When you attend an industry conference, do you expect to leave it so exhilarated, inspired and infused with new notions that your time there can actually be classified as a life- or career-transforming experience? It seems this happens to a few people every year at the IDEA World Fitness Convention, but this year it seemed to be a current that ran through the largest global delegate pool IDEA has seen in a few years. Over 7,000 attendees (including delegates, faculty, volunteers, staff, exhibitors and Expo Hall guests) flocked from more than 50 countries to San Diego for 1 day of preconference sessions (July 5) and 4 days of unique education programming (July 6–9) that sent them down a much-less-traveled path (many thanks to IDEA’s event partners STOTT PILATES® and Nautilus). Ice that with the sweetness of a blockbuster 25th anniversary celebration line-up of activities, and you have quite a mover and shaker of an event on your hands. And, no, describing this event as “life-altering” is not gilding the lily. Just ask anyone who attended the opening ceremonies on the first day.
After a 2-minute-long standing ovation that lifted 2007 IDEA Lifetime Achievement Award winner Augie Nieto in his high-tech wheelchair to the stage, Nieto’s wife, Lynne, dabbed a few tears from his eyes as he settled into a speech that had everyone hanging on each word for the next 10 minutes. By describing how he faces his personal challenges with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gherig’s disease, this fitness industry visionary and pioneer elegantly summed up what fitness and wellness professionals can do—not only for themselves but for their clients—each day: redefine “normal.” “I wake up every day and say, ‘Do I want to live or do I want to die?’ Once I make that choice, everything else is under my radar.” (For more about Augie Nieto, please see the sidebar below).
Combine this with heartfelt acceptance speeches from the IDEA Awards recipients; an exciting announcement by Pamela Peeke, MD, MPH, FACP, that IDEA has joined forces with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation—a partnership between the American Heart Association and the William J. Clinton Foundation—to increase the physical activity resources available to children nationwide; and a letter from President Clinton read aloud confirming the collaboration, and you can see where some of the life-altering details begin. This all happened before the keynote speaker, world-renowned economist and wellness guru Paul Zane Pilzer, even set foot on the stage (see related sidebar below).
As presenter Sherri McMillan, MSc, of Vancouver, Washington, said later, “I laughed. I cried. I cried. I laughed. I laughed while crying. What an emotional rollercoaster. It was an inspirational session that helped everyone put their lives into perspective—live in the moment and reach for their best always. What a fabulous way to start the convention.”
There was a staggering array of personal training sessions to choose from at this year’s event. Most personal fitness trainers (PFTs) still follow their main passion—fascination with how the miraculous human body functions—in their course selection. However, the ever-growing contingent of entrepreneurs emerging from the group are demonstrating that they understand the supreme value of nurturing their business skills as well. Most of the physiological themes are consistent from year to year. In fact, exercise program design seems to get closer to basics all the time. But the business how-to portion of the program is finally surfacing as “must-have.” In fact, it dominated the landscape at the “Looking Forward: What’s Next in Personal Training” panel. Some themes that bubbled to the surface in this session and in others throughout the week were:
- Teach your clients to be independent. PFTs should be equipping clients to stand on their own and not be dependent on their guidance or sessions to stay on track. “Often we think in this industry that we’ll lose clients if we teach them too much,” said 2007 IDEA Personal Trainer of the Year Bill Sonnemaker. “I’ve never lost a client in 10 years because of that. Your job is to teach them to do it for themselves.”
- Small group training (3–5 people) and partner training are on the rise. Not only does this type of programming get more consumers involved, the group aspect keeps clients engaged. It’s also the best use of time for PFTs, financially speaking, as it nets higher revenue per hour.
- The interest in boot camps and body-mind disciplines continues to grow. If appropriate for your interests, your clientele and your business, are you growing your education and expertise in these areas?
- More clients are looking to get outside the walls of the gym or studio. This type of training necessitates strong knowledge of functional training, as trainers cannot rely on gym equipment for sessions. While functional training has always been a part of programming for top trainers, more pros are discovering it and fully grasping its meaning for their clients’ lives.
- Corporate fitness is a robust area of opportunity. Escalating health insurance costs are mandating that companies save money by offering wellness incentives to employees. If you position your business properly, companies will seek out your expertise.
- Assess, train and track progress. Assess again. Without these benchmarks, neither you nor your client can truly see progress and point to what’s been successful in your programming. And if you can’t mark progress, how can you possibly inspire?
- Staffing and client motivation continue to be top challenges for PFT businesses. Owners have a responsibility to keep raising the bar when recruiting staff by emphasizing assessment, practical application and body awareness, and by demanding proper credentialing.
- Education remains paramount. Spend some time every day learning more about a subject you’re not proficient in. The moment you stop, you let your clients down; you let yourself down.
- Consider hiring a customer service rep or business manager. Let that person handle the day-to-day details of running your operation that eat up your energy and time. One trainer reported that doing this helped her business double revenues the very first year!
- Implement systems and document them. If you’re in a growth phase or expect to be soon, spend some time getting your house in order. Things can get very chaotic without systems, especially when you’re hiring new people and want consistency across the board.
- Differentiate yourself so you can compete with much larger facilities. Find what makes you special and “work it.”
In addition to an entire day of management precon sessions planned to enrich owners, managers and program directors, a few common threads emerged in other business- and management-oriented sessions:
- Paralleling the PFT trend to get exercisers outside, forward-thinking program directors are flinging the gym doors open for programming as well. Lisa Druxman, 2007 IDEA Program Director of the Year, observed that this gives facility managers and program directors the ability to offer more classes and change the environment for clients. “This also presents an amazing opportunity for independent professionals to not have to pay for a brick and mortar space to teach.”
- Take the extra step. There are a lot of good businesses out there, but what are you doing to make yourself stand out or become memorable in the minds of your customers?
- Take classes in your facility and in others. Learn how to improve your company’s or department’s delivery by experiencing what it’s like to be a student these days. If you, as a fitness pro, are intimidated or dismayed by the experience, you can bet the end user is terribly disheartened. You can also bet you’re going to lose that customer.
- A program director’s job is to inspire facility staff. The staff’s job is to inspire the clients. As a program director, how are you inspiring your staff?
Group fitness options have dramatically flourished over the past 25 years. Classes that were once taught in the cold, dark “aerobics room” basement are now proudly showcased as the heartbeat of the entire fitness facility, in prime visibility areas. As often happens with time, history tends to repeat itself and trends can resurface wearing an updated shell. Case in point: the shift back to simplicity. Equipment and complexity are out, and a return to basics is in. “We have been successful at creating awesome programming, but we still aren’t reaching all the people we need to,” said Shannon Griffiths Fable, founder and CEO of Sunshine Fitness Resources in Boulder, Colorado. “We need to encourage people to simply move more and get them excited about what they can do, not what we can do.”
Fitness instructors have earned their stripes and gained respect both from consumers and other professionals in the industry. Even so, some say there is room for more professional growth. “There is still a perception that personal fitness trainers are somehow more qualified than instructors,” said 2007 IDEA Group Fitness Instructor of the Year Fred Hoffman, MEd, director of international services for The Club & Spa Synergy Group, based in River Edge, New Jersey. “This image issue needs to be addressed.” An even more pressing issue, however, is the widening gap between experienced, veteran instructors and new teachers; the industry is at a crossroads. “We need to stop hiring warm bodies for the sake of having staff,” Fable said. “We need to put our heads together and create a more viable career path.” Proposed solutions to this ongoing problem include tapping university programs for talent, creating free mentorship programs and taking a more serious look at loyal and hard-working participants as potential instructors.
Here are some additional highlights and trends from this year’s convention:
- The prechoreographed versus “freestyle” debate continues to be strong. Some bristle at the idea of strictly scripted offerings, while others point to prechoreographed classes as a good way to initiate new instructors. The “freestyle” camp worries that the industry is “dumbing down” instructor skills at a time when expertise needs to be more clearly refined. Most agree the end result will likely be a hybrid of the two.
- Dance-inspired classes are increasingly a big hit around the globe. This appeals to the longtime, loyal member who wants to move a little freer, as well as the newcomer who needs a fun way to become fit.
- Older-adult-themed classes are becoming more integrated into the overall schedule as program managers are discovering that seniors don’t necessarily like to be singled out. Instead, there is a push to make all classes “beginner-friendly” to appeal not only to older adults but to other special populations as well.
- Indoor cycling continues to be popular, and formats are becoming geared more toward athletic training. Another cycling trend: fun, entertainment-themed classes that include karaoke and simulated tours.
- The word on step is that it’s hit or miss depending on where you are located. Some say members can’t get enough, while others claim step is passé.
- Boot camp, circuit and group strength continue to expand and become more customized and evolved.
- Water-based classes are holding steady on schedules, as land-based themes continue to “get wet.” More and more, instructors are forced to share time slots with personal fitness trainers who are discovering the many benefits of one-on-one water instruction for their clients.
- Flexibility is no longer being relegated to the end of class; it’s an entire class theme in itself.
- Education and certification standards are becoming even more important as the industry grows. This may be in direct opposition to the dearth of new instructors.
Attendees got a sampling of unique body-mind-spirit programming on Thursday, July 9, during “A Taste of Inner IDEA: A Body-Mind Experience,” an all-day preconference event that helped get IDEA World Fitness Convention 2007 off to a mindful start. The day began with a strong intention as Lorna Francis, PhD, presented “Living in the Full Presence of Life.” The main thrust of her talk was the idea that “present moment awareness” is an integral aspect of a fitness professional’s work. Francis noted that the best way to relay this concept is through teaching body awareness. “Who better than health, wellness and fitness professionals to teach this?” she asked.
After the opening welcome, attendees broke out into their respective session selections. Attendees learned core concepts of flowing movement in GYROTONIC® Group, taught by Billy Macagnone, Vincent Macagnone and Emma Ledbetter. The trio moved the small groups through a selection of exercises that taught “the art of exercise” through articulation, mobilization and breathing. Down the hall, Lauren Eirk presented “Yoga and Intention,” a deceptively simple title for a rich session that explored motives and biomechanics. In another room, Scott Cole guided participants through a detailed and subtly energetic tai chi routine. Attendees also chose between three highly refined STOTT PILATES® sessions, “One-on-One Matwork,” “Matwork: Function” and “Formula for Success.”
IDEA Member Cori Parks, who lives in Cairo, Egypt, gleaned a lot of value from her experience. “A most resounding two thumbs up for this wonderful day,” she said. “My only hope is that I have even a fraction of Lauren Eirk’s well-articulated knowledge, Lawrence Biscontini’s light-hearted and profoundly creative sense, Scott Cole’s enriching energy and Lorna Francis’s solid commitment to setting the stage for life, 1 minute at a time.”
Last year, IDEA debuted InTensives programming, concentrated 4-hour courses packed with advanced research and valuable hands-on training. This year, IDEA brought the sessions back, thanks to popular demand. At the end of each course, participants received a certificate of completion. Here’s a look at the power-packed education courses:
- “Muscle Activation Techniques: From Start to Finish,” by Greg Roskopf, MA, taught how to assess and correct limited range of motion and/or compensation problems in clients’ movement patterns.
- “Functional Assessment, Strategies and Program Design for the Foot, Lower Extremity and Hip,” by Chuck Wolf, MS, explored the functional anatomy of the foot, leg and hip, and presented assessment techniques to determine the action of the foot and its chain reaction.
- “Functional Assessment, Strategies and Program Design for the Lumbar and Thoracic Spine,” by Lenny Parracino, looked at the functional anatomy of the lumbar and thoracic spine, and explored assessment techniques to determine the action of the back and its impact on nearly every movement of the body.
- “Structural Assessments 101 and 201,” by Justin Price, MA, detailed how to do accurate assessments and properly address imbalances.
- “Women in Business—Getting Started,” by Mary Bratcher, MA, and Nicki Anderson, covered all aspects of starting and running a business in a structured format, and prepared attendees for what to expect from a practical, psychological and emotional standpoint.
All sessions were uniquely interactive and gave participants a chance to delve into finer aspects of each subject. For example, after reviewing the musculoskeletal system, attendees in “Structural Assessments 101” broke out into pairs and took turns assessing each other’s level of function. During “Women in Business—Getting Started,” participants got to network and share business secrets while learning inside tips.
What do you do if you have both an extensive dance background and martial arts experience? If you’re IDEA presenter Scott Cole, you simply fuse them into a fun mixture of bobbing and weaving, kicking and sashaying. “Martial Cardio Dance: Disco Dojo,” was one of many “martial arts, combative and boot camp–style” sessions offered at IDEA World Fitness Convention this year. Cole’s class, a 7:00 AM selection, blended dance beats with diagonal punches for a completely unique experience that underscored IDEA’s commitment to fresh programming. “There is a fine line between dance and martial arts skills,” Cole says. “Great dancers have to be centered and able to move without hurting themselves. It’s the same with a martial artist.”
What better way to celebrate IDEA’s 25th anniversary than a cardio collaboration from the industry’s biggest and brightest presenters? This energetic session served as the perfect bookend to an outstanding weekend, and attendees proved they still had all the moves. It was nearly impossible to stand and simply watch—the group energy was steamy as teams of two took turns leading the huge ballroom in a rolling mix of Jazzercise®, hip-hop, high-low, salsa, old school high-impact and soothing yoga-inspired sequences. About 30 instructors shared their onstage spirit, including Judi Sheppard Missett, Tamilee Webb, Kathy Smith, Steve Boedt and Keli Roberts. As an added bonus, attendees received valuable door prizes.
This year’s generous body-mind program offered wellness professionals a plethora of opportunities to refine their technical skills, deepen their sense of purpose and try out something new along the way.
- With 36 Pilates sessions on the schedule, attendees had options galore, yet even so, classes were consistently full. Pilates educators have attained new levels of sophistication, and over and over participants were challenged to refine their technique and expand their repertoire. Still, with all the emphasis on technical excellence, the emotional rewards of practicing and teaching this method were much in evidence. No doubt Clare Dunphy, from Newburyport, Massachusetts, spoke for many when she said, “That’s what I love about Pilates—it’s so happy, so joyful.”
- For the first time at IDEA World Fitness, Gyrotonic® and Gyrokinesis® workshops were available throughout the event. Led by master trainers Emma Ledbetter and Billy and Vincent Macagnone, attendees gained firsthand experience of the spiraling and circular patterns of motion that are the system’s hallmark.
- Fusion options were plentiful—and more creative than ever. Yoga must lend itself particularly well to fusion: one-of-a-kind sessions combined traditional yoga with strength training (“Buff Yoga by Crunch®”), power yoga with Pilates, vinyasa yoga with tribal-style dance (“Yoga Groove—Live Drums”), yoga with tai chi, and—on the ball!—yoga with qigong.
- Yoga was also strongly represented, with classes ranging from “YogaFit® for Transformation” to specialized sessions addressing anatomy; balance; and hips and twists.
- Other choices included two wonderful flexibility workshops—“REACH™” by Kari Anderson and “Sports Stretch With Resist-A-Ball®” by Carol Murphy—and the unique “Zen-Fit” workout, in which participants learned a kata designed to improve awareness and concentration.
IDEA Fitness & Wellness Expo was an awesome shopping experience—with emphasis on experience. More than 172 exhibitors in almost 450 booths were on hand to demonstrate and sell their products to the throngs of professionals who streamed through the hall.
Where else could you have face time with experts on the latest Pilates equipment minutes after receiving an airbrushed spray tan; or sift through an infinite array of music CDs until, tired of standing, you spot the adorable, just-have-to-try-it inflatable exercise tool called The Bean™ and sprawl across one of the curvy samples? Reminding yourself to think about movement again, you try a few push-ups—with a twist. The Perfect Pushup™ is a round disk for each hand with rotating handles that allow your arms to rotate as you do the push-up. Nearby, rack after rack of exercise and sport clothing—in hundreds of patterns and colors offered by scores of clothing vendors from around the globe—vie for your eye.
After shrugging in and out of tops from Brazil and durable exercise pants, it’s time to get physical again. At the QiBounding booth, you jump on a German-made rebounder, with high-quality elastic bungee bands, for a quick, but intense workout. Remembering your colleagues back home, you purchase colorful hoops and DVDs from HoopGirl™ and jump ropes with batwing-shaped handles from Iron Wear.
Now there’s only an hour left—plenty of time to power shop for shoes while listening and watching the live entertainment from Culture Shock Dance Troop on the Performance Stage right in the Expo Hall. While you’re deciding among the latest Nike designs, casual orthotic sandals and MBT Physiological Footwear—the walking shoes with the unusual-shaped soles named after the Masai people of eastern Africa—your heart pumps up several notches at the discounts offered and the music emanating from the stage, where Culture Shock combined hip-hop, break dancing and spoken word into a mesmerizing, intense, freestyle, funk choreography, dance drama accompanied by raucous shout-outs from the crowd. Exhilarating, upbeat entertainment while you shop for shoes at the same time: that’s the Expo Hall experience.
Susan Halet, personal trainer and group fitness instructor from Foster City, California, summed up her experience at IDEA World and perhaps speaks for many colleagues: “I look forward to going [to the event] every time as it is a chance to renew my commitment to fitness and be inspired by all the others who attend and all those who present. The convention is really an opportunity to celebrate all that we do to encourage people to be fit and healthy. Aren’t we lucky to be in an industry that is truly vital to a healthy lifestyle?”
Aren’t we lucky, indeed!
Paul Zane Pilzer is an intellectual fireball. If delegates were overwhelmed with the emotion of the IDEA award ceremonies that preceded him, Pilzer, the convention’s keynote speaker—a renowned economist and best-selling author—did a fine job of snapping everyone’s attention back to center. He quickly focused on the heart of the serious national sickness problems that could well bankrupt the U.S. economy in years to come by delving into topics featured in his latest book, The New Wellness Revolution (Wiley 2007). He wove in examples of the roles that fitness professionals can play in the rapidly growing wellness economy, projected to reach $1 trillion just 5 years from now.
Acclaimed as one of the most successful, forward-thinking business visionaries in the world, Pilzer outlined the challenges and rewards that lie ahead for the fitness industry, along with the myths and mistakes that instructors and trainers need to avoid if they want to carve out a successful niche in the wellness marketplace.
“The laws of economics have caused the obesity problem. Of the $1.3 trillion food industry, only $60 billion goes to food growers; most of the rest goes to processors and packagers,” Pilzer described in his rapid Brooklynese.
Calling the medical industry “the sickness industry,” Pilzer pointed out that although the U.S. is considered the most prosperous and developed nation in the world, it is not even in the top 40 list of the world’s most healthy countries. “The medical community prefers to treat symptoms that are ongoing and will therefore make the medical community more money.
Ninety-five percent of the drugs marketed today are drugs that the consumer is expected to take for the rest of his or her life. Many of these drugs are treating a symptom that instead could be treated by exercise and diet. But the pharmaceutical companies aren’t looking for customers who are done in 10 days.”
To better digest some of the ideas Pilzer presented in his keynote speech, check out his book in the IDEA Education Store, at www.ideafit.com.
This year, the IDEA Adventure Experience (formerly Club Without Walls) was expanded to offer more daring, out-of-the-gym programs that took participants from surfing and sea lion spotting to triathlon training, kayaking and exhilarating downhill mountain biking. Programming included
• “Dry Land Conditioning for Surfing”
• “Kayaking—La Jolla Cove”
• “Learn to Surf at Del Mar Beach”
• “Sea and Sand Boot Camp—La Jolla”
• “Triathlon Training for Everyone at Del Mar Beach”
• “USS Midway Boot Camp Challenge”
• “Biking—La Jolla”
Following are highlights:
Kayaking—La Jolla Cove
In the words of IDEA adventure guide Brett Kehler, recreation program coordinator at San Diego State University, “It was a beautiful morning on the water; overcast but temperate, as energetic fitness professionals [left shore] in tandem kayaks, paddling through the heavy break into La Jolla Ecological Reserve.” Participants enjoyed sightings of various local wildlife including garibaldi (California’s bright orange state fish), cormorants, brown pelicans, harbor seals and sea lions. “After exploring majestic sea caves and a giant kelp forest, the kayakers tested their skills in the surf zone as they surfed—or swam!—their way back to the shore,” Kehler recounted.
“It was exhilarating!” said Evamarie Pilipuf a personal trainer at Tree of Fitness Inc., in Schaumberg, Illinois. She had never gone kayaking before, but had been hoping to eventually add this activity to her outdoor recreation repertoire. “I found this and the surfing outing to be the perfect way to get my feet wet and ignite my confidence and enthusiasm for more,” Pilipuf said. “I can’t believe I got to see so much wildlife and amazing caves in such an abbreviated outing! I also appreciate the instant camaraderie I enjoyed with my partner and other fellow participants; it made the weekend all the more gratifying, rather than just a sterile classroom situation. What’s more, it gave me something “more” to come back and talk about to my clients and students, and it was obvious that my being so well-rounded in my own education and experiences enhanced my credibility as a fitness professional tremendously.”
Bootcamp 2 Ways, 2 Days
Roughly 60 tough-as-nails attendees joined presenter and personal trainer Ryan Halvorson on a heart-pounding journey to the world-famous USS Midway aircraft carrier. The early risers started at the Marriott Hotel and slowly made their way along the waterfront of San Diego’s harbor, through touristy Seaport Village and finally to the deck of the Midway, recalls Halvorson. Joined by co-presenters Cynthia Roth and Ry Peterson, Halvorson and his “troops” jogged, lunged and kicked their way through 21/2 rigorous hours of continuous movement. “The challenge with this program was to find a way to use participants’ bodies and the environment as exercise equipment,” Halvorson says. “Everyone seemed to have a great time, and it just goes to show that you don’t need a gym or fancy gadgets to get a great workout.”
The next day, Halvorson, Roth, Peterson and a busload of somewhat sleepy, but motivated boot campers headed to La Jolla Shores for a “sea and sand” workout. “I think the attendees were a bit hesitant about getting in the water at first,” said Halvorson. “But they seemed to warm up to it after the relentless pounding of surf meeting turf.” The presenters diverted from the previous day’s military-themed program and focused more on play. “Participants used the playground, each other’s bodies and the natural elements of the beach and the water for a workout that was all about keeping people smiling and laughing the whole time. I think it was a great success.”
Taking the Scenic Tour—by Bike
For Micky Carr, program director from Bishop, California, taking the Adventure Experience session “Biking–La Jolla,” “was a pleasure just to be able to get outside and experience the beauty of the day.” Starting at the top of Mt. Soledad, one of San Diego’s highest vantage points, early on a July morning under a light cloud cover, attendees took in the sweeping view from Mexico up the Southern California coast and from the Pacific Ocean east to the Laguna Mountains. Cycling the 3.5-mile descent through scenic La Jolla neighborhoods to the summer crowd–packed beach communities, participants got a workout and learned a bit about San Diego. “I loved every second! It could not have been more perfect” said Shana Mckenzie, health and fitness director from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. “From my perspective, it wasn’t about the distance or the time, it was about being in the moment of what was a really great experience,” said Carr.
This story reflects the combined reporting and writing of the IDEA Editorial Team: Sandy Todd Webster, editor in chief; Joy Keller, senior editor; Kate Watson, managing editor; Margie Rogers, production editor and Ryan Halvorson, associate editor. For a more in-depth look at our coverage of the IDEA World event, please go to www.ideafit.com and check out the editors’ blogs as well as the photo and video blogs from the event.