Solving the Programming Puzzle

Group fitness programming is a key factor in establishing the personality and image of your club. The best designed programs are like a completed jigsaw puzzle; they have all the right pieces assembled the right way. Creating a successful program is not a mystery, but it does depend on careful evaluation and planning.

The first step is to analyze your club. What are the demographics of your members: Are they predominantly young, older, fit, deconditioned, women, men, family, single, etc.? When do they use the club: early, late, morning, noon, afternoon? What facilities and equipment do you have available for your programs: indoors, outdoors, studios, gyms, courts, pools?

Every club has its own unique personality based on members, usage, location and amenities. It is necessary to understand this before planning your program and organizing your schedule.

Next, carefully assess the programs you aare offering now. They should cover the full range of cardio, strength and conditioning, flexibility, sports specific and mind/body classes appropriate for your members. Since most members utilize the club during the same time period each visit, a balance of these programs should be offered in each.

Now, you need to evaluate how you are doing. If the program and schedule are meeting the needs of your members, all classes will be filled with smiling faces and it's time to expand. If not, it's time to research, recreate and reorganize. Either way, you need to analyze the situation to understand the best way to proceed.

An evaluation form or member survey provides a tremendous amount of information about what, when and whom they want on the schedule. Talk to your teachers, front desk and sales staff; they are on the front lines when you're not and are a great source of member input, both good and bad. Manage by "walking around"; take or observe classes, look at the numbers and people in each one, listen for the post-class buzz in the locker room. Visit your competitors; learn what they are doing right, and wrong.

Armed with all of this information, you are ready to create your schedule by adding the final key element - your instructors. Understand that your teachers are your program. They can make or break a schedule, establish a professional leading-edge reputation for your club (or just the opposite), and make a manager's life heaven or hell on an hourly basis. You may have determined the "what, when and where" of your ideal program and schedule, but it is your staff's skills and availability that will decide whether you can put your plan into action. You and your members may want Pilates or Power Yoga at 8:30 a.m., but if you don't have a teacher - the right teacher, to be even more specific - the class won't fly. As a manager, your job is to attract, recruit, develop, nurture, motivate, inspire and retain the best team of professionals available. If you have the talent, then implementing your ideal program will be easy.

Ultimately, a systematic approach will help you gather the information needed to determine the content of your group fitness program and ascertain the layout of your schedule. It will also guide you when developing existing or creating new programs and when you want to expand your clubs demographics and usage by reaching out to new markets. Once you have figured out all the pieces of your programming puzzle and how to put them together, you will create the unique group fitness program that captures the personality, image and essence of your club.

- Sherry Catlin, president of Sherry Catlin & Associates and director of program development for Body Bar Systems, is an international fitness consultant who presents workshops, seminars and master classes nationwide and abroad. She was group fitness manager for 19 years for the Squash Club and Boston Sports Clubs.


Group Mentality

Here are the steps that Sherry Catlin suggests that you follow when developing your group fitness programming.

1. Analyze
Who are your members?
When do they use the club?
What facilities and equipment are available for your programs?

2. Evaluate
What programs are you offering?
When are they offered?
How successful are they?
Are they meeting the needs and desires of your members?

3. Improve
What classes need to be developed, moved, removed?
What teachers need to be developed, moved, removed?

4. Expand
What new programs need to be introduced?
Where do they fit in your schedule?
What new markets do you want to attract?
Which time periods do you want to expand or develop?
Do you need new talent?