Eradicating the myths.
Brands are part of our daily existence and reflect society’s attitudes and values. A trip to the local shopping mall makes it fairly obvi- ous that we live in a branded world. Names like Kleenex, Levi’s and Starbucks alone create consumer expectations with regard to image, consistency and quality. We make product decisions based on recollection and satisfaction. Most group exercise professionals are comfortable supporting brands. If you have attended any major fitness trade shows such as World Fitness IDEA®, you’ll understand what I mean by that. Thousands of attendees stand in long lines to snag a pair of Nike or Reebok shoes. In fact, one can hardly escape brands at all these days.
Surprisingly, when predesigned or branded exercise programs entered the fitness industry, fitness professionals resisted. We yelled and screamed about how our creativity would disappear. We were fearful we would become “cookie-cutter” clones marching to the same choreographed beat. After three years of participating in numerous predesigned programs, I can attest that nothing is further from the truth. To better understand why branding is emerging and how it can boost sagging group exercise attendance, let’s explore several thoughts.
In the beginning of the aerobics craze, there was only high-impact. If you could run and keep a beat, you could teach. However, today’s clubs can offer members more than 15 format options for this type of exercise. Kickboxing, indoor cycling, aquatic, yoga, senior, children, resistance, step and high-low impact represent only the basic classes offered in most facilities.
Novice instructors may find the industry a tough and daunting market to enter. Not only will new instructors invest considerable time and money in basic and specialized training, they also may have to balance school, family and work in the process. Once training is complete, new instructors still must struggle to create choreography and lesson plans. Because of their inexperience, many rookies will be subjected to members’ frank evaluations of their classes. Simple logic and mathematics show that the monetary investment and personal sacrifice instructors must make in this part-time job probably outweigh the rewards. Consequently, new instructors are much more likely to burn out and become disenchanted.
The advent of branded programs alleviated some of this pressure by systematizing training for instructors and eliminating the creative time commitment. Branded or predesigned programs ease new instructors into our technical world and set them up for earlier success.
Rookies are more confident presenting material and exercises that seasoned instructors have created and tested. Anna-Rita Sloss speaks from two years of teaching experience, “I was a great student but knew I could never create a class. With prechoreographed classes, it’s so easy. I have fun teaching and can concentrate on helping students with their techniques.”
Also, members seem to be more accepting of new instructors when classes have a similar thread of consistency. Amy Nestor, an AFAA certification specialist, agrees. “Novice instructors are not as confident as veterans, but half the battle is won because they are successful with predesigned choreography.”
For veteran instructors, gone are the days of simply creating choreography for one format. The well-rounded professional is expected to teach a multitude of formats, each requiring very different choreography and class plans. Teaching two or more formats per week can add up to hours of preparation. Granted, most of us aren’t “in it for the money,” but there comes a point when the hours of homework are just too much!
Expert instructors continue to layer their education and technical skills. Many veterans are rethinking the time commitment. After 10 to 15 years of creating choreography, attending workshops and spending hours organizing their classes, some instructors are considering quitting. They want more time with their families or they have higher priorities.
“Branded programs mean I no longer have the stress of creating new choreography for every format I teach and then remembering what I created,” says Linda McHugh, an IDEA presenter and director of group exercise operations for 24 Hour Fitness. “Now I have a video for my choreography library instead of those scraps of paper in my gym bag.”
Branded programs not only can ease the continual time demand needed to prepare for classes, they can renew a veteran instructor’s joy of teaching. While some predesigned programs choreograph each beat of the music, many offer the flexibility to modify material to best suit each instructor’s class.
Most branded programs offer new choreographed lesson plans every eight to 16 weeks, depending on the program. Instructors are encouraged to remain current by purchasing or attending these training sessions. Cost per lesson plan ranges from $25 to $50. Instructors recognize the savings and advantages this offers. The music is customized for the class. With the video, they can reference the material whenever they need to.
Many branded programs also offer continuing education credits with the product, thus increasing value for busy fitness professionals. After comparing the cost of purchasing predesigned programs versus creating original programs, searching for music, purchasing choreography videos for inspiration and attending workshops only to find one or two usable combinations, many agree that branded programs save valuable time and money.
We can look at many reasons why members have stopped coming into the group exercise rooms, but the bottom line is that many members have not been successful with this exercise format. Whether they didn’t receive the results they wanted or they couldn’t keep up with the choreography, they just aren’t lining up at the doors anymore. For example, compare group exercise to operating a successful restaurant. Diners frequent the restaurant based on past satisfaction with the food and service. Detailed planning goes into the experience the restaurant staff creates to achieve this consistency. How often have you seen a waiter off in a corner cooking his own special creation for you to try?
It’s common sense to manage group exercise programs with similar goals and objectives. Branded programs create lesson plans with one goal in mind—success for the participant. Each program represents team, testing and time. Many hours are devoted to creating and testing the choreography by a team of talented professionals. When you bond with branded programming, you get top-rate material without spending your best instructors’ time and energy.
“A club will say they don’t need my program until their best kickboxing instructor leaves,” shares Chalene Johnson, creator of Turbo Kick, a predesigned kickboxing program. “They suddenly realize that the instructor owned that program—not the club. Members get addicted to the workout first and the instructor’s personality, second.”
Most branded programs are based on the premise of quick, easy-to-master movement patterns and promote a unified esprit de corp. Consider an all-star football team getting ready for the big playoff game. Even though the coach has assembled the most talented roster, the team still requires an organized game plan to win. Group exercise is no different. Instructors will focus on the program and be motivated to help retain its quality and reputation because it reflects on the group rather than the individual. Pride becomes a driving force when a team works together. A facility can promote the program rather than focus on a single class or instructor.
Branded programs make the functional group stay focused and feel responsible. “What sells the idea of predesigned is the feeling of familiarity and its resulting success,” says Jay Blahnik, international fitness presenter and 1996 IDEA Instructor of the Year. Blahnik, who has coproduced such predesigned programs as LegXpress and AbXpress adds, “It allows members to gain the confidence they need to commit to their workouts. Members feel part of a team rather than just a lone individual taking a class. That feeling of belonging keeps them coming back.” Branded programming represents what is best for the members rather than what is best for the moment.
Many instructors, myself included, couldn’t have imagined themselves teaching another person’s choreography. “If it ain’t broke, why fit it?” you may ask. Yet, when faced with the magnitude of time, money, stress and inconsistencies of creating your own classes, giving a branded program a trial run for just one of your many formats may just be your ticket to longevity and renewed job satisfaction.