/bar area.
As at most clubs, personal training is popular at the facility, particularly among women, who make up 70 percent of the personal training clientele. The club has 17 personal trainers on staff and plan to hire an additional five soon.
“The trend is more toward functional, whole-body training rather than just isolated small muscle areas,” says Jason Lutz, fitness director.
The club offers group personal training for those not wanting to pay for one-on-one attention or for those not comfortable with one-on-one attention. The small group training also provides social interaction, something that is so important at the club that they've created clubs within the club, such as a cycling club.
For Williams and Drinovsky, the future is all about connection. Group exercise, whether through Spinning or group personal training, allows socialization and interaction between members. That is especially important for women and has even become a trend on the weight floor, says Drinovsky.
“You are seeing a lot more women in weights in small groups start working together. They can meet each other, they can support each other,” Drinovsky says. “So there's definitely a trend toward doing more group exercise training on the fitness floor not just in group exercising.”
As my visit ends, I take a few pictures of Drinovsky and Williams at the front desk and then say my goodbyes. I stop at a restaurant for a quick and healthy lunch before my next appointment.
2 p.m. — Elite Fitness & Rehab, Henderson, NV
I pull up to Elite Fitness and wonder if I have the right place. The center is located among doctors' and dentists' offices. The facility, which measures 4,000 square feet, isn't busy in the middle of a hot August weekday in Las Vegas.
Lance Hain, wellness director, and Christina Fisher, clinical exercise specialist, greet me and are proud to tell me about their facility, which offers weight and cardio equipment and occasional small group training for its 120 members. The facility offers rehabilitation, too. Many of the rehabilitation clients are referred to the center by doctors.
Members can receive a complete evaluation of their fitness level and a plan for improvement with the help of one of the trainers and a computerized program.
The emphasis at the facility is on core strength and endurance and overall body wellness, says Hain. He sees more people willing to spend more on their fitness if they can get the personalized service that places such as his facility offer. He also sees more people taking their health seriously at a younger age and being proactive about their health.
This club is my last stop in Las Vegas. I pick up my luggage at the hotel and head to the airport, but I arrive two hours earlier than I need to, which means I have to endure two hours of slot machine bells and whistles in the area next to my gate. I ignore them, choosing to retain all my personal cash on this trip, and instead absorb myself in a John Grisham book. The only thing that rouses me from my reading is the sweet smell of a freshly peeled orange being passed from a mother to her child sitting next to me. I so want to ask for a slice, but instead, I eat the bag of peanuts I'd saved from my previous flight (American Airlines was generous enough to hand me two tiny bags full of 10 peanuts on the trip from LA to Vegas.)
When I arrive in Phoenix at 8:15 p.m., I call my cousin, Dennis, from the airport. After going over the directions to his house again, I haul my luggage, which is getting heavier all the time, to the rental agency and get my car. I make it to my cousin's house without getting lost in the dark. After a late dinner with him and his wife, Becky, I detail my route for the next two days with Dennis, who insists that I take his special map book with me. Then, I head to bed, tucked safely in a warm and comfy day bed under a sheet, blanket and comforter — it is more than 100 degrees outside at 11 p.m. at night, but inside the house it feels like 60 degrees!
I was smart enough to schedule my first appointment this morning at a later hour, allowing me a little time to sleep in. After I eat a quick breakfast, I head to my first club.
10:30 a.m. — La Camarilla, Scottsdale, AZ
I arrive at the club with expectations of a nice tennis facility. I am not disappointed, but I find that the club offers a lot more than tennis. After a few years of a downturn, La Camarilla is back on its feet under the direction of Roger Furman, general manager.
“When I came here, I felt that the club was really just down and out,” says Furman. “So we began refurbishing everything and we're doing it strictly out of revenue. We're not borrowing it or anything else.”
The club has been painted inside and outside. Furman upgraded some of the furniture and made cleanliness a top priority, down to making sure each of the seven racquetball courts gets its walls cleaned once a week. All of this is part of a three-year plan to get the facility back in shape.
When Furman joined the club, it was basically a tennis club (it has eight outdoor tennis courts) with a little bit of fitness, but Furman saw the competition growing in the area for the fitness crowd, and he decided to expand the fitness programming at the facility to integrate it more with the tennis.
“Little by little, we turned this into a nice, balanced facility with tennis and fitness,” says Furman. “We're getting a lot of cross-training here, and trainers are now beginning to work with our tennis players and make them stronger…This has been a really good marriage, and I'll tell you why — because we've tried to marry our staff together. I think if you go to a lot of clubs, you're going to find that the fitness staff and the tennis staff, they don't work together. We really try to work together.”
The staff looks at every member as a potential for every activity rather than boxing them in as a tennis player who won't ever try the weight room or vice versa, he says.
The family-oriented club offers racquetball, a swimming pool, weight and cardio room, a group fitness room and child care. The facility has a room for aerobics and yoga with an occasional ballroom dance, swing or salsa class thrown in for a fee.
Spinning is so popular that the club even converted part of one of the racquetball courts into a Spinning room. Yoga makes up 30 percent of the fitness schedule. The other 70 percent is everything else mixed in, says Furman. Pilates isn't big at the facility mostly because the owner of the building also owns a Pilates studio in the building next door and the club has an agreement not to compete with that business.
I leave the club and drive to my next appointment, stopping for a quick lunch at a “to remain nameless” fast food restaurant.
12:30 p.m. — Gainey Village Health Club, Scottsdale, AZ
One of the things I notice in Phoenix (and Vegas) is that there just isn't any escape from the sun. A person can feel very exposed with the sun beating down. I look around at the brownness and the rock and there's no place to escape to except maybe a straggly tree every now and again. However, the Gainey Village Health Club in this resort community is another story. Tucked amongst an oasis of lush palm trees, green grass, flowering bushes and modern buildings, the club and its surrounding grounds are a welcome relief to my burning eyes and senses.
The three-and-a-half-year-old club is one of the more expensive facilities in the Southwest with a $1,200 initiation fee and a monthly fee that averages $150. The club limits its membership to about 2,400 members. Few of the members have a day job; many are either retired, own businesses or live off their investments, says the general manager, Steve Holzapfel, who seems like a guy who can't believe he's lucked into such a great job at such a luxurious facility. The facility's owners don't care if the 70,000-square-foot club makes money, Holzapfel says. They just want to have the nicest health club around, but their desire to be the nicest health club around has made the club very profitable, he says.
The club offers two squash courts and two racquetball courts, a dedicated cycle room, cafe area, lounge area, posh locker rooms, a pro shop, swimming pool, weight and cardio areas, a basketball court, a Pilates studio, a group exercise studio, a spa, a full service salon, child care and a car wash.
“Our members are very much into the group exercise program,” says Faye Stenerson, group exercise director. “Cycling is still very huge. Anything to do with yoga is very popular. And our Pilates department does very well. In studio class we have seen a resurgence of interest in traditional high low impact. Step is still very popular. People who like their choreography, who want to dance, they like the challenge of stringing movement together and trying to remember those moves.”
The club also offers basic muscle conditioning classes, total athletic conditioning, and other classes that combine cardio and muscle, which is a time saver for people.
“Another class that's just amazingly attended is the Yogalates,” Stenerson says. The class incorporates yoga clusters and Pilates mat techniques.
The athletic conditioning classes are popular with the guys, and Stenerson sees a lot of men in yoga, but not many in the Pilates classes or the high-low impact and step classes.
In Holzapfel's opinion, everything old is new again. He sees the industry going back in time in some ways with the use of medicine balls and the growing popularity of Pilates.
“You see the trainers doing things that we did in high school,” says Holzapfel.
I bid farewell to the posh facility and its lush surroundings, heading once again out into the hot sun and traffic to my next appointment.
3:30 p.m. — Bally Total Fitness, Glendale, AZ
Little do I know when I step inside the Bally Total Fitness exactly what I am in for. A group of four greet me at the door, eager to answer my questions, show me their newly remodeled, 45,000-square-foot facility and put me through my paces (toward the end of the visit, I am led through some moves on a Reformer, test my balance on the BOSU, and am stretched and made more pliable on the stretching table).
About 11,400 people belong to the facility, which sees about 1,000 people work out a day, according to Shaun Conley, general manager.
For more than a year, Bally has offered a weight management program, which is basically a 30-day makeover.
“The reason that we did it is there was such a great need to have an all-inclusive, one-stop shop, basically, where someone can come in and, if they just do the routine that reaches them, they're going to pretty much be guaranteed results,” says Cindy Teachman, senior area supervisor.
Personal training is a big part of the revenue at the club, which has 10 personal trainers on staff. A new member gets a first workout with a personal trainer for free. The weight and cardio areas are situated around a stage area where personal trainers work with individuals.
“It's all about creating the excitement and taking them (members) to that next level and making the workouts a lot more fun,” says Anton Hattar, general manager
Conley says, “The biggest goal with that first session is really just to teach people how to have fun with fitness. And once you learn how to have fun with fitness, it's easy to stick with a program.”
Mariam Hughes, group exercise director, says that children's programs will increase as more people focus on the obesity epidemic in that population.
“There is not enough emphasis on it right now,” says Hughes. Too many parents don't realize that there are programs out there for children, but once the word gets out, she says more parents will get their children involved.
Currently, the club sees success with its Spinning classes, group exercise classes such as Latin aerobics (mixture of Latin dance and aerobics class) and BOSU classes. Yoga and Pilates, both mat and Allegro classes, also are popular.
“Bally Total Fitness, again, not just here but everywhere, because of the dynamic personal training, the weight management program that we have, our nutritional supplementation, it's something that nobody else has,” says Teachman.
Feeling refreshed from my brief workout and stretch, I leave the facility for the day to meet my cousin and his wife for dinner and a visit with their brand new grandchild.
9 a.m. — Naturally Women Fitness Center, Gilbert, AZ
This 15,000 square-foot facility is hopping when I arrive on this Friday morning. Cherie Tirpak, general manager, shows me a new class they are offering called Teknek, which was developed by one of the group exercise instructors at the club. The class is packed.
The club offers more traditional group exercise programs, too, including Pilates, yoga, step, kickboxing as well as aqua aerobic classes, such as water Tai Chi and water weight training.
When members join, they get a complimentary session with one of the 23 certified female personal trainers and a half hour with a nutritionist, both of whom can talk to them about setting up a workout and a nutrition program.
“We are guiding our members to do both because without one, it's still not going to work,” says Tirpak. “You have to have those together.”
The facility offers two weight equipment lines that are more proportional for women. The club will be adding more cardio and weight equipment soon.
“Since we've grown, we need elliptical trainers, since they're so popular,” she says.
Tirpak sees Teknek, Pilates, yoga, aqua classes, dance-type classes and personal training as big trends right now in her club. Step is also still popular at the club.
“Pilates, yoga, power yoga — all the things that are just easier on the joints, because all the baby boomers have gotten a little older,” says Kathy Kelley, personal training director. “Because they're aging, they're getting into things that are a little more lengthening, core building.”
I step out of the facility noting that my visit with the staff nutritionist, Anne Comiskey, has been personally very beneficial. I vow to eat the salad at the Burger King I stop into for lunch — and I do.
1 p.m. — Pure Fitness, Tempe, AZ
My next stop at Pure Fitness, which is a short distance from Arizona State University, proves to be a nice way to finish the day.
The club focuses on retention of members since nationally more than 60 percent of new members in a club are gone within four to six weeks, according to Brian Vaughan, director of education for fitness. They are gone because they don't see results, he says. So the club spends time educating all its trainers and other staff and evaluating new members using software that spits out a 15-page report with specific recommendations in terms of caloric intake and percentage of proteins, carbohydrate and fat for that person. Once people see a difference, they are more likely to continue coming back to the club to work out, he says.
New members get two one-hour workouts with a trainer or a consultant, and then every month for as long as they are members, they get another hour with a trainer. The hour includes getting a reading on body fat, redoing their fitness test and being shown new exercises.
“It's kind of a way of checking in and keeping track of the members beyond when they first joined up,” says Vaughan.
The club also offers Saturday seminars free for members. The seminars may focus on nutrition or supplementation or it may teach people how to use certain equipment.
Vaughan and his wife do a segment once a week on a local morning program where they demonstrate exercises or have people call in with questions. They even did a fitness challenge where they picked certain people to get a free trainer and showed their progress over six weeks on the show. He hopes the challenge motivated viewers to get fit.
I leave the club and return to my cousin's house in time to eat a late lunch with him and his wife at PF Chang's. I then pack my bags and head for the airport for the last leg of this long trip.
My flight leaves at 7:50 p.m. and I arrive in Albuquerque at 10 p.m. After a little trouble getting a rental car with proper tags, I persevere through the rain and the dark of night to my friend's house on the outskirts of Albuquerque where there are no street lights and the street signs are very small. After passing Sheryl's house and finding myself in what seems like the loneliest stretch of highway ever (thank goodness for cell phones!), I find my way back to a friendly and familiar face and we stay up late talking.
Morning comes too soon, but I am excited about visiting my first club in Albuquerque and seeing the city in daylight for the first time. The drive to Fifty ‘N Fit is a breathtaking one; in the morning light I can see the beautiful mountains that the city backs up to in the distance.
8:30 a.m. — Fifty ‘N Fit, Albuquerque, NM
Upon arriving at Fifty ‘N Fit, I am greeted by George Fraser, co-owner, standing outside making some quick adjustments to equipment. He leads me inside where I soon find that exercising at this 4,200-square-foot facility for people over 50 is all about cardio, strength, flexibility and balance. The facility, which has 250 members, has several cardio pieces and some free weights as well as stretching mats and balance apparatus. There's also a small room for group exercise.
Fraser spends the initial visit with new members getting medical history, especially as it relates to orthopedic problems. During the first three visits he works with new members one on one to see what their health issues, needs and interests are. He stresses the importance of cross training to the members as he shows them how the equipment works and stretching and balance exercises.
Fraser has noticed improvements in balance, strength and flexibility in many of his members, even those who came in with health issues. Watching those changes and the determination of the members is rewarding for Fraser. And seeing the changes in themselves keeps the members coming back.
“I read an article not too long ago that said at most big gyms, 60 percent of the members will never show up again,” says Fraser. “In our case, it is reverse, but even better. I'd say that 75 percent to 80 percent of our members are here regularly.”
Not only do they come regularly, but many of them pay their monthly fee before it is due. If they don't, Fraser can often just hand them their invoice as they walk through the door.
While balance, cardio, strength and flexibility exercises hit a nerve with members, yoga has not. Fraser offered a yoga class at one time, but initial interest and curiosity soon tapered off.
“For some reason, they just decided they didn't want to do yoga,” Fraser says. “You know, it's more of a disciplinary thing you need to practice at home. They'd rather come in and do a class and leave. And so the aerobic classes work better for them.”
Indeed they do. At the end of many of the classes, the seniors break out into applause.
I feel like cheering when I leave the facility, too. I think, I hope places like this are more bountiful when I reach 50.
10:30 a.m. — Health Clubs of America, Albuquerque, NM
My next stop is at the husband and wife-owned Health Clubs of America. Trisha and Steve Phaklides have owned the club for three years. Situated in a strip mall, the 8,400-square-foot, 900-member facility is busy when I arrive.
In an effort to reach the masses, the couple has started televising aerobics classes and fitness information on a show called Fit TV, which runs on a community cable access channel. The couple hopes to take it nationally someday, maybe even creating a fitness channel.
“A lot of people don't want to come in [to a club],” says Trisha. They hope the televised program will get them interested in fitness and that will eventually lead them into the club and maybe personal training.
The couple also offers fitness house calls. If somebody doesn't want to join the club for whatever reason — it's too far or they don't want to be seen in public — Steve will drive to their house to offer personal training, charging a little more to cover his travel expenses.
“This is a great way to expand our service area,” Steve says. “Now our service area is probably three zip codes on this side of town. But I can go anywhere in the city with the fitness house call concept.”
Inside the club, the couple offers group exercise classes, weight and cardio equipment and child care. Their Yo-Lates class is so popular that the floor is overflowing with people.
Soon, they hope to add massage, a chiropractor, a nutritionist and an acupuncturist in an effort to make the club a wellness center.
My time up at the club, I head back to my friend's house, free of appointments for the rest of the day. We drive to Santa Fe and check out some of the art galleries, stopping on the way back at a great Mexican restaurant where we stay much too late talking.
9 a.m. — New Mexico Sports & Wellness, Albuquerque, NM
The next morning, I get up early and head to my first club, where I find that expansion is great. Just ask Chris Skipp, general manager at New Mexico Sports & Wellness, one of five Wellbridge clubs in town. Skipp manages the 65,000 square-foot facility in northeast Albuquerque. The club recently expanded taking over a former four-screen movie theater to add 25,000 square feet. The expansion made room for a mind/body studio, one of the largest group exercise rooms in the state, a weight room, cardio room and a Spinning studio. In addition, the expansion allowed room for equipment storage in both the group exercise and mind/body studio.
Skipp also plans to expand programming.
“We're really looking to stay on top of it and kind of grow with some of the trends as far as group exercise goes,” Skipp says. He plans to dig deeper into the core board and BOSU trends and offer that as part of the programming. He sees opportunity in Pilates with plans to add more equipment to the club's five Reformers and perhaps expanding again physically to offer a dedicated Pilates studio.
The personal training program offers another growth possibility.
“What we're working toward in the very near future is our integration programs for our members because we believe it will help with our retention, as well as help with our referrals for people,” says Skipp. “If we can integrate people that join right away into an area of interest that they have, they're going to be happier, they're going to be accomplishing more as opposed to walking in here by themselves. This facility can kind of be a little intimidating for somebody who doesn't know the different pieces of equipment.” That means getting them with a personal trainer for an introduction to the equipment.
He also wants the club to expand its programming for multiple generations, including children and seniors.
“We're really trying to grow our senior programs and have them become more proactive instead of reactive in their older age for health reasons,” he says.
Spinning classes are so popular, particularly in the winter when the weather gets a bit colder, that members must sign up early for classes. Another popular offering is the free orientation with a personal trainer and a nutritionist that is offered to new members. The orientation gives them a good starting base to understand nutrition, what they should be eating and where they are healthwise.
I leave the facility thinking of my own nutrition and I stop for an early lunch before heading to my next appointment.
11:30 a.m. — Ronald Gardenswartz Jewish Center, Albuquerque, NM
My second visit for the day leads me to the Ronald Gardenswartz Jewish Center. Just as with the YMCA and the Henderson Multigenerational Center, I find that this non-profit club is more family oriented than even the most family-oriented for-proft clubs I have visited. The facility has weight and cardio areas, group exercise rooms, a walking track, basketball court and swimming pool, but it also has a sense of being there for the good of the community.
The facility offers children's programs, including day camp in the summer, and seniors programs.
John Pier, general manager, focuses on building a foundation of core strength, balance, flexibility and functional workouts for members.
“I think that people are starting to figure out that they can't just come upstairs, lift weights and go back downstairs and be done with their workout,” says Pier. He is a strong believer in private or semi-private training rather than group personal training.
However, the goal isn't to have a personal training client for three years.
“Our goal is to have that person able to go on their own,” Pier says. “If they come back and meet with us on occasion, revamp their program or help them out with some specific issues that they may be having, great. But again, we let our client know, ‘I'm not gonna not educate you just so you're stuck with me forever.’”
Each trainer must suggest one new program a month. Pier evaluates the suggestions and implements those he thinks will work. Often, the personal trainer who suggested the selected programs then have the opportunity to be in charge of that program.
The club tries to take advantage of the great weather in the area by putting together outdoor programming.
“Taking them out and teaching them how to recreate outdoors potentially could be bad for business,” Pier says. “But I think if we're organizing and leading those kind of things, that's a value to somebody that they're going to get. It doesn't all have to happen in our facility.”
After my visit, I step out into the great outdoors and enjoy the weather a bit before heading to my last appointment.
1 p.m. — Defined Fitness, Albuquerque, NM
I arrive at my last club for the day and the trip a little too weary and excited about going home to realize that the tape in my tape recorder has broken and it is not picking up a word spoken in the hour-long meeting and tour with Anndee Wright-Brown, the company's general manager; Pattie Poindexter, the group fitness director; and Jim Lezeau, the personal training director.
The club is one of four in Albuquerque, but the owners plan to expand to another city in the future. My tour includes a visit to the pro shop area, the child care room, the locker rooms, the weight and cardio areas, the swimming pool and the group exercise area, which hosts about 80 classes per week, including step, yoga, cardio kick, hip hop and Pilates. The facility also enjoys a popular cycling program.
The three are proud of the charity events that the club is involved in, including marathons, the AIDs walk, health fairs and toy drives.
Falsely confident that I have everything safely on tape, I head back to Sheryl's house to finish packing. After a quick goodbye, I pile everything in the car and head toward the airport. Unfortunately, I arrive there at the same time as high winds and a wall cloud of dust that promptly finds its way into my eyes, settling between my contact lenses and eyeballs. As I stand in line to get on the rental car bus that would take me from the rental car lot to the airport terminal, I look around the crowd to see a harried bunch of weary travelers just like me, including a man so weary that he wears not just his rumpled business suit but he has placed a travel pillow around his neck. I wonder if he is just so tired from driving that he doesn't realize the pillow is around his neck or whether he was just in such a hurry to pack that, once realizing he'd forgotten to pack the pillow, he decided it was less trouble to wear it than unzip the bag.
The flight out of Albuquerque is delayed by the high winds, but we are on our way by 6:30 p.m. After a quick stop in Dallas (and I mean quick — I literally run through the terminal from gate 20 to gate 4), I am on the flight home to Kansas City seated next to a banker who had been in San Francisco for a baseball game. He regales me with his travel stories — fishing in Alaska, scuba diving in the Caribbean, museum stops in Europe — and we talk about the books we have read. I fill him in on my trip to the clubs, and as I recount my trip to this stranger, I realize that I have seen a lot, talked a lot, heard a lot and it was all worth it. I have grown as an individual and as a reporter in this industry. The story might not win a Pulitzer, but it, and all my future stories, will be better because I went on this trip. And that can only be beneficial for the readers of this magazine. For that, I am grateful (but not as grateful as getting home in the rain and the dark of night to my own warm bed!).
Look for Part 2: Midwest Next