The IDEA World Fitness Convention has always been an event that moves fitness professionals to the depths of their hearts and inspires their passion to help others. This year’s gathering (July 25–29 in Las Vegas) fed and revved the estimated 5,000 attendees’ engines with educational rocket fuel and kept that tradition vibrant.

When Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee walked onto the stage at the convention’s opening ceremonies to accept the 2006 IDEA Inspiration Award from his friend and colleague Pamela Peeke, MD, MPH, FACP, the early-morning audience of fitness professionals from nearly 60 countries rose to its feet and cascaded appreciation on him. The thunderous clapping and whooping were not so much for what the governor has been doing to halt the spiral of inactivity and unhealthy living in his state and around the U.S. as they were for his own fitness pilgrimage. As he accepted the award, Mike Huckabee was no longer a well-known political figure; he was every client a fitness professional has ever tried to help. It was a shared moment of triumph for the honoree and for each personal trainer, group exercise instructor, mind-body pro and program director present. Here was living proof that IDEA’s continuing initiative to Inspire the World to Fitness® can change—or even save—a life.

The governor congratulated IDEA members for the work they do to change the healthcare paradigm by emphasizing prevention through healthy living over spending money to treat disease. “Fitness professionals—IDEA members—you are literally saving people’s lives. Don’t ever forget that. My doctor recently said that I’m coming out of the locker room ready to play the second half better than ever before.”

Author and life coach Cheryl Richardson summed it up eloquently in her keynote address following the awards ceremony: “When we inspire people to become healthy and fit, we alter the course of their lives forever. Behind every human being is a gift. Your job is to slowly unwrap that gift and find out what is going on inside.”

Education Sensation

Speaking of gifts, the educational slate at this year’s event provided a blockbuster of choices for delegates. More than 275 sessions (plus 10 specialty preconference options) and 130 presenters from 10 countries set the stage for a lot of note taking and mind-expanding concepts.

Ashraf Ali Al-Hefni, a lawyer turned high-school physical education teacher at the American School of Kuwait, found many reasons to want to return for next year’s IDEA World Fitness Convention (his eighth consecutive event). “It was great on all levels. The assistants were very helpful, the parties were great, and the most important thing—the educational value—was the best in 7 years,” he assessed. “[As a trainer] my personal interest is always related to improving function and enhancing performance. I found loads of great classes either to learn a new thing right away that I can use, or other classes that would open my eyes to look for some knowledge in the right direction.”

Danielle Kelly, group fitness director for Lady Wellness in Rockford, Illinois, was of like mind: “I am thrilled to be a member of IDEA, and I find the conventions very helpful in renewing my focus and keeping me up-to-date on what is new and exciting in the fitness industry. Thank goodness for IDEA . . . for giving fitness professionals the opportunity to not only learn and grow from the classes and lectures, but also learn and grow from each other.”

Personal Training:
Robust and Ripe

Personal training continues to be the growth juggernaut of this industry. As the profession matures, new areas of specialization keep developing. This is great news for personal trainers, who can follow their passions by diving deep into niche segments and becoming true experts. Here are some of the industry hot buttons that emerged from excellent attendee questions and observations shared during the personal training curriculum this year:

  • The media continue to hype quick fixes, but clients are savvier and understand better that permanent changes are the way to health and fitness. They realize that this approach takes a greater investment in themselves and more of their time and money. They will increasingly ask hard questions about what personal trainers bring to the table. Be prepared!
  • Medical and allied health providers still do not see personal fitness training as a legitimate service. Continue to forge networking links with these providers and help them understand the breadth and depth of your education, your respect for scope of practice, and ways you can help their patients regain or maintain wellness.
  • Nutrition classes were packed. Whether it’s a case of client demand for this type of information or the simple fact that the fitness industry is aging and professionals are getting more interested in nutrition for personal reasons remains to be seen. Scope of practice in this arena is clear-cut, yet many trainers regularly cross the boundary into murky waters—much to the chagrin of those who toe the line and strive for professionalism. For a clearer picture on this, see the feature “Going From Foodie to RD” on page 64.
  • Structural assessment skills training is in great demand. Clients are coming in hurt and broken. If you don’t recognize where the problem originates and what else it affects in the kinetic chain, how can you possibly fix it? Experts were very clear on the point that trainers need to consume a constant diet of anatomy and kinesiology information.
  • Corporate fitness opportunities for trainers are growing in lockstep with the increasing emphasis on disease prevention and wellness among corporate employees.
  • Coaching is really getting hot. Why? Factoring in the power of a client’s mind can be vital for successful outcomes. Just ask IDEA assistant and longtime member Charli Douglass from Las Vegas, who has been teaching and training in the industry since 1980. In addition to blending the essentials—cardiovascular exercise, healthy eating, strength training and stretching—she is now incorporating what she calls the “mind factor” into all trainings and classes and is finally seeing the results she has yearned to see for years. “I am in the process of creating my own seminar for my students on how to use their minds first, before they even set foot in the club,” she shared. “I am using empowering questions to motivate them—as well as affirmations, journaling and meditation to retrain their negative thoughts and behaviors concerning their self-image—into people who can and do accomplish everything they want to. It is amazing how we have been programmed to think so negatively about ourselves; it takes a great effort for my students to make even small changes in their lives. I would love to see more focus on our wonderful minds.”

Following are a few more discussion areas that emerged in sessions:

  • Keep building your educational base, and encourage colleagues to do the same through recognized and accredited agencies.
  • Maintain your professionalism. Walk your talk.
  • Maintain your peak mental, physical and spiritual conditioning. Without it, you cannot hope to give to others.
  • Make every session the best one ever. Your clients deserve no less.
  • Network within your community to determine what programs are needed to Inspire the World to Fitness. This is not only good for our overall mission as fitness professionals; it’s good for your business.
  • Listen. Listen. Listen. As 2006 IDEA Personal Trainer of the Year Justin Price pointed out: “We have two ears and one mouth. Use them in proportion. Listen twice and speak once.”

The Business of Fitness

As an industry, there is some major talent out there doing some amazing work. Seasoned program directors and managers in facilities are regularly taking the programming bull by the horns and wrestling it to keep their offerings fresh and exciting for members while keeping bottom lines healthy. But the main buzz heard in and around business and management sessions this year was one of concern. Primarily, veterans are looking high and low for the next wave of leadership and are not encouraged by what they see. Some don’t see new leaders emerging, period. Read on to find out more about this and other insights gained from this year’s program director/management education.

  • Leadership and management skills are a rare commodity in the industry. If you are a veteran program director, what are you doing to help your younger staff grow up? If you are an aspiring manager or program director, what are you doing to get proper training?
  • The industry desperately needs hospitality training. Are we treating members as well as we could be?
  • Is fee-based training a good way to up the ante for your marquee instructors? Is it good for your department revenues? Are good instructors able to generate serious dollars?
  • Hiring multi-aged trainers and pairing them with multi-aged clients and staff will help bridge generation and communication gaps.
  • There seems to be an erosion of overall quality in facilities as a function of short-term owner/manager goals. Some see a squeeze coming, with fewer corporations owning more clubs. The concern among program directors and managers is: How are employees valued in this model?
  • There were some interesting ponderings regarding a trend away from the traditional role of a group exercise director toward a personal training director who oversees a hybridized department.

Other pearls of wisdom gleaned from presenters, attendees and sessions:

  • Try to keep looking at your job with a beginner’s mind. Once you think you know it all, you’ll become stale.
  • Leave your ego at the door. Ask for feedback. The more you receive it, the more you will grow.
  • Be proactive and not reactive. Seek first to understand and then be understood.
  • If you want to be great, surround yourself with great people. Be passionate. Love what you do. Set high standards. Work hard and play hard.

Group Fitness:
The Art, the Profession

If Rip Van Winkle fell asleep in a gym circa 1986, let’s say, and woke up today in any contemporary fitness facility, he’d have to check his pulse twice. How would you explain the changes in group fitness? Equipment was once relegated to a few stray free weights. Everything was high-impact, and movements weren’t always safe. Today participants punch bags, roll their bodies on long cylindrical pieces of foam and balance on blue domes. What a strange, glorious world!

Group fitness in 2006 is bountiful with creativity. Instructors have taken their many years of experience, absorbed and personalized it, and offered it back to the world in high definition Technicolor. They have proven time again that there are more than 100 ways to not tap a Step. Group fitness instructors are consummate artists in the way they move, motivate and memorize.

On the flip side of this coin, in equal balance, is the instructor as respected professional. Educational standards have improved, and so has the caliber of the person standing in front of the room. The many certifications and opportunities to expand and learn new ways to help people get healthy have in some cases turned the group fitness professional into a “sweat scholar.” The participant sees an exercise as a chance to burn calories (and, let’s hope, to have some fun!); the group fitness instructor sees a chance to play with different planes of motion and to challenge various fitness levels simultaneously.

Abbie Appel, Reebok University master trainer and IDEA World Fitness presenter, who lives in Boca Raton, Florida, has noticed an increase in the level of professionalism across the board. “Many group exercise instructors today consider fitness to be a career,” she says. “This leads them to become more educated. The focus recently has been on correcting biomechanical deficiencies. We have to be realistic about how much we can fix in a group setting. However, if we stress to participants the importance of good form, they are less likely to become injured and more likely to stay in class and reach their individual goals.”

Also noted at this year’s convention:

  • Function finds a dwelling place in many new offerings, from dance-based classes all the way to medicine ball drills. If the action isn’t qualified, it’s often omitted.
  • Calling all coaches! Basic lifestyle coaching concepts such as active listening, managing progress and accountability are cropping up between cues. Instructors are learning that emotional intelligence not only helps them be better teachers—it also enriches the experience for participants.
  • Step remains the springboard to success for many. No other method has launched more creative ideas: “Steptococcous,” “Xtreme Step,” “Step Top,” “Step Neighbor,” “Salsa on the Step,” “Step Architecture,” “Ultimate Step Diva”—the hits keep on coming!
  • Indoor cycling has been around long enough to prove its staying power. Along with that are questions about safety that pit “pure” road cyclists against their stationary counterparts. Instructors are still making an effort to connect with participants through specific coaching techniques, but indoor cycling is still evolving and fresh techniques are incubating.
  • Fuse it or lose it. There are so many brilliant concepts to choose from that instructors are blending them into myriad fusion classes. What do you get when you combine dance with yoga and strength training, with a touch of foam roller? You get the picture.
  • Group program directors are luring members away from dry land (and dry programming) with aquatic choices that challenge and inspire. Choices on this year’s schedule included “Noodle Partners,” “Aqua Max Circuit,” “It’s a Wet Hair Day” and “Tai Yoga Flow.”

Buzz and Predictions

A gathering the size of World Fitness is bound to produce some substantial industry buzz. Here are some trends and 5-year predictions from group fitness professionals worldwide:

  • Group fitness instructors will enjoy increasing respect from fitness facility management as revenue generators. Consequently, they will demand higher wages.
  • There will be a larger gap between veteran instructors and newcomers just as the demand for group fitness starts to peak.
  • There will be more class options for men and newly active individuals.
  • Instructors will create more classes for older adults of varying fitness levels.
  • The Curves for Women® concept will spur other group fitness “concept” franchises and studios.
  • Personal training tenets (as well as personal fitness trainers themselves) will continue to cross over into the group fitness studio.
  • Kids’ specialty classes will proliferate.

“If structured correctly, the value of group exercise programming will continue to grow because the future of the club industry is grounded in the value of a club’s brand, which reflects a club’s value system,” says Bob Esquerre, fitness consultant and programming specialist from Boca Raton, Florida. “The club’s value system is the reason why people join a club, retain their memberships and refer their nonmember friends, family and associates. Group exercise programming, in fact, has a much higher potential to touch, engage and affect more members than personal training.”

Mind-Body Fitness:
Healing Our Stressors

The mind-body program at 2006 IDEA World Fitness provided consistently high-quality education.

Here are some highlights and trends:

  • Fitness professionals are growing steadily more sophisticated in this field.
  • Classical Pilates and yoga are alive and well, but many presenters are developing creative and ingenious ways to modify and expand on traditional moves.
  • Equipment is everywhere: tubing, stability balls, foam rollers, mini balls, Gliding disks, wedges, weighted bars—they are as much at home in mind-body classes as anywhere else in group fitness.
  • Pilates classes are now quite diverse—some more athletic, others more dance-oriented—but basic Pilates principles such as concentration, alignment and fluidity remain at the heart of the practice.
  • The softer sides of yoga—restorative yoga and “yin yoga”—are offering participants gentle ways to heal from the stresses of a hectic world.
  • Two programs bucking the equipment trend are Nia and Balletone®, which do not require props. Nia continues to offer rich opportunities for expressive movement, while Balletone—as its name suggests—tones the body with precision and poise.

IDEA Fitness & Wellness Expo:
A Vast Array of Fitness Shopping

Got cash? Got coupons? Got stamina? If you had these, then you were ready to hit the ground running when the Fitness & Wellness Expo doors opened to reveal the treasure trove of shopping opportunities offered in nearly 400 booths inside. A dizzying array of the latest fitness fashions, shoes, organizations, services, top-of-the line equipment (strength, flexibility, Pilates), music, gadgets and nutritional products (among hundreds of other items) were on display and for sale—often at deep discounts—by the knowlegeable and helpful exhibitors and their teams.