So ubiquitous, and yet so difficult to catch (they aren't fast, but they can be slippery) and even harder to keep. Sure, a beginning yoga or Pilates class might lure them in, but how to get them to come back for more? That's the question that frustrates fitness professionals everywhere.
For the past 11 years, IDEA Health & Fitness Association, which represents more than 20,000 health and fitness pros worldwide, has surveyed its members on what's new and what works. The answers - from small and large health clubs, specialty studios, personal-training facilities, colleges,
Here's the bottom line: Personal training has taken over, mind-body classes rule and stability balls are everywhere.
"Eleven years ago, nobody knew what a stability ball was," says Kathie Davis, IDEA's executive director. "Since 1998, the number of clubs offering ball classes has jumped by 27 percent. That's huge."
Personal training has taken off, too, and it seems to be the thing that keeps people coming back. More than 80 percent of clubs offer one-on-one training, and nearly 70 percent also have the option to work with a trainer in small groups of two to five people. And as boomers age, the job of personal training gets more specialized and demanding all the time.
"When people meet with a personal trainer for the first time, they most likely will have some sort of injury, pre-existing condition or disease," Davis says. "Trainers need to be better and better educated to deal with those."
And what about the kids? The survey of 300 IDEA members found that there are plenty of fitness programs for under-18s, including one-on-one personal training - 60 percent of member facilities offer them. But here's the rub: Only 9 percent of health clubs say they actually have kid members.
"It has to be fun," Davis says. "People sometimes lose sight of the fact that for kids and teens, that's the most important thing. It amazes me how many adults will continue with the treadmill or whatever, and it's really not fun. They're doing it because they have to do it, but kids aren't thinking about their health. They just want it to be fun."
And the old folks just want it to be gentle, which explains the continued popularity of mind-body classes like Pilates and yoga, which emphasize slow, calm, controlled movement.
"An older marketplace doesn't need to jump up and down," says Patricia Ryan, a fitness consultant who has conducted all 11 annual surveys for IDEA. "That isn't in the interest of a person who's trying to be strong and flexible."
Here are some other things you can expect to see more or less of, according to the 2006 survey results:
• The element of fun, crucial to appealing to youths and teens, means more urban-street and hip-hop classes, now found in about 30 percent of clubs.
• Group strength training to music continues to be popular; 60 percent of clubs offer it.
• Fitness assessments, while a low-profile activity, are offered by more than 80 percent of fitness facilities.
• Traditional aerobics classes and boxing-based or kickboxing classes are on the decline.
• Exercisers can always find barbells and/or dumbbells, resistance tubing and bands and stability balls at their gyms, and the number of personal trainers and equipment- based classes probably contributes to their popularity.
• Expect to see more Pilates equipment and more elliptical trainers, which are almost as ubiquitous as treadmills.
Expect to see fewer stair climbers and upright exercycles.
• Specialized balance equipment, foam rollers and small balls are becoming popular because more fitness professionals have learned how to use them and have started using them for a variety of clients.
Here are some creative classes around town:
• Hot factor: A group exercise class with 10 minutes of intense cardio, 10 minutes of BOSU balance and cardio, 10 minutes of kickboxing, 10 minutes of stability ball and cardio stations and five minutes of intense abs.
• Where: Athletic Club at Denver Place, 303-294-9494 or www.acdp.com
• Hot factor: A one-hour class that focuses on relearning movement patterns to refine posture, improve performance, manage pain and tension, increase core stability and generally enhance health.
• Where: Athletic Club at Denver Place, 303-294-9494 or www.acdp.com
• Hot factor: Yes, the treadmill is boring. Yes, it can be fun - just add an instructor, some fellow travelers and some rockin' music and you're on the road to better fitness.
• Where: Cherry Creek Athletic Club, 303-399-3050
• Hot factor: A foot-stompin' hip-hop fest: 30 minutes of "The Grooves," which covers basic choreography, then on to more advanced steps in "The Moves." Put the moves and grooves together, and you're on Super Street. Feel like a klutz? Don't give up - that's a sure sign you're catching on.
• Where: 24 Hour Fitness, various locations.
• Hot factor: Love that Latin beat? A combo of fast and slow rhythms for interval training that doesn't feel like a workout. Lots of feel-good, easy-to- follow steps make you forget you're exercising.
• Where: Check www.zumba.com for area instructors and classes.
Here are 10 types of fitness equipment that might be coming soon to a gym, health club or rec center near you:
• Pilates equipment
• Balance trainers, disks, wobble boards, balance boards
• Elliptical trainers
• Foam rollers and small balls
• Indoor cycles for classes
• Interactive computer training programs
• Stability balls
• Yoga mats, straps and blocks
• Gyrotonic Expansion systems
• Computer workout tracking
Source: 2006 IDEA Fitness Programs & Equipment Survey
Here are some of the most happening classes from the coasts, possibly coming to a club near you soon:
• Hot factor: A stimulating, stretching, strengthening fusion of yoga, dance, gymnastics, swimming and tai chi performed using synchronized movement and breathing patterns on special machines. Hungarian Juliu Horvath created it as "Yoga for Dancers," now known as Gyrokinesis, and designed equipment that looks like something by Rube Goldberg to help facilitate.
• Hot factor: Mom said they'd ruin your feet, but heels addicts ain't giving 'em up. One answer: Crunch Fitness' Stiletto Strength, which uses 30 minutes of Pilates-ish moves to help improve posture, condition the core and strengthen the legs. Then everybody whips out stilettos for 15 minutes of high-steppin'. BYOH - bring your own heels.
Drums Alive/Golden Beats
• Hot factor: You can sit on it, stretch on it and work your core on it. But how about beating on it? Everybody gets a stability ball on a stand and two drumsticks; get out your aggression and pound the pounds away. Golden Beats is modified for older exercisers.
• Hot factor: This fun, high-intensity interval workout uses ultra-cool Flybar pogo sticks and resistance bands to increase strength - BOING!.
Strip Aerobics/The S Factor
• Hot factor: Something's coming off, and it's not your clothes. West Coast women flock to these sexy sessions: A number of variations on this theme from Carmen Electra, Tricia Murphy and Sheila Kelley peel off pounds by taking sultry, exotic dance moves to another level. Shimmy, shake and strut to work your bod and get your heart pounding. Some classes incorporate pole work, a super upper-body builder.
• Hot factor: Frustrated former high school football players might go for this skill 'n' drill session: At Crunch Fitness in New York, a former Florida State Seminoles football player teaches the class, which apparently feels a lot like preseason training camp.
Heavy Metal Survivor
• Hot factor: The '80s rule! Heavy weights paired with low reps, all done to ear-shattering, head-banging classics. Build full-body strength and lose your hearing in one workout.