Go for the Gold

by April Durrett on May 01, 2003

Build stronger athletes— and businesses—with innovative sports conditioning programs.

Success in a sport is often achieved by excelling in the necessary skills. Although practice itself improves proficiency, athletes also need to develop strength, agility, coordination and endurance. In many cases, school coaches don’t have time to train these skills and nonprofessional adult athletes don’t always know how to develop them. That’s where fitness professionals come in.

Clients are finding that fitness professionals can help them strengthen sports skills, gain a competitive edge and prevent injuries. Whereas some clients can afford personal trainers, others cannot. That’s why group sports conditioning programs are popular. In fact, 55 percent of IDEA member businesses offer sport- specific training and 33 percent offer sports clinics, according to the 2002 IDEA Fitness Programs and Equipment Survey.

What types of programs are professionals offering? How can you develop similar programs? When is a program a hit versus a miss? Fitness professionals who specialize in sports conditioning share their insights. ‰

Group Training Classes

Creating classes for the group schedule is one way to offer sports conditioning programs.

Speed Agility Conditioning Training (SACT). At the Seattle Athletic Club-Downtown in Seattle, Washington, fitness director Aron Branam, CSCS, teaches SACT from noon to 1 o’clock on Mondays and Fridays. The class is free for members. “I mix up what we do every time. Depending on the day, the class is a different combination of agility, plyometrics and speed work,” he says. “Sometimes we go outside the studio and utilize indoor stairways and our running track. About 50 percent of participants are athletes who want to improve their sports skills; the rest just like this type of workout. We offer the class only twice a week, to prevent overtraining.”

Phenomenal Reactive Sports Conditioning. At F.I.T: Innovative Fitness in Bethesda, Maryland, owner and president Robert Sherman periodically teaches a weekly athletic circuit training class. He puts the class on the schedule for 1 or 2 months four times a year. “I take the old paradigm of sports conditioning—[with moves] such as leaping, bounding and jumping—and mix it with exercises that work core and shoulder stability,” he says. “I change the emphasis every session. One time it might focus on balance and stability with an intense cardio workout. Another time it might revolve around exercises that promote rotation.”

Like the rest of Sherman’s programs, participants pay per class. (There is no membership fee.) Setting up the equipment takes 10 to 15 minutes, so Sherman schedules a break after the previous class. Newcomers are asked to arrive early so he can educate them about the setup.

Adult Sports Conditioning Programs

Other businesses schedule programs as specialty classes/workshops apart from the group schedule.

Triathlon Training. At the Ottawa Athletic Club in Ottawa, Ontario, the Triumph Club is a free, daytime triathlon conditioning program offered in 3-month sessions. Participants—mostly women—meet Monday mornings from 9:15 to 11:00 am to work on running and strength training and Tuesday afternoons to improve swimming skills. They do group cycling workouts and further weight training on their own. Coaching, lectures and dietitian services are included, as is a uniform that promotes “Team Triumph” and the club. Participants receive e-mail workout plans each week.

The program was created to provide an alternative on Monday mornings. “Our high-low class was packed with 70 regulars. Teaching the class was stressful for instructors, and participants were not cross training,” says fitness director Lisa Refausse. “At first, no one thought these members would want to train for a triathlon. We had 25 people show up for the first session, and it’s been one of our best programs since it started in January 2002.”

Bicycling. The Century Training Program at the Cascade Athletic Club in Gresham, Oregon, is for people training for 100-mile rides. Participants do half-hour strength sessions Tuesdays and Thursdays for a 6-week period in the spring. The sessions, scheduled from 5:30 to 6:00 pm, are designed to complement the cycling classes at 4:30 and/or 6:30 pm. “The goal is to take participants’ training to the next level,” says Danielle Ford, fitness coordinator. “If they can commit to a 3-hour block on Tuesday and Thursday, they can participate in a well-rounded program by taking two cycling classes and weight training work.” The program, which has a four-person minimum, costs $85 for members and $110 for nonmembers.

Running. In Greenwich, Connecticut, Tom Holland’s clients participate in 6-week TeamHolland Running Camps. Sessions take place twice weekly at 6:00 am in any kind of weather. The clinics sometimes have as many as 20 people, other times as few as two. Many participants are women in their 40s, 50s and 60s who are just getting back into fitness. The program is tailored to beginners through advanced runners. Holland teaches drills to improve running skills and gives individualized assignments based on participants’ detailed exercise histories and goals. The program includes a training schedule and the ability to call or e-mail Holland anytime with questions. Cost for the first 6-week camp is $125; it goes down to $75 for the next session and is $50 per session after that.

Multiple Sports. Sports conditioning programs are also well received in corporate fitness environments. Yvan Miklin, president of Aquila Fitness Consulting Systems Ltd. in Miami Beach, Florida, says his company frequently runs cycling, running, golf or baseball conditioning programs. In these 6-week programs, a maximum of 10 participants work out in a weight room and/or studio setting, depending on space constraints. Participants pay $75 to $100 if their company subsidizes the cost; otherwise, they pay $150 to $200.

Miklin’s company also offers sport-specific small-group training for two or three participants. The cost per person is $45 to $55 per hour for a two-person program and $30 to $45 for a three-person program.

Youth Sports Conditioning Programs

Kids and teens also flock to sports conditioning programs, often at the urging of parents.

Football. Personal trainer Keith Dickey, owner of Body Energy in Rockville, Maryland, teaches sports conditioning programs for teens. These sessions, often conducted at local high schools, usually have six to 12 participants. This past summer, Dickey worked with football players who met twice a week at 9:30 am for a 6-week period. “We did wind sprints, stair climbing, plyometrics and stair climbing,” he says.

If he trains more than 10 kids, Dickey will bring in other trainers to help set up equipment and make sure the players are exercising safely. To run the session, he requires a minimum of six kids. The cost is $10 per person.

Tennis. Personal trainer Bethany Diamond teaches tennis training in the water for junior-level elite tennis players at the Universal Tennis Academy in Marietta, Georgia. Participants take an hourlong shallow-water class twice a week for 6 weeks. “We work on speed and agility, quick changes of direction, plyometrics, endurance and interval training, and stroke production,” says Diamond. “For stroke production, players use water fitness paddles (handheld water resistance devices), progress to unstrung tennis racquets and, ultimately, [advance to] strung tennis racquets. We also use other equipment, such as tether sets.”

Players pay $12 for a single workout, but $10 per session if they take the entire course. Diamond requires a minimum of eight kids per group and runs the classes throughout the spring and summer, taking breaks for vacations and tournaments.

Speed, Agility and Quickness (SAQ). At the Cascade Athletic Club, kids who take SAQ group programs work on speed, agility, quickness, power, acceleration, vertical jump, self-esteem, eye-hand coordination, lateral movement, explosiveness and stamina. The difficulty level progresses over the 8-week program, which is offered twice in the spring. SAQ programs are held Mondays and Wednesdays from 3:30 to 4:00 pm for 8-to-12-year-olds and 4 to 4:30 pm for 13-to-18-year-olds. Members pay $56, nonmembers $73.

Benefits for Clients

Both youth and adults cite the results they see as the main reason they enjoy sports conditioning programs.

Adults. Branam’s athlete participants appreciate his class because it has developed their agility and given them a different training outcome. Participants in the Triumph Club love its effect on their bodies. “The club has taken average-fit, middle-aged women and turned them into machines,” says Refausse.

Teens. Parents are very interested in their kids’ sports performance. “SAQ training benefits athletes, but not many school coaches address it,” says Ford. “After kids take our SAQ program, we get testimonials from parents who have seen a tremendous difference in their kids’ coordination, balance and strength.”

At the Universal Tennis Academy, the tennis pros and players were amazed at the improvements after 6 weeks. One teen said, “For the first time in 5 years, I wasn’t last when we did [land] sprints!” Another said, “I felt lighter on my feet [on land] and more able to get to balls I might not have been able to reach otherwise.”

Benefits for Business

Sports conditioning programs also prove valuable to fitness facilities and personal training businesses.

Programs Bring in Revenue. Although Ottawa Athletic Club doesn’t charge for its Triumph Club triathlon training, the program does generate revenue indirectly. “We just sold two memberships to people who joined the club to become part of the Triumph Club. While we aren’t earning direct revenue from the program, each new membership brings in $600 to $900 [Canadian] per year.”

Sports conditioning programs earn extra money for Dickey. “The main focus of my business is training adults ages 35 to 45,” he says. “However, during the summer many clients go on vacation. By teaching these sports conditioning programs during the summer, I earn extra income at a time when I really need it. I’ve also found the sports programs serve as a feeder for my personal training services.”

Programs Increase Member Retention. Refausse feels the Triumph Club has increased member retention because previously frustrated members are now cross training and attaining their fitness goals. “People who had just been taking aerobics classes found they got results through the Triumph Club,” she says. “Members are happy, and the club is getting exposure because they’re participating in triathlons in uniforms with our logo. We’re getting a lot of publicity.”

Branam also thinks his class aids in member retention. “We have tons of mind-body and step classes, but nothing like our SACT class. It fills a niche.”

Programs Increase Trainer Retention. “We have only so many 1-hour slots in a day for trainers to fill,” says Ford. “Trainers can get paid more money for less time by training groups in sports skills, and this makes them happy. I’m also not having to continually increase their hourly rates.”

Promoting the Programs

Highly visible programs attract participants. In addition to facility newsletters, member e-mails and flyers, sources recommend these methods for promoting your programs:

Educate People. “Don’t just put sports conditioning programs on the schedule and expect people to flock to them,” warns Miklin. “They need to understand how weight training and conditioning can improve their performance. You may want to run free, informal 30- or 45-minute talks to educate them.”

Work With Sports Pros. Talk up the programs to any sports pros who work at your facility. “Let them know how your programs can improve players’ sports,” says Ford. “The right pro can make your program by referring his clients. Be sure to reward the pro for referrals. You might even give him a 10 percent cut off the top.” Offering discounts to athletes who participate in sports leagues—inside or outside your facility—is another option.

Approach Key Decision Makers/Influencers. Talk to prominent athletes in your facility or training business to promote the program. Their excitement can get others on board. “I talked to a member who is the assistant football coach for a high-school team,” says Dickey. “We worked out a deal where his kid could take the football conditioning program for free if the coach could get six other kids to participate—and he did.”

Tips for Success

Here are some tips on creating a program that attracts and retains participants:

Research What’s Hot. “Go to other facilities’ Web sites and see what types of programs pop up time after time,” suggests Ford. “You’ll start to see similarities in popular programs. Keep these in mind when creating your own.”

Survey Members. Ford also advises asking members what programs they want and how much they are willing to pay, if anything.

Offer a Variety. While some businesses successfully offer general sports conditioning classes, at other facilities managers think it’s best to offer a variety. “Don’t try to pile up all sorts of sports into one program,” suggests Miklin.

Consider Space Constraints. Take a realistic look at how much space a potential program needs. “Don’t run a speed and agility class if you don’t have room for it. For example, you wouldn’t want to squeeze a program into the weight room when there’s not much space. Other members using the weight room would be annoyed,” says Ford.

Hire an Outstanding Coach. The right leader is key. “Make sure you use the best coach you can,” says Refausse. “We tried to run programs with coaches who were only mediocre and they didn’t do well.”

Branam feels his background as a university strength and conditioning coach brings value to his program. “I like speed and agility work because I do it myself when training for rugby,” he says. “I could be a running coach, but I wouldn’t be good at it because I don’t have a passion for it.”

Gear Programs to Different Ability Levels. If you want to appeal to as many people as possible, keep beginners and advanced people in mind. “If you’re not meeting clients’ needs, they won’t stay,” says Holland. “Fit participants won’t stay if they feel like they are not getting their money’s worth, and beginners don’t want to embarrass themselves or hold other people back.”

Developing the Champion Within

As long as there are athletes, and people who aspire to become athletes, there will be a need for safe and effective sports conditioning programs. The key is to market them creatively and offer them at a price the market will bear, taking into account the economy’s condition at the time. The more success people of all fitness levels experience, the more likely they will be to spread the word about your program—and business—and bring more clients to your doorstep.

IDEA Health Fitness Source, Volume 2004, Issue 5

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About the Author

April Durrett

April Durrett IDEA Author/Presenter

April Durrett is a contributing editor for IDEA Fitness Journal.