Ann Gilbert, director of Fitness for Shapes Total Fitness for Women, leads a team of 16 fitness managers and more than 250 personal trainers and group fitness professionals. She is well-known as a presenter and has received the IHRSA/ACE Trainer of the Year Award. For the past 10 years, she has served as a faculty board member for the Fitness Academy, an educational resource for continuing education in the Tampa Bay, FL, area. She can be reached at annfitt@verizon.net.

When asked why they join a fitness facility, many women use the words transform, tone, lose, gain and reduce. Few say “strength,” few say “strong” and most all shy away from the word “build.” Women join a group rather than a facility. They insist on day care, and they want an opportunity to be pampered and find harmony. They are attracted to all things social in the club setting and will watch for a sale more often than not. Today, it is imperative to offer dynamic programming that focuses on women’s needs and can assure an increase in usage, referral and retention.

The following are the top 10 programs that I’d suggest offering your female members:


1. Weight-loss challenges. The popularity of weight-loss challenges is on the rise in most facilities. In-house weight-loss challenges, similar to those that members watch on TV, combine the benefits of accountability, recognition, completion and socialization in a well-planned program that will keep female members coming to the club. Offering a cash prize will increase participation. When challenges are run by your personal training team, the programming often leads to one-on-one training.

2. Dance-based group fitness. Dance tops the charts in popular group fitness programming. Dance classes should be easy to follow, allow members to join when they want and should not require them to learn dance steps. Most group fitness directors plan these classes for all ages and schedule them as often as seven days a week. If you add a class any time your group fitness room is empty, the members and guests will fill up the space. Most women appreciate the non-competitive atmosphere, the fitness challenge and, most of all, the fun factor of dance classes. Add variety by changing the classes monthly to feature Latin, hip hop, street, Broadway or belly dancing.

3. Thirty-minute, coached workout sessions. Most women-only facilities offer coached workout sessions. Most female members will tell you that time is their major challenge. Promote the workouts as the time-saving way to get fit and to stay fit.

4. Quality of life seminars. Plan monthly seminars that focus on aging gracefully, health issues, healthy cooking, basic nutrition and exercise prescriptions for special populations. The specialized programming options can be open to the public and promoted within the community. A seminar series also can be a great promotional tool for personal trainers wanting to be seen as the club’s experts. Many club owners charge for the series as they would for small group training and encourage attendance in the whole series.

5. Harmony series. Create a series of mind/body blend programs, then watch your yoga and Pilates populations grow. Update the interior of your mind/body studio or design a new space for it. Then, add tai chi, a stretching class, self defense and empowerment meetings to your class schedule.

6. Walking groups. By implementing a walk-off-the-weight program, you help women combine a fitness goal with a desire to work out in a group. You can be assured of participation from new people and your existing members. Eventually, you could advance the group by bringing in a personal trainer to coach and lead them as a team to participate in a local walk/run event.

7. Aquatics programming. Baby Boomers are the next wave of participants in your aquatics programming, so you need to update and evaluate your programming to assure it has the intensity and formatting that will attract this growing population. Plan classes, such as aquatic dance, Baby Boomer boot camp, aqua Pilates, even an aqua run to attract female Boomers who are moving from land-based classes.

8. Semi-private lessons. By offering a variety of semi-private lessons, you will increase your revenue instead of losing it to private studios or facilities. Many of the lessons can focus on dance. Bring in ballet for people over 50. Hire a ballroom expert and form buddy or coed groups to learn how to ballroom dance. Ask your popular group fitness instructors to teach hip hop, salsa or Latin specialties, pole dancing and belly dancing. You also can offer lessons beyond dance. For example, ask a local chef to plan a cooking series.

9. Wall of fame. Design and implement a wall of fame to recognize your members’ accomplishments and results. By doing this, you brand your facility as one that cares about recognizing the achievements and accomplishments of your members. In coed and women’s facilities alike, a monthly update of members’ stats, strategically placed near the group fitness studio or changing areas, can be as important to member loyalty as a popular group fitness class.

10. “Try before you buy” options. Allow women to try your services before they buy them by using coupons. Also, promote an affordable menu of services to guests and new members. Women love coupons and watch daily for sales. Be smart and offer a set of coupons or “try me” passes when you meet and greet new members. Use the coupons for drawings and giveaways during member parties. You can even use them in mailings or in marketing campaigns.