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Equipment, education and enthusiasm elevate German fitness.


Germans seem to embrace equipment wholeheartedly. According to Drums Alive® founder Carrie Ekins, MA, of Kutzenhausen, the most popular classes in Germany use training equipment. “Typical equipment that has been on the market for years is still the most popular. This includes Redondo® balls (small 22-centimeter inflatable balls), large stability balls, tubes, bands, dumbbells and barbells. “We are also very advanced in our sensory motor training concepts, so balance pads, beams and other types of sensorimotor/proprioceptive equipment are very big. You will find this to be true in fitness centers, therapy centers and sports clubs throughout the country.”

Beate Lemm, a personal trainer in Berlin, concurs and adds that functional training
is going strong, with TRX Suspension Training®, kettlebells and vibration equipment, such as the Power Plate®, also getting a lot of use by trainers and clients.

Jutta Schuhn and Veronika Mund are national group fitness managers for Fitness First in Frankfurt/Main and see some trends in group classes, including a move toward “back to basics” classes—such as high-intensity training and half-hour conditioning workouts—that are free of complex choreography. Step, toning and prechoreographed group strength training remain quite popular too. Ekins notices the enjoyment that Germans glean from the outdoors. “Nordic walking, nature walks, biking and winter
activities are very popular ways that people get together [for] a great workout.”

The concept of personal training
has a unique trait in Germany, in that being “hands-on” (which isn’t culturally
accepted in some countries) is a “main characteristic of a personal trainer, which means machines are not generally preferred,” according to Lemm. (People view machines as something they can use without trainer assistance.) Interestingly, Schuhn and Mund find that mind-body classes—such as Pilates and yoga—are not popular, while Ekins’ experience is that those types of classes (including tai chi and qigong) are very popular, which just demonstrates how large and varied the German fitness industry is.

With Germany recently designated the “fattest European nation,” fitness leaders are working harder than ever to get people moving. “I believe people are motivated by their circumstances,” says Ekins. “We face the same issues and problems that the U.S. is dealing with. [Luckily,] the health insurance companies pay a premium for members to enroll and participate in prevention courses, such as cardiovascular programs, healthy backs (one of the most popular classes in Germany), aqua fitness, Pilates, yoga,
rehabilitation after heart attacks, strokes and childbirth.” Lemm points out that the government pays annually for 10 courses that fall under a “primary prevention” heading, but so far hasn’t gotten involved much in reimbursing for sports or other “active” behaviors.

Ekins emphasizes the importance that Germans place on quality and training. “The instructors of these courses do need to have the credentials in order to offer these premiums (or rebates).” Mund and Schuhn agree about the need to be educated. “In Germany, people aren’t that much into ‘show.’ They ask a lot of questions and expect the instructor or trainer to be knowledgeable, educated and certified.”

For the rest of 2010, and moving into next year, all four women agree that group fitness and personal training will continue to grow. Business is expected to expand both among people who want an athletic workout and have aesthetic considerations as their primary motivator and also among those who are looking for the health benefits of exercise. As Ekins states, “With the research coming out, I’m sure we will be influential in the world of fitness and health.” Spoken like a true enthusiast!

GThis column explores the activities and fitness trends of IDEA members around the world. Take a free vicarious trip every month by tuning in here.

Alexandra Williams, MA

Alexandra Williams has taught fitness for 17 years and has a master’s degree in agency counseling, with an emphasis on marriage and family. Her professional training has forced her to scrutinize her own value system, especially as she attempts to raise ethical children. The author wishes to thank Jack Raglin and Jim Gavin for their helpful insights and suggestions.

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