The most popular fitness classes in Israel are body conditioning, core training, stability ball, yoga, step and dance-based formats, notes Yoav Avidar, international fitness presenter from Tel Aviv, Israel, who has been working in the fitness industry for 12 years. “In general, and especially during these days of economic hardship, popular equipment-based classes are ones that use the equipment the club has!” he says. “Clubs and studios are very hesitant to buy new equipment, especially if it’s relatively expensive. Hand weights, tubing, Gliding™ discs and even stability balls are less expensive than other pieces of equipment, so [are more widely used].”
Personal training is becoming more popular as clients get to know the many advantages and benefits of it. “Club owners understand that these clients are the first to renew their club memberships, so owners encourage the personal format from their side as well,” Avidar says. “Small-group training is just starting, and it’s hard to say if it’s going to grow. It might be a solution for saving some money over one-on-one personal training.”
Why do Israelis exercise? “Two different populations participate in fitness programs,” Avidar notes. “The first is the younger crowd, up to 40 or 45 years old. Their main motivations to work out are to look better, lose weight and interact socially. The second group is people over 45, who share the same motivations as the younger crowd but also exercise to improve health and rehabilitate from injuries. Those in the older group are sometimes directed to fitness programs by doctors as part of the treatment for health issues.”
In general, Israel, as a typical Western country, suffers from inactivity and obesity, notes Avidar. “But we are one step behind the United States in taking serious steps to handle these issues. As we are a country that suffers from a daily threat to our safety, the government still gives higher priority to [national security] than to ‘less’ important issues like inactivity and obesity.”
While one of the biggest fitness club chains is trying to work with the healthcare system to initiate a program that would give active people refunds on their healthcare tax payments, this process is still in its infancy. However, Israel does take the education of fitness professionals quite seriously. “Israel has a sports law that, among other issues, deals with the certification of fitness professionals,” says Avidar. “There are no weekend certifications for group fitness or personal training. Certifications are required to be at least 240 hours long. The certifications are held as courses—not home studies—and can be taught only by institutes that earn official government recognition. This recognition is given only after [an institute has fulfilled] a long list of requirements.”
What do 2009 and beyond look like for fitness in Israel? “It’s expected to be a hard year from an economical point of view, but I believe that the fitness industry is getting hurt less than other industries,” says Avidar. “Today we see the role of physical activity as being about much more than just looks. The way fitness improves health, promotes the mind-body connection and assists us in coping with life’s challenges will help it be one of the last expenses people cut if they are reducing expenses.” n
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