Fitness Trends Report

Circling the World With Inspiring Exercise

The IDEA mission to Inspire the World to Fitness begins with each of you. Your expertise in integrating equipment and fitness activities is the key to attracting and retaining exercisers.

The more people are attracted to—and retained by—your programs and facilities, the more people will exercise. Their participation helps build your business, which enables you to provide more programs and equipment. That is a circle of fitness worth completing for everyone.

Our industry is very diverse, and The 2003 IDEA Programs & Equipment Survey on pp. 6 to 13 gives us a great opportunity to enlarge our visions by seeing what others are doing. What can we learn from the survey results?

1. The Strong Stay Strong

The programs we are accustomed to seeing at the top of the list are still there on page 9. Personal training and strength training, stretching and fitness assessment all remain firmly positioned. Rising stars such as yoga, core conditioning, stability ball exercises and Pilates are joining them.

Treadmills, free weights, cycles and elliptical trainers are stalwarts joined by portable pieces like resistance tubing, stability balls (the newest takeover expert), yoga mats and weighted bars. Find the complete list of equipment on page 8.

Where have the most changes occurred over the years? Not in the most frequently offered programs and equipment, which stay about the same after finding their plateaus. In equipment, pieces such as weighted bars and stability balls that are utilized in structured programs have gained the most ground. In programs, results-oriented personal training, yoga, stability-ball-based exercise and Pilates have increased, while lifestyle classes (money management, book club) and traditional aerobics have decreased.

2. Retention Follows Strong Programs

IDEA businesses keep an average 72% of members/clients for 1 year or longer. The wide variety of programming and equipment offered is probably a strong factor in this retention level.

So is each business owner’s savvy in targeting the “right” clients. For example, in corporate and hospital wellness centers, back pain prevention (51% offer) and weight management classes (83% offer) are what participants care about. In the YMCA/YWCA/JCC segment, programs for seniors (100% offer) or kids (74% offer) predominate, well within the mission of these types of organizations.

IDEA businesses have a comparably high rate of retention within their teams, with 82% of staff staying with the business one year or longer (IDEA Fitness Industry Compensation Survey 2002). These businesses require staff to complete in-house training (65%) and are strong supporters of continuing education. It’s likely that a retained, well-educated staff develops positive relationships with clients and is prepared to keep exercise interesting and effective; member/client retention follows.

3. Efficiency Rules Space and Equipment

IDEA members pack a punch using 20,000 square feet or less. While the cost of doing business (lease, insurance, utilities, etc.) is obviously less for the small facility, small spaces still require big program development skills.

You can project how efficiently equipment is used by the mix of pieces most frequently utilized. Small, portable equipment such as stability balls, resistance tubes/bands and steps service personal training, multiple group fitness formats and postrehab. Larger stationary pieces such as treadmills and bikes are not only necessary, they are being used with the smaller pieces. Personal training, group strength training formats and combination/fusion formats are examples of how these can work together.

According to IHRSA’s 2002 Profiles of Success, health clubs with 20,000 square feet or less surpassed larger clubs in net membership growth and revenue growth. While IHRSA tracks only health clubs and IDEA tracks health clubs plus a variety of other for-profit and not-for-profit businesses, it’s likely that there is a relationship between the cost-effectiveness of a smaller space and revenue—as long as these facilities are attracting and retaining clients.

4. Programs and Equipment Go Hand-in-Hand

Particularly apparent is the relationship between equipment and programming. For some years manufacturers have hired high-level instructors to build fitness programs around their equipment. In many cases the equipment and programs have flourished (think of indoor cycling and stability balls) and the equipment has expanded beyond the inventor’s initial conception. Did you ever expect to see an indoor cycle under water or a stability ball used for Pilates?

You’ll find steps and stability balls in virtually every personal training gym as well as creating entire categories of group training. Treadmills are programmed for in-club promotions (run a marathon) as well as slowly rolling for 5 minutes of a frail adult’s first exercise walking attempts. And virtually every group fitness format, from boxing-based aerobics to sports conditioning, is built around equipment.

5. New Kids and Old Kids Play in the Neighborhood

It’s easy to get the impression that the rising stars in equipment and programs are taking over the fitness world. These new programs and equipment are vital to providing the tools and the diversity that will inspire people to fitness. But as new options rise, the tried-and-true are still players.

When you scatter newsmaking formats among the “old” programs that have been staples, you can see that all are blended together. No one program or piece of equipment dominates, yet all have a following. While an “older” class may not appear as often, talented program directors have a knack for putting a lot on a schedule.

6. Health Clubs Still Not Perceived as Health Centers

As evidenced by their names, health clubs have positioned themselves as sources for overall lifestyle change in addition to exercise. Modern marketing focuses on people who enjoy the club experience and look at facilities as a second home. Providing a broad range of activities in a comfortable environment is one approach to retaining members/ clients. Clearly, these IDEA members offer a wide variety of activities to support that stance.

But to stay on the schedule, a program/class needs participants. This survey shows that health is important, but is not yet a primary request at fitness facilities.

Where do lifestyle programs succeed? Primarily in corporate and hospital wellness programs, shadowed by the Ys and JCCs.

Opportunity Is Just Around the Corner

Where are the marketing opportunities? Your location and your population are the dictators. But consider the potential as you read through the survey data:

Promote the Popular. Look at the top 10 most frequently offered programs. Are they on your schedule? What about the equipment?

The time to promote your most popular programs is now. Leverage word of mouth to keep these flying. You may think everyone has heard of personal training and Pilates, but it’s likely many consumers have not— or are completely intimidated by the images they see in the media. Start planning now for your January- February-March campaigns.

Combination/Fusion Programs. There is still room to be unique by offering combinations of activities (yoga and Pilates, strength and cardio circuits). Fusion formats maximize equipment, too (indoor cycling and stretching).

Sports-Specific Conditioning. This niche is slowly rising, while sports clinics aren’t as popular. But here is a place where your equipment and well-trained instructors can really be put to use.

Weight Management, Nutritional Consulting. Weight management classes are not being offered the way they used to be. Why? Perhaps because old-style classes relied on lectures while more successful classes combine activity with lecture and support groups. Nutrition counseling is offered by 83% of health clubs and corporation and hospital wellness sites, followed by 71% of personal training specialists. Personal trainers are the most frequent users of nutrition analysis software (42%). Is there an opportunity here?

Fee-Based Classes. The traditional dues-paying model is expanding, as new data in the survey show, with 43% offering annual membership with additional fees for some programs. The majority (57%) charge per session or package of classes. Either way, revenue is associated directly with the program and/or equipment expense. You’ll find more details on this in an upcoming issue.

Water Fitness Programming. Swimming pools are well-utilized, with 43% having pools available and 46% offering water fitness programs (the remaining 3% is probably working in a client’s home or in community pools). Traditionally pools are utilized for group classes, but are you using them for personal training? How about sports conditioning?

Programming for Life Stages. For years IDEA contributors have referenced this opportunity. Yet classes specifically for prenatal moms, kids and seniors are not that popular. This is partially because numbers are deceptive; you can have a large number of 55-plus adults who are not in “seniors” classes.

Still, consider that projections from the United States Bureau of the Census indicate a steadily aging population led by the Baby Boomers. By the year 2010, expect nearly 79 million people aged 45 to 64 years. If you’re really into advance planning, the projection is fewer in this age group after the year 2030, but with an increase in the elderly (65+ years) as the Boomers age.

By the way, Americans older than 55 are the fastest growing age group among IHRSA club members, according to the 2002 Profiles of Success. Are you doing a good enough job of training staff in working with the issues of aging and featuring older adults in your marketing?

Don’t forget younger people. The census projections indicate that the high school population (ages 14 to 17) will grow until 2005, stabilize, then steadily increase after 2020. Same with young adults 18 to 24 years. Are your programs appealing to their interests? One way to check is to ask your younger members/clients what they want.

Completing the Circle

Ready to start visioning next year’s programs? With your dedication to reaching out to nonexercisers and success in retaining current participants, you are sure to find ways to improve.

Along the way, IDEA will provide you with more business benchmarks from the survey in upcoming issues of IDEA Fitness Manager, IDEA Health & Fitness Source and IDEA Personal Trainer. Look for:

  • programs and equipment most often offered by health clubs, personal training, corporations/ hospitals, YMCA/YWCA/JCC and group exercise

  • programs paid for separately from dues

  • average number of participants in group exercise and personal training

  • multiyear trends in programs and equipment

Working together, we can Inspire the World to Fitness.

For the latest research, statistics, sample classes, and more, "Like" IDEA on Facebook here.

Patricia Ryan, MS

IDEA Author/Presenter
Patricia Ryan is the Vice President of Education for the International Council on Active Aging, whic... more less
October 2003

© 2003 by IDEA Health & Fitness Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is strictly prohibited.

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