The Transition to Wellness Programs

Recently, our industry's focus has been shifting from "fitness" to "health."

Consider weight control, still the No. 1 reason why people begin an exercise program. Although the desire to lose weight is still predominantly for appearance reasons, there is an increasing awareness of the health implications of being overweight. More and more we hear about members being concerned about their health, desiring to not just "lose weight" but to "feel better, reduce stress, improve overall health, increase energy, lower blood pressure and cholesterol, and perform daily tasks easily."

As the industry shifts, so must the programming shift to meet the needs and goals of the membership. Granted, fitness programming is an integral part of our clubs and will always remain so; people still join to exercise and get fit. But the time has come to develop more health-oriented programs, or wellness programs, to help members achieve their health-oriented goals.

So how does this type of programming differ from typical club programming? "Fitness programming" can be defined as being motivational and exercise-oriented in nature. Fitness programs are fun, scored, recreational, sports-oriented or one-on-one.

"Wellness programming," on the other hand, can be defined as being health-oriented and educational in nature. Wellness programs include traditional and nontraditional methods of preventing and treating special health concerns. They cover everything from weight management, cholesterol reduction, acupuncture and healing herbs.

We are moving from "Fitness = Exercise + Diet" to "Wellness = Exercise + Healthy Eating + Education." Still, this move will take time, especially as far as members are concerned. They won't suddenly stop viewing a club as a fitness facility, referring to it as a wellness facility instead. So when making the transition, consider your members before deciding what your wellness programs will look like.

Begin by assessing the goals of your members. Check interest surveys or needs analyses that new members and prospects fill out during the sales process. Review the medical and exercise history questionnaires members complete prior to their fitness assessments. Do an informal survey by asking members what health issues concern them.

Once you have information and can make some assumptions about what would interest members, set up a network of qualified presenters, people who can come in and speak about issues that apply to your members (e.g., cholesterol). Look within your community for physicians, physical therapists, chiropractors, nutritionists, psychologists, etc., who would like to deliver information to your members. If you have qualified people on staff, even better.

Interview several providers of the same services to ensure that they not only have the proper credentials, but that they also will connect to your members. Each club has a general "personality." It is important to match the personality of the presenter with the personality of the club. You may learn this the hard way, through trial and error. Persistence is the key.

Keep a narrow focus initially. Interview only those practitioners whom you feel are appropriate based on your wellness program assumptions. For example, while you personally may be interested in past-life regression as a way of relieving stress, your general membership may not. Best to start with what is more traditional. Wait until you have a few programs that work before you loosen the hold on the reins.


Tips for Establishing Your Wellness Programming

- Members are in the mind-set of coming to the club to exercise. It takes time to shift the focus.

- A club setting and a corporate setting are two completely different things. If you set up your club wellness program like you would set up a corporate wellness program, you may be disappointed.

- Be careful of alternative health care providers. They are not regulated, and may not have to be licensed. Some alternative therapy can be very questionable, unsafe, dangerous, etc. You should also be careful of your own biases. Just because your sister practices magnet therapy doesn't mean it is approved or tested.

- Initially, keep a narrow focus.

- Interview several providers of the same service. Be sure they have proper credentials and that what they say and how they say it will be received positively by your members.

- Learn through trial and error. What works at one facility may not work at your facility.


Categories of Wellness Programming

- Weight management

- Stress management

- Nutrition classes

- Health screenings

- Alternative health topics (acupuncture, herbal medicine)

- Special populations (seniors, women, men, children)

- Anything else related to health


Typical Club Member Goals

- Lose weight for appearance

- Feel better

- Reduce stress

- Improve overall health

- Increase energy

- Lower blood pressure/cholesterol

- Perform daily tasks easily


Determing Whether to Charge for Wellness Programs

- Determine the cost of delivering each program

- Decide on the true "value" to the club of delivering the program

- Offer some programs for free, charge for others and assess attendance