OUT & ABOUT

Going outside your club's doors for programming inspiration.

The dog days of summer will soon be here, and with it the traditional health club exodus as members take off for the great outdoors. If you want a bone left to chew on, or a biscuit to take to the bank, then consider outdoors programming for members.

Outdoor cross-training (OXT) is one of the fastest-growning trends. Sixteen percent of the population over age 15 (33 million people) runs outdoors, according to the Outdoor Industry Association. Recreational Equipment Inc. (REI) reports that 30 percent of Americans participate in two or more outdoor aerobic activities, while 70 percent of those surveyed consider outdoor activities more effective in reducing stress than indoor activities.

Don't fight your members' desire to take in a little fun and sun. Instead, offer fun and sun of your own, and you'll increase both member retention and your bottom line. Outdoor programming can be something as simple as having a walking class once a week to something as involved as triathlon training. You could even host special events like Workout at the Beach Day. Or host a circuit-style class outside. Your programs are only limited by your own imagination.

“There's nothing wrong with gyms. Gyms are great,” says Tina Vindum, the founder/owner of Outdoor Action Fitness, a California fitness program based entirely outdoors. Participants exercise outside all year round and in most weather conditions. “I think [outdoor programming] is a wonderful offering for clients. You can offer an outdoor class once a week. You can do this no matter where your gym is.”

There is, however, some practical advice to consider before embarking on this type of programming.

Scout locations

Since Vindum repeatedly switches locations and terrain for her clients' workouts, she stresses the importance of scouting the exercise route. “Test the course yourself,” she says, and make sure to note the time it takes you to complete it. Be sure to scout the location at the exact time of day, or even day of the week (if possible) that you will be running the class, to take into account such things as lighting or crowd conditions.

Scout participants

“Scouting participants” means one of two things. A) Make sure all your participants are able for the outdoor program, and B) recruiting interested members.

With scenario “A,” it's very important that you get a health history and, if applicable, a doctor's note before taking someone outside for a program. Though not every club has the same resources available, you may want to heed the following advice. “We have a pre-activity screening done through the nursing department,” says Jane Roberts, the director of fitness for Arizona's Canyon Ranch Resort, a destination spa that incorporates a wide variety of outdoor fitness activities. The screening involves filling out a health history questionnaire, a blood pressure test, etc., culminating with the client signing a liability waiver.

In terms of step “B”, it's not a bad idea, if you know you have a core group of die-hard treadmill fanatics, to approach them with an idea for a once-a-week run in the park. This can perhaps integrate your solo exercisers into trying out a class in a group setting, as well as cross-train them in different environments.

Get members to sign waivers

This cannot be stressed enough. With outdoor programs, “more random things can definitely happen,” Roberts says. Vindum herself has her lawyer write up a special liability waiver for all of her participants.

Be prepared for the weather

Chances are, at least once, it will rain the day of your outdoor excursion. At the very least, you'll have some very bright and sunny days that will warrant wearing a little sunscreen or sunglasses. “There's no such thing as inappropriate weather,” Vindum says, “only inappropriate clothing.” So make sure you give program participants a checklist of what to wear and what not to wear for certain weather conditions. Be sure to keep members properly hydrated and have them bring a long a water bottle for each trip.

Be organized and adaptable

As with any group exercise activity, you've got to be organized. You'll want to test out any props that your bring a long with you before hand (Will it hold body weight? Does wet grass make the product slippery? etc.). You'll also want to be quick on your feet so when nature throws you a curve ball, you don't strike out. For example, if the trail you planned to hike got washed out in a storm, know the area well enough to find another trail.

Use props

Take your own and use the ones Mother Nature provides. Use picnic benches for triceps dips, elastic tubing mixed with a parking meter or a fence post for stretching. Be creative: bench press that slow-moving shitzu.

Don't be afraid to try outdoors programming

If you fear that you may have clients that like working out of doors too much — and perhaps quit working out at the club — fear not. “I would think it would be an opportunity to retain members that would normally do these activities on their own,” explains Roberts. People join clubs for the socialization. By taking group classes outdoors, these members get the best of both worlds.


UPSIZING YOUR DOWNTIME

Make the most of the free (ha!) moments at your club

If you're like most club owners, you've got club business burning on all four burners.

Club owners “do actually have downtime but they don't actually call it that,” says Rick Caro, president of the consulting firm Management Vision and part-time chair of Spectrum Clubs. Instead, what they have is “quality” club time in which they can commit to bettering themselves, their facility, their staff or their members.

It's these brief free moments that can allow you to step back, pause, and reconsider your facility and your own efforts within the facility. Sometimes five to 10 minutes a day is all you need to make dramatic improvements.

Here are just a few examples of how to utilize your downtime.

Take a tour and ditch the rose-colored glasses

Got five minutes? Good. Now go outside, take a breather, and come back in with a fresh pair of eyes and take a good long look around your facility. “Walk in like a member and tell me what you see,” Caro recalls telling a staff member. “He had always walked in with the same ‘lens’ on in the club,” he explains. After five minutes, the staff member began to notice little things like too much clutter behind the front desk or too many flyers on the bulletin board. “As he went through, all of a sudden he started to see things a little differently,” he says.

A variable on the “fresh eyes” approach is to take a camcorder and videotape the front desk area, as well as the locker rooms (sans people, of course), and other key points within the club. “Spend more than 10 minutes doing this for each one,” Caro explains. Play back the tape for yourself and your staff to watch. Discuss what you see with each other and strategize on what things need improvement.

Connect with the community

Plan to spend a few minutes each day talking with the various groups within your club and getting their feedback. “Try to pick out categories of members and try to get a snippet of information from each,” Caro says. Some good starting points: New members, the low or non-user group and the “specialty” member, which is one that has been vocal about a perceived problem.

Comnnect ouside the club

This falls under the community outreach category. Make a few phone calls and get your club involved with the world outside its doors. Find out how to get involved in a run for charity, see if you can donate used club equipment to a school gym or otherwise give back to the community.

Connect with the staff

Not the least important free-time task is making sure to use your free time, as well as scheduling “work” time, to improve relations with your staff. Your staff knows what your members are thinking, and they also have ideas about how things can be improved. Listen to them. “All you're doing is getting the people to appreciate the fact that you're willing to listen to them,” says Caro. And make sure you talk to everyone. “Engage different people of all different levels in all different parts of the club,” he continues. From the janitorial crew to the front desk personnel to the most part-time of personal trainers, each has a unique and valuable viewpoint to offer you.