For the first time in 38 years, the global fitness community that is the IDEA® World Convention was not able to meet in person. Despite that, and even with every curveball this pandemic has pitched across the plate this year, the crackling energy and essential rite of gathering to share ideas and buoy each other in the toughest of times breathed fresh air into the 8,000 attendees, sponsors and presenters who attended via the ether on August 21–22.

“We have experienced a ‘lifequake’—a forceful burst of change that leads to a period of upheaval, transition and renewal,” expressed one attendee. Aptly put, but the question is, how will we use this to create and inspire innovation? How will we take this opportunity, this moment in history to reshape, rethink and rebuild our businesses by leveraging and embracing what we do have?

So stands our collective task for the months—if not years—ahead. Here, sourced from industry leaders and experts, are some well-considered perspectives that address the many challenges discussed at this year’s all-virtual World event.

Inspirational Leaders

Inspirational Leaders at 2020 World Virtual

Kyle Maynard, IDEA’s 2020 Fitness Inspiration Award recipient, set the stage for IDEA’s first-ever online convention with his unforgettable message.

Among 50 standout subject matter experts presenting at the 2-day virtual event, four keynote speakers punctuated each day’s beginning and capped each afternoon with astute, inspirational words.

Kyle Maynard: Tapping Into Adversity

Saying that these are the moments that define us, Kyle Maynard, IDEA’s 2020 Fitness Inspiration Award recipient, set the stage for IDEA’s first-ever online convention with his unforgettable message. Born with a rare condition known as congenital amputation that gave him arms ending at his elbows and legs ending near his knees, Maynard described such a moment when he was ready to give up on his grueling ascent (literally a crawl) of Argentina’s Mt. Aconcagua, at 22,841 feet the highest peak in South America.

“At the end of the journey, we remember only one battle, and that’s the battle within,” Maynard said. “It’s a great metaphor for life and for right now. That battle, that force of will is always there. We’re usually far more capable than we feel we’re able. Tap into your inner spirit to reach the summit. Be grateful for the challenges and opportunities and adversities we’re having. These are the moments that help us find our personal why.”

Chrissy King: Racism Is a Public Health Issue

2020 will be remembered for far more than the coronavirus pandemic—it’s also been a year when social justice has risen to the top of the headlines, demanding our attention. IDEA World Virtual met that demand head-on with topics that impact our industry and our daily lives, including Chrissy King’s inspiring keynote, “Creating Inclusivity in the Fitness Space.”

“Racism is a public health issue,” she explained. “The [fitness] industry needs to be a part of the solution.” Three insights from this aspirational presentation:

  • The difference between diversity (the range of human differences) and inclusion (when the inherent worth and dignity of all people are encouraged): “Diversity is about quantity,” King said. “Inclusion is about quality.”
  • Honest self-reflection is key. “We aren’t always conscious of the stereotypes and assumptions we are keeping.”
  • Being part of the solution involves education, leaning into the discomfort, fostering accountability, seeking to diversify our social and professional circles, and making an ongoing commitment to the work.

Michael Mantell, PhD: Becoming a Behavioral Health Spotter

COVID-19 has exposed many additional behavioral health concerns for fitness professionals to deal with, both personally and professionally. Michael Mantell, PhD, author of The Link is What You Think (CreateSpace 2017), calls this a stress test of sorts. “For the general public, the mental health effects of COVID-19 are as essential to address as the physical health effects,” he says. “And for the 1 in 5 who already have mental health conditions—or the 1 in 2 who are at risk of developing them—fitness professionals can certainly become better equipped to take measures now to help address them.”

Peter Twist, MSc: Know Your Game Plan

In “Powerful Me! The Strategies, Mindset and Actions of the Most Successful,” industry veteran Pete Twist rallied attendees to choose a mindset of resilience and creativity—not just to survive, but to thrive. Speaking from experience, including a major life setback with stage 4 head and neck cancer some years ago, Twist drew from his battle back from illness and his grit to recover to craft a hopeful and uplifting message. Collectively, in the wilderness of the pandemic, we find ourselves in uncharted country. But Twist’s example coached attentive mindsets and marked the slippery places we usually create in our own minds.

Todd Durkin, MA: Finding the Miracle in the Storm

To close the event, Todd Durkin literally “showed up” in person at IDEA’s San Diego headquarters wearing his trademark “Get Your Mind Right” gray hoodie and bedecked with 100 pounds of lifting chains. He exhaled his fiery, inspiring message to mark the toughest 6 months this industry and its pros have ever known.

“Perhaps you’re down. Perhaps you’re tired. Perhaps you feel like you’ve got chains around your neck. Perhaps you feel like you’re at the bottom of the mountain and you don’t know if you’re going to survive. . . . Today, my friend, we’re going to take off the chains,” he said. “Today, we’re going to have a little fun in what may be the most important time of our life.” Right now, he said, “the world needs the best life transformers that exist. . . . We need to be operating in the upper 1% of the world. . . .There’s a light in each and every one of you, and it’s a choice to turn the light on. You can flip the switch. Get it right, get it tight and get your mind right!”

IDEA World Club & Studio Summit

Diversity Strengthens Leadership

As issues of inequality and injustice become more visible in our country, diversity and inclusion have risen to the top of the priority list for business owners. Francesca Schuler, MA, illustrated how proactively addressing these concerns to increase diversity improves a company, its leadership and its positive impact on the people it serves. She focused on the importance of inclusive practices. The goal? Aim to reflect the diversity of the community and the world, and create a work environment in which all team members are treated fairly, have equal access to resources and can contribute to the company’s success.

How to Retain Clients Forever

Drawing on their significant and diverse experience as fitness business leaders, Sheldon McBee, MS, Billy Polson, and Matt Wright, MS, enriched viewers with tried-and-true retention tips:

  • Offer the ultimate concierge service to match clients with their ideal trainers. “Celebritize” clients by putting them in a gorgeous, glowing spotlight.
  • Have excellent systems in place, but do not “oversystematize” your intake process. Keep the human-to-human connection strong. Meet new clients where they are.
  • Pre-frame the experience for these clients. What will their journey look like in the first 30, 60, 90 and 120 days? This window is crucial for establishing behaviors that can lead to lifetime client retention.

Using Technology to Improve Client Health and Fitness

Trevor Wittwer

Trevor Wittwer emphasized how a smart “tech stack” can improve your coaching.

As technology quickly forces change in the fitness industry, fit pros can turn this to their advantage by finding new ways to connect with clients. Trevor Wittwer illustrated how a smart mix of products in your “tech stack” can improve coaching and client success. Underpinning his strategy are the three main goals of coaching: accountability, connection and education. When evaluating technology, trainers can ask, “Will it provide accountability, will it create connection with my clients, and will it allow me to educate them better?”

We are grateful to My PT Hub for being the IDEA World Virtual 2020 Club & Studio Summit Elite Sponsor.

Nutrition & Behavior Change Summit

Maggie Moon

Maggie Moon, MS, RD, explained why brain nutrition is more essential than ever.

The Nutrition and Mental Health Connection

Long before Maggie Moon, MS, RD, reached the end of this inspiring session, attendees were sold on brain water. A new product on the market? Nope. Just plain water, yet so good for the brain, which is itself about 75% H2O.

With depression and anxiety sharply rising during the pandemic, brain nutrition is more essential than ever. Constant stress can damage the hippocampus, causing short-term memory loss, among other things. Mood-regulating neurotransmitters—serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine—are affected by what we eat. All this points to the need to maintain as nutritious a diet as possible during times of crisis.

Many thanks to ZonePerfect, our Title Lifestyle Nutrition Sponsor and Nutrition & Behavior Change Elite Sponsor.

No Sweat: Selling Exercise So People Want to Keep Buying It

If your clients sometimes seem to be adrift, Michelle Segar, PhD, knows why, explaining that the big, long-term goal they set for themselves can feel like an island in the distance. “We give people binoculars, and then we give them a boat [like an indoor cycling class or a strength program]. . . . When they leave the shore, they are so motivated,” she explained. But then she pointed out that binoculars make things seem closer than they are, and people give up. Better, says research, to work on small steps (“everything counts”) and focus on achievable—and fun—experiences with a “31 flavors” movement menu. Helping people frame activity in terms of “What experience do I want right now?” leads to sustainability and long-term success.

The Psychology of Weight Loss: Ditch the Diet for Long-Term Success

The obstacles to sustainable fat loss are complex. Eliza Kingsford, MA, LPC, C-EFT, NET, expertly detailed the unconscious weight control mechanisms that interfere with clients’ progress, including leptin resistance, the body’s stress response to calorie restriction and emotional struggles. To help clients navigate these issues, Kingsford outlined ways to change the narrative around food and dieting from “punishment and restriction to intention and empowerment.”

BLAME: Client Excuses for Not Exercising and Solutions to Retrain Their Behaviors

It all sounds uncomfortably familiar: People charge their lack of success to, well, anybody but themselves. Rick Richey, PhD, highlighted ways trainers can help clients recognize and overcome reasons for failure so they are better equipped to succeed. He shared a bonanza of research-based and practical tips, including these three:

  • The perceived cause of failure (what people blame) may be more important than the actual cause.
  • The art is to guide clients to focus on things they can control—and help them discover these areas of internal focus with patience and compassion.
  • Reframing goals to minimize excuses and help clients learn more self-efficacy is key.

Personal Trainer Symposium

The Most Effective Way to Customize Programs and Choose the Best Exercises for Every Client

Lee Burton, PhD, co-founder of Functional Movement Systems, laid out why personal trainers need to do more—or sometimes less—than start their clients on an exercise program. “The trick,” he said, “is to give the best advice you can for the individual today, because your advice on something that clients may be doing in their lifestyle may have a bigger impact than an exercise.” Just moving is not necessarily the answer: “Exercise in and of itself is creating problems if you’re not doing it correctly.” You may need to tackle nutrition habits, breathing, poor sleep or stress levels before you even get into exercise. “I’m still talking here about designing a fitness program, but it’s a health and fitness program.”

Designing and Delivering Effective Online Personal Training Sessions

Trevor Wittwer

Kenneth Miller gave helpful cuing tips and highlighted simple tricks.

What better way to teach online training than by modeling training techniques for attendees? Kenneth Miller, MS, brought his content to life from inside his own gym, giving attendees (virtual) hands-on experience with demonstrations and cuing examples. He discussed 2-D versus 3-D training and how to adjust vantage points in personal training sessions. For group fitness classes, he highlighted simple tricks like eliminating distractions and engaging with students to improve the experience. In addition to specific tips, Miller’s key takeaway was to seek the best strategies to help guide clients through online training. “My job is to put my client in a position of success,” he said.

After the Injury: Functional Training Periodization

How do you help clients safely bridge the space between post-rehabilitation and getting back to where they once were? While scope of practice is always important, Susane Pata quoted John Wooden, former UCLA head coach, in an effort to encourage personal trainers to be more confident: “Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.”

Group Fitness Symposium

Kia Williams

Kia Williams, MS, delivered a high-energy presentation on creating thriving group fitness communities both in person and online.

Creating a Passionate and Loyal Community In and Out of the Group Ex Studio

With a winning combination of intellectual smarts and big-hearted generosity, master trainer and business consultant Kia Williams, MS, delivered a high-energy presentation on creating thriving group fitness communities both in person and online. The essential theme? How do you make your participants feel? What is the vibe, the mood, that your services evoke before, during and after sessions?

Williams has thought deeply about community and how fitness pros create it. Her own mission is to support people “marginalized in job education, in health care and [through] lack of representation in the fitness industry. . . . Stakeholders at any level of involvement should feel they are welcomed, appreciated and supported—and also recognized,” she said. “Do our consumers feel seen and heard?”

Progressive Programming for Active Aging

“Just because you see it on YouTube, [it] doesn’t make it right,” said Leslee Bender, 2020 IDEA Personal Trainer of the Year, as she discussed the plethora of misinformation that clients may see. Bender demonstrated how to successfully  navigate classes for older clients with strategies and techniques based on applied functional exercise. Using the power of six (6 reps/6 feet apart), she also offered six goals for the group ex instructor: Inspire, encourage, enlighten, embrace, be empathic and make the change. “Movement and wellness heal us,” she said, “and help us make a better world.”

How to Lead Unforgettable In-Person and Virtual Group Fitness Classes

With virtual training on the rise, Tricia Murphy Madden’s session was an invaluable resource for fit pros. Her session covered both the technological and teaching aspects of virtual group fitness. She reminded attendees to ask themselves thoughtful questions when recruiting staff to teach virtual group fitness classes: “Are they dynamic for the camera? Are they part of the community, and have they taught these people before?” She also covered important cuing tips, including cultivating self-confidence, finding your ticks and repetitive words, and encouraging people to participate on video. Look for a feature story by Madden on this topic in the January-February 2021 issue of Fitness Journal.

Future of Group Fitness: Strategies for the Group Fitness Instructor

Group fitness took a huge hit this year, with gym closures leaving many instructors concerned for the future. Veteran instructors and entrepreneurs Stacey Seward Vandiver and Krista Popowych shared action plans meant to help instructors thrive. Main themes included thinking outside the box; keeping a positive mindset and focusing on solutions, including acquiring new skills; connecting with a support system; and assessing how current skills can be leveraged for marketability in a new business landscape. “Disruptions lead to important transitions,” Vandiver said. “Make no mistake: Fitness enthusiasts are missing you and want to work out with you again.”

Effective Coaching, Cueing and Communication for Unforgettable In-Person and Virtual Classes

Clear communication is a primary skill that all group fitness instructors must have if they’re going to be effective at leading a group of diverse individuals. Matrix master trainer Steve Barrett shared best practices he has learned over the years, along with new ones stimulated by the pandemic and the need to shift to online classes. Among many actionable tips, Barrett called out four common denominators that help instructors successfully communicate to participants: Give them a reason to care; give them a reason to believe; tell them what they need to know; and tell them what to do (a call to action).

Online Business Academy

The Innovative Fitness Pro: Top Tech Strategies for Business Success

“We are past survival; we are in ‘What’s next?’” Following the profound shift in the fitness industry due to COVID-19, Shannon Fable underscored the importance of remaining adaptive and resilient. Her session explained how fit pros can assess their technology needs and find products to meet these needs. She suggested that the technological shift in fitness presents a prime opportunity to decrease the cost of service while increasing value and gaining more clients. Her approach emphasized a “full-scale solution” that adapts to technology and provides services based on client needs, rather than merely transferring current offerings to an online format. She also encouraged securing a client base with her 5 E’s: enticements, events, exposure, e-options and experience.

The Online Business Roadmap: How to Build a Million-Dollar Online Business

Vito La Fata

Vito La Fata gave tips from his own experience running a successful online coaching business.

If owning his own winery in Temecula and having enough time to relax there with his spouse and child isn’t sufficient to make you curious about fitpreneur Vito La Fata’s business acumen, then maybe knowing that he’s walked in the shoes of many exercise pros will do the trick. La Fata used to be a 60-hour-a week offline trainer and then, as a studio owner, worked a brutal schedule after landing in serious debt during the 2009 recession. That’s when he told himself that there must be another way. Now CEO of The Visionary Planner®, La Fata runs a hugely successful online coaching business helping others to do the same.

Why is online the place to be? “You are not limited any more by geography or zip code, you can go and find the exact people that you want, and you can serve at the highest levels that you ever imagined in whatever niche and space,” he said. To make that happen, “you need to be a true expert. General coaching—that’s dead online, because the information is easily available and free. So what’s the true expertise that you have?”

Rock Your Online Courses and Classes

This accessible and down-to-earth session demystified the potentially daunting task of creating your own online course and classes. According to Sadie Nardini, she sells about 1,000 courses a day and has a thriving subscription channel, which she does on a minimal budget and with a small team. She’s a big advocate for online classes due to their reach. “Digital offerings can help us reach millions more people with less energy output,” Nardini said. How does she do it? She advocates for “asymmetrical return,” which is essentially doing a lot of work on the front end in order to see big returns over time. This will enable you to have passive income that will push you past the six-figure mark, she said.

How to Expand and Grow Your Personal Training Client Base

Phil Carr, CEO, My PT Hub, pulled from his early success in business to present timely, effective strategies for personal trainers to expand their client base. He began by sharing the “four P’s of business:” passion, people, problem and product. From this foundation, he told attendees that, although the industry appears to be in the middle of a potential sea of change, the opportunity for growth is still alive, in particular by starting a membership program; learning to love digital products like webinars, classes and workshops; and sticking to the bread and butter of one-on-one training.

How to Build an Online Personal Training Studio

Online training was a popular topic this year, with many pros still questioning what to offer and how to deliver their products. Lewis Agnew provided illuminating answers. The top focus was identifying training services and products. Agnew explained how to meet different clients’ needs by creating different levels and types of offerings, such as one-on-one training, online classes, online products that provide a service for a set period of time (e.g., an 8-week fat loss program), and a membership option that keeps clients coming back. He also covered the importance of marketing to keep clients accountable and in touch, including “drip feed” content that provides useful information, like dietary advice, workouts or e-book content.

IDEA World Virtual Fitness & Nutrition Expo

Imagine all the information and inspiration from the very best expo. You get samples, one-on-one time with industry experts, and the chance to see the latest and greatest in equipment and tech. Now, imagine you’re doing all of that whenever it’s convenient, at your own pace and, well, in your pjs, if you want!

That was the fun of the IDEA World Virtual Expo Hall—both online and on point, making for a personalized (and, frankly,) amazing crowd-free expo experience. The “main hall” was a great place to peruse more than a dozen booths, and it was fun and easy to chat with the company reps for a personalized experience. Plus, there was more to explore, including these very real information sources:

  • Nutrition & Behavior Change Row, sponsored by ZonePerfect®, offered food for thought (and great discounts on nutrition products, too).
  • In Club & Studio Row, sponsored by My PT Hub, attendees got to experience some of the best tech tools in the business, all designed with an eye toward providing what people need as we reframe our post-pandemic plans.
  • IDEA, Oxygen and Yoga Journal Hall highlighted information on the values of membership and our exclusive insurance plans.
  • The Virtual Swag Bag included 12 fabulous offers.
  • The MEGA Circuit, sponsored Lifestyle Nutrition Sponsor ZonePerfect® and My PT Hub, offered a heart-pounding exercise experience that included 12 short workouts—mixing cardio and strength training—each from a different leading fitness organization.

IDEA Fitness Awards Ceremony

Get out your tissues: The IDEA World Fitness Awards, this year sponsored by My PT Hub, always leaves us with a tear or two. Learn more about the award recipients’ stories (and those of the other amazing finalists) in the September-October issue of Fitness Journal and even see their acceptance speeches in full. Meanwhile, congratulations to these extraordinary fitness pros:

Tricia Murphy Madden, IDEA 2020 Fitness Leader of the Year
Leslee Bender, IDEA 2020 Personal Trainer of the Year
Jeffrey Scott, IDEA 2020 Fitness Instructor of the Year

Kyle Maynard, IDEA 2020 Fitness Inspiration Award recipient

See also: IDEA World 2020 Fitness Awards


We are already planning 2021 IDEA World Convention as a live event, so save the dates today. See you July 7–11 in Anaheim, California.