8th Annual 2003 IDEA Fitness Programs & Equipment Survey

by Sandy Todd Webster on Oct 01, 2003

Survey Respondents

The demographics of the businesses where the respondents work.

  • According to industry definitions, "multipurpose" health clubs have a fitness facility and racquet courts. "Fitness-only" health clubs have fitness (group exercise and/or fitness center with equipment), but no racquet courts. Either type of club may have a swimming pool or gymnasium.
  • Respondents were 36% owners, 10% general managers, 17% fitness directors, 11% program directors, 4% personal training directors and 11% group fitness directors/coordinators. The rest had a variety of titles.

Customer Profile

  • Percentages in this section are likely the respondents’ estimates or observations. Respondents may not have had reference data.

  • The estimated percentages do not equal 100% because of rounding.

Facility Facts
  • 43% have a swimming pool available for fitness classes.
  • 64% sell products or have a pro shop.
  • 87% offer classes and programs to attract the inactive or new exerciser.
  • 72% of clients stay with the business 1 year or longer.

How to Read the Numbers

The percentage (%) reflects the number of survey respondents who answered yes to a given survey question. All percentages have been rounded up at .5 and down at .4. Except for demographic information, percentages do not necessarily total 100, because of multiple responses.

The mean, or average, is all of the answers added together and then divided by the number of respondents. An average can be influenced by extremely high and extremely low numbers. In some cases, the extremely high and extremely low responses were eliminated to present a more accurate number.

The median is the midpoint, where half of the respondents answered above and half answered below. A median is useful because, unlike an average, it is not influenced by high and low extremes.


In June and July 2003, three e-mails were sent to IDEA business and program director members who gave IDEA permission to contact them. Respondents linked to a Web-based survey; 276 completed questionnaires for a 17% response rate. At a 95% confidence level, the margin of error is +/– 5.4%.


  • Large stationary equipment is frequently and consistently offered.

  • After a rapid rise, elliptical trainers are plateauing, having achieved usage in 75% of facilities.

  • The smaller, portable pieces of equipment continue to climb in use. Stability balls, weighted bars and yoga mats have become peers to the pervasive free weights, resistance tubing and steps.

  • Equipment and programs are increasingly intertwined. The prevalence of indoor cycles and stability balls are comparable to the programs that utilize them. Weighted bars and resistance bands/tubing are typically used in group strength classes. Both large stationery pieces and small, portable items can be found in formats such as circuits or sports conditioning.

  • Computer software has entered the fitness scene, but is still finding a niche. It is too early to tell how this category will prevail over the next few years.

Programs and Activities

  • Programs that are growing, such as yoga, Pilates and postrehab, are highly dependent on the skill of the staff. These offerings may be impacted over the years by a manager’s ability to find well-qualified staff.

  • Programs for specific populations such as seniors, kids or postrehab, tend to be highly related to local populations and business niches. For example, a kids’ program may thrive in a YMCA or JCC while a corporation or personal training gym does not even offer a kids’ program.

  • Equipment use continues to dominate the popular activities and be the base of rising stars. Considering that successful training can occur without equipment, the level of equipment use may be a reflection of a desire to continually offer clients options that maintain interest.

  • The term “combined” means that subcategories have been added together. “Personal training (combined)” adds together one-to-one, 2 clients share and small-group. “Strength training in group (combined)” includes no music, background music and choreographed to music. “Aerobics (combined)” adds together high-, low- and mixed-impact.

Financing Fitness

  • The majority of respondents work in multiple purpose or fitness-only health clubs or YMCA/YWCA/JCC sites, which traditionally use a dues model. It is interesting to see that monthly dues are a strong option.

  • Respondents writing in “payroll deduction” noted the corporate or hospital wellness location.

  • Fitness services included in tuitions or other fees was reported by university programs (“student fees”) and by a country club.

  • Who gets services for free? Write-in comments included in this category are from a military base and a kids’ gymnastics center that offers parents free fitness. Other respondents did not explain.

  • Customer retention is likely to increase when new clients/members understand how to use the gym or equipment, what to realistically expect and how to measure success. Fitness assessments and personal training can give those new to fitness a strong start to stay with a program.

  • 72% of respondents retain clients/ members for one year or longer, which indicates all these diverse payment models are working.

Programs Charging Additional Fees
  • 85% of YMCA/YWCA/JCC, 61% of multipurpose plus fitness-only health clubs and 43% of corporate fitness plus hospital wellness centers report charging annual membership dues plus separate fees for some classes or programs.
  • 97% of personal training, 68% of group exercise studio plus satellite classes, 63% “other” and 43% multipurpose plus fitness-only health clubs charge for individual session/class or package of sessions or classes.
  • Interesting to note that owners are charging extra for group strength training, no music (perhaps small classes in the weight room?), but not for group strength choreographed to music, which is often identified as a branded program. Group strength training to background music is probably occurring in the group exercise room.

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About the Author

Sandy Todd Webster

Sandy Todd Webster IDEA Author/Presenter

Sandy Todd Webster is Editor in Chief of IDEA's publications, including the award-winning IDEA FITNESS JOURNAL and IDEA FOOD & NUTRITION TIPS, the industry's leading resources for fitness, wellness and nutrition professionals worldwide. Sandy joined IDEA in 2001 as executive editor of IDEA PERSONAL TRAINER and IDEA FITNESS MANAGER magazines and was promoted to lead the editorial team in 2003. More than 20 years in magazine publishing, marketing communications and creative services have shaped her straightforward approach to multi-channel communication. Early experience in Los Angeles as a sports writer/reporter, and then enriching years as a managing editor in allied health care publishing have pulled her across a spectrum of stimulating subject matter. Fitness, health and nutrition reside at the perfect center of this content continuum, she feels. A Chicago native, Sandy grew up fully engaged in various competitive sports. Her drive and dedication as an athlete translate to a disciplined work ethic and unwavering approach to challenge in her career. Shortly after graduating journalism school from Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, she was recruited to L.A. for her first post in magazine publishing. After two decades of working on magazines--and now in the throes of applying the unbelieveable multi-media content delivery options available in the magazine 2.0 world--she is still "completely in love" with the creative process it takes to deliver meaningful, inspirational content to end users. She is an accomplished home cook and gardner who would love to combine those skills and passions with her health and fitness background to continue educating readers about a well-balanced, healthy lifestyle.