Secrets of Spa Fitness
Discover innovative spa concepts you can implement in the traditional fitness facility.
One of the largest trends in the wellness movement is the emergence of spas around the globe. Today’s evolved spa offers a plethora of self-care modalities, including body treatments, nutritional approaches to wholesome eating, educational platforms ranging from guided meditation to stress management, and fitness components. More often than not, the fitness components prove distinctively different from their counterparts at traditional facilities.
By learning about unique aspects of spa-based fitness that you can apply to nonspa environments, you can differentiate your fitness facility from the competition.
As a spa consultant, I like to suggest that clients think of “SPA” as an acronym: S for “school,” P for “palace” and A for “abode.”
School. Spas serve as places to “school” guests in locations such as classrooms, kitchens and outdoor spaces. The programming is designed to engage the mind in learning something life-changing in addition to working the physical body.
Palace. Spas create an opulent experience. Staff treat guests as royalty by paying outstanding attention to detail—for example, by offering water, decaffeinated green tea and/or sliced fruit after exercise. This royal experience extends to fitness classes and private exercise sessions; candles, lighting, aromatherapy and carefully chosen background music create an elegant environment.
Abode. Spas help guests feel that they are in a comfortable abode. There is an effort to create a “homey” feeling in lots of little ways, from offering robes and comforters in waiting rooms to scenting all spa areas (including the gym floor!) with hints of aromatherapy, to providing hospitable amenities like fruit bowls, newspapers, and toiletries in the locker rooms.
Karla Overturf is a group fitness instructor with both spa and traditional fitness experience. “At Sierra Fitness [a fitness facility] . . . I teach ‘classes,’ but at Canyon Ranch [a spa] I create ‘experiences.’ We don’t welcome ‘members,’ but ‘guests.’ We greet them like in a palace with a slight bow, hands folded in prayer position, a movement reserved in the traditional environment only for yoga. The choreography at both places may be the same, but the whole approach at the spa encompasses total wellness.”
Like traditional fitness facilities, spas create both mission and vision statements. However, spas go a step further by generating statements for each department. A mission statement explains what the facility is about today in terms of wellness, and a vision statement shows where it wants to move toward tomorrow.
One of the spa director’s missions is to coordinate the statements of different departments so that they all flow together instead of merely coexisting. “Our spa’s group fitness, personal training, movement therapy and nutrition departments not only possess their own mission statements, but these complement the missions of our treatment, retail, and food and beverage departments as well,” says Blake Feeney, spa director for Canyon Ranch SpaClub at the Venetian Las Vegas. “We reflect our mission in all areas, including music, aromatherapy, equipment, uniforms and terminology. [We also] standardize class and personal training introductions.”
Introductions and conclusions to classes and personal training sessions are key to the success of the spa. (See the sidebar “Sample Spa Introduction and Conclusion.”) Instructors and trainers use memorized scripts that support the spa’s mission and vision statements. Furthermore, using the scripts boosts revenue by promoting complementary wellness services, including food, treatments and products. After a particularly intense core-training experience, an instructor may recommend a complementary (but not complimentary!) “core massage,” or a trainer may conclude a mind-body personal training session by using aromatherapy facial spray that is sold in the retail outlets. Cross-promoting the mission is the spa norm.
Interconnecting the missions of different departments starts at hiring. Managers hire staff members for their versatility. Consequently, spas usually have more cross-trained and cross-utilized staff than at traditional fitness facilities. This strategy can boost sales. “I get my guests from massages to join me in fitness classes, and from there I usually get personal training clients as well,” says Deanna Saraceni, massage therapist, yoga instructor and certified personal trainer at the Golden Door Spa in Fajardo, Puerto Rico.
The overall effect of the interconnectedness of departments at a spa is that every department assists other departments with promotion and sales. This rarely occurs in traditional fitness facilities, where departments seem to run independently.
Spa guests usually have one expectation: expect something different. Generally, since guests almost completely disrobe for most treatments, their guard has to be down. “The resulting advantage to spa group exercise and personal training is that guests are open to . . . experiences they may not try outside of our sanctuary, so they really cross-train and learn things that help them change their lives in a positive way,” says Deborah Puskarich, group exercise director for the Cooper Fitness Center and Spa at Craig Ranch in McKinney, Texas. “Regular fitness clubs can simulate this environment if they change their creative programming often so the students come to expect exciting change.”
Even without all spa amenities, you can explore some of the specific aspects of school/palace/abode fitness in an effort to make your own environment feel a bit more like a spa. You ultimately have the potential to cross-promote, cross-utilize and cross-sell all programs within your fitness facility, creating a more holistic wellness center.
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Spa terms and greetings incorporate all three of my SPA (school, palace and abode) approaches to wellness. This chart displays a few examples of the differences in philosophy—reflected in language—between traditional facilities and spas.
Traditional Terms Spa-Appropriate Terms
group fitness class experience
aerobics schedule or fitness schedule group wellness menu
personal training mind-body integrated personal training
work out work in
Traditional Comments Spa-Appropriate Comments
“Hey! Good mornin’!” “Namasté, and welcome to our sanctuary.”
“You’re welcome.” or “No problem.” “It’s my pleasure to be of service.”
“Can I help you?” “How may I offer some assistance?”
“Next!” “May I assist the next guest, please?”
“Do this.” “May I invite you to . . . .”
“Have a nice day.” “I hope that your spa experience continues with you during the rest of your day.”
“Do you want . . . ?” “May I offer you . . . ?”
“The cycle room is down there.” “Allow me to escort you. Please come with me.”
At class end: “That was great! At class end: “Today we set out to reinforce our mission here, which was to _____, I’ll see you next time!” and we achieved that by ____. If you would like to reinforce this experience more on your own time, I invite you to check out (products) in our retail area. Furthermore, as homework, I would like you to try (exercises) until we come back together for another experience.”
At class end: “Thanks for At class end: “Until we meet again, remember that the Core Massage we offer really coming to Core Class. complements this experience. The Core DVD is available at the See you next time.” spa boutique, and the Core Power Lunch was especially created to replace the carbs and electrolytes you lost here.”
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Framing the beginning and ending of a fitness class or personal training session is important to help bring the spa-type experience full circle. Here are examples of an effective introduction and conclusion.
Introduction. “Namasté, and welcome to _______ (name of class). My name is _______, and today the mission of our class will be to _______ (insert main purpose[s] here). At _______ (facility) we strive to _______ (insert mission/vision here), and I’d like to remind you that fitness is not a competition but an exciting experience in movement. While we are paying attention to the outer adult, I also invite you to connect in some way with your inner child and to rediscover who that child is. Is anybody new to this class format? I will almost always show you ways to make movements easier (called “regressions”) and more intense (“progressions”). [If appropriate, explain perceived exertion.] At the end of this experience, the ultimate question will be, ‘Did you create for yourself the intensity you needed today?’ Any questions?”
Conclusion. “Thanks for joining me in this experience. If you enjoyed this, there are DVDs in our boutique that will allow you to take the experience home with you. We set out to _______ (restate purpose and/or mission), and you worked really hard to achieve just that mind-body connection. Some of our body treatments that really complement this experience are _______. For nutrition, we recommend _______ (food and beverage/juice bar suggestions). I look forward to playing with your inner child in other experiences here. Namasté.”
Certifications: ACE, ACSM, AEA, AFAA, NASM less
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