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Strategy vs. Schedule, Part Three: The Fitness Class Ecosystem

Organize the fitness experiences you offer.

Group exercising as part of a fitness class ecosystem

Fitness managers discovered one silver lining revealed by the pandemic—the plethora of where, what, when and how we deliver a fitness class ecosystem. Sure, we were forced to give it a try, but let’s be honest—how many of us would have added virtual and outdoor offerings in 2020 had our facilities not been shuttered?

Now that we’ve adjusted to this expanded schedule of options, we must be careful not to get complacent and revert to old habits. As shared in previous articles in this series, it’s important to view virtual and in-person offerings as one class “ecosystem.” This article, the third in a series, identifies how to build this fitness class ecosystem while helping current participants discover more and guiding new participants toward building confidence.

Where: Location Matters in a Fitness Class Ecosystem

In this new world of programming, we need to do our best to think less about “or” and more about “and.” If you limit your offerings to only in-person, you’ll also limit opportunities for yourself and your members. It may seem like the easiest and most economical route, but put yourself in participants’ shoes. They’ve had the opportunity to take their favorite classes and try new ones from the comfort of their own home, in the gym and on the go for almost 2 years. Many of them are hooked.

In-person falls short when you consider the unforeseen circumstances of life. If a participant is out of town, has to be home for that unpredictable 4-hour window waiting for the plumber or can’t seem to leave the office in time for a favorite class, how can their favorite instructors be there? This is where digital comes to the rescue. Even if you may not have the resources to provide a content umbrella that compares to companies like Apple and Peloton, digital is still a customer expectation.

Then there’s the great outdoors, which has become even greater during the pandemic. Many people discovered a new love for moving in the fresh air. Club-organized outdoor running, mommy stroller groups and walking clubs have created an opportunity to enjoy open space and a sense of community among participants willing to layer up and move together in nature’s gym. Why pass on a chance to build community? Parks, business courtyards and apartment rooftops are exciting venues to host outdoor events. Use them!

You must see beyond the four walls of your club in today’s environment. Your current and future participants depend on it. Strategize and create partnerships. Instead of feeling pressured to create all the digital content yourself, work with a format provider who sells virtual range to facilities. Instead of stressing over organizing outdoor events, ask the landlord or parks and recreation department staff to help with marketing, set up and tear down. Keep in mind that diversifying your locations shouldn’t turn into three or more schedules for each site, but rather one place where participants can count on finding what they need when they need it.

See also: Tips on Teaching Virtual Fitness Classes

What: Format Ideas for a Fitness Class Ecosystem

Each location mentioned above has pros and cons, depending on the fitness class type, but ultimately any format can be done in each location. If you’re a multipurpose facility or sole proprietor, mind-body, cardio and strength are probably your heavy hitters (choreographed or not). Step into participants’ shoes and explore what’s changed in this new world.

Mind-body. Formats that fit into this category include yoga, Pilates and meditation. Many people experienced increased anxiety due to the pandemic, not to mention stress from managing new work environments—or new jobs or unemployment. Cater to your clients by offering 30- and 60-minute classes throughout your in-person schedule and offering shorter, on-demand meditation videos on your virtual platform. Create yoga and Pilates videos for various levels or focus on a specific pose so that newer attendees can learn and veterans can feel like they’re progressing.

Cardio. Examples of cardio-based classes include high-intensity interval training, step aerobics, trampoline, kickboxing, most dance formats, and equipment-based classes like indoor cycling, treadmill or rowing. These classes do well as a shorter offering. Schedule them next to strength or mind-body classes so that participants can choose what to add to their workouts, depending on the day. Provide video tutorials of familiar dance or kickboxing moves, along with short clips that demonstrate proper bike and rower setup.

Strength. Program your strength training classes as full-body or segmented into upper body, lower body and core. These classes should be a solid staple during your prime-time, in-person class windows. Include a high number of videos that focus on various strength workouts using equipment most people would have at home or in a hotel gym. Include tips on checking form, especially with multijoint moves. Enhance your on-demand strength videos by gearing them to specific audiences; for example, strength training for runners might focus on the hips, knees and ankles.

Fusion. Approach mixed format or fusion classes (e.g., core and cardio) intentionally. During the pandemic, participants got used to shorter, more targeted workouts. Be strategic with your fusion offerings, which should either be circuit-style or seen as a gateway to enroll participants into a class with higher accountability and value, such as a half-marathon or results-based, cross-training workout. Whenever a class is paid or involves a commitment, enrollment or attendance may be smaller, but people became accustomed to personalized attention during the lockdown and don’t mind smaller class sizes.

Of course you’ll need to name, describe and assign time to these classes in an intriguing way. When naming and detailing your classes, highlight what makes your offerings unique to your facility. The more specific you can be about who the class serves, the more connected your participants and instructors will feel.

How: Mix and Match

Whichever formats you program, consider the digital environment a place to prepare new participants, educate veterans and learn about participant behavior. Participants will mix and match workouts based on their time and circumstances. They’ll participate live virtually, in the studios, on-demand at home, virtually with a friend on vacation, at work, etc. Participants might piece something together by meeting with a personal trainer in the studio and then attending a 30-minute core class at home. Or they might pair outdoor offerings with indoor options and digital when classes either aren’t happening or weather isn’t permitting.

So how do you program for this unpredictability?

Consider the following steps:

  1. Build a regular in-person class schedule. Use what worked in the past as a jumping-off point, but be honest about what needs to be shortened, changed or removed entirely from your schedule.
  2. Enhance consistent in-person offerings with special in-person and online workshops and events.
  3. Ensure your virtual offerings include both synchronous and asynchronous digital experiences, as they both offer unique benefits. Real-time synchronous or digital classes provide more accountability, and the instructor may also say hello or notice a participant is watching in real-time. Asynchronous or pre-recorded classes expand your reach and are convenient if circumstances prevent people from attending class.
  4. Regularly re-evaluate what you’ve scheduled and recorded by reviewing attendance, views and penetration (number of views per site visit or class attendance per club visit). Gauge your success and conduct targeted class surveys. Be sure to ask for feedback on ways to improve.
  5. Adjust the schedule based on the results of your evaluations. Review your current in-person schedule and your filming schedule to ensure they’re both working well together to support the needs of your current participants while enticing new ones.

See also: Increase Income by Diversifying Services

Grow, Learn, Evolve

Members are eager to reestablish workout routines and reengage with their club communities. Build programs geared toward helping people feel better, care for themselves, find community and enjoy moving! Throw away the pre-pandemic playbook of offering classes at the same time, in the same place. Instead, apply the lessons you’ve learned over the past 2 years and help more people reach their goals within a fitness class ecosystem.

In the fourth and final article in this series, we’ll review the final ingredient to a complete scheduling strategy: talent. Knowing how to hire and utilize the strengths of the right instructors in the right way can make or break your program.


Note: This is the last issue of IDEA Fit Business Success, and we hope you’ve found value in this member benefit. To get access to the last installment of this series, please contact executive editor Joy Keller, [email protected]

Staci Alden

Staci Alden is committed to helping group fitness managers elevate their programs, instructors, and leadership skills through her writing, presentations, and YouTube channel. For more than a decade, she has overseen a team of over 100 private Pilates and group fitness instructors at a luxury health club in Seattle, Washington. Staci also is certified as a master Balanced Body® barre and MOTR® instructor.

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November-December 2020 IDEA Fitness Journal

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