Strategically developing your fitness business is like planning a garden. A gardener has many elements to consider—location, climate, space—and the elements can go together different ways. There are as many “right” ways to put together fitness programs and equipment as there are garden styles. And like a gardener, you have the opportunity to change things around every year.

How will you create and cultivate your fitness landscape?
The 2001 IDEA Fitness Programs and Equipment Survey is
a tool you can use to help you plot the best use of your space. For the sixth year, IDEA asked business members about the equipment and programs they offer and which of these their clients use most. You can use the survey results to:

  • See what is popular in other facilities.
  • Research equipment needs for the next year.
  • Plan formats that utilize the equipment and space you have.
  • Plan new classes that fit your current or potential client base.

Key Trends

The survey results identified six major trends:

1. Personal Training and Group Strength Training Remain the Most Popular Programs.When it comes to retention, members look for results, social interaction and a good instructor who is knowledgeable about the equipment. Personal training and small-group strength training can effectively fulfill these needs. These activities also use a lot of the large and small pieces of equipment detailed in the survey. Four-year trends in increased use of stability balls and weighted bars and ongoing use of free weights reinforce the significance of strength training.

2. Current Formats Are Being Combined Into New Mixes of Movement and Equipment. For the past few years, IDEA Health & Fitness Source has reported on the popularity of combination, or “hybrid,” classes, which blend two or more exercise modalities. That category was added to the survey this year, and 71 percent of facilities reported offering some form of hybrid class. Combination classes provide participants with variety, a chance to safely expand past their comfort zones, an opportunity to learn new skills and a way to minimize the potential for overuse injuries. These classes also enable participants to accomplish more activity in less time, and time-effective workouts are another key to retention.

3. Core Conditioning Has Emerged as a Popular Component of “Functional” Training. Core conditioning was also added to the survey for the first time this year, and 61 percent of facilities reported offering it. Abdominals training stayed at the top of the list, with 67 percent of facilities offering classes of this type. Core conditioning focuses on strengthening and stretching the muscles of the abdominal, pelvic and lower-back region in order to improve ability to perform daily living activities. Often, balance training is incorporated. Frequently, body weight and stability balls are used as resistance tools. (One recently developed piece of equipment, the Reebok Core Board, was referenced in write-in comments.) Training that improves function benefits the average, healthy exerciser as well as many special populations.

4. New Exercisers and Older Adults Are Making Up a Larger Share of Facility Demographics. Since 1997, respondents have indicated an increase in beginning exercisers balanced by a tapering off of intermediate-level exercisers, with the combination representing about 80 percent of the client/member base. At the same time, clients/members over age 35 have represented about 80 percent of the client/member base. In 2001, 27 percent of clients are estimated to be 55 years or older. This demographic segment has become a particular target of the fitness industry, and our survey respondents appear to have found a way to attract an older clientele. It is also heartening to see that 91 percent of respondents “offer classes and programs to attract the inactive or new exerciser.”

5. Pilates and Yoga Continue to Grow, While Boxing/Martial-Arts-Based Classes Have Plateaued. Pilates is still showing upward growth, while yoga has a flatter growth curve but is offered by more facilities. In write-in questions respondents named both these activities as “programs showing most growth” and “fastest-emerging programs” during the past year. (Personal training joined them in the “most growth” category.) As exercise formats mature, they settle into place among all the potential offerings. This appears to be occurring with classes based on boxing, kickboxing and martial arts.

6. Equipment Use Remains High. Equipment is as plentiful in the group fitness room as it is in the fitness center. And the equipment is being used. This year’s survey noted an increase in facilities with elliptical trainers, while the number of clients using stair climbers declined. Treadmills and cycles (both upright and recumbent) remain staples. Most equipment requires dedicated floor space, which is at a premium in smaller facilities. This may explain why the percentage of facilities offering indoor cycling is on a three-year plateau. While the number of facilities offering this program is stable, the classes using the equipment are among the most frequently offered, at five days a week.

Who Are the Survey Respondents?

The IDEA business members who responded to the survey are evenly balanced among U.S. geographic regions (22% northeast, 21% northcentral, 24% south, 26% west, with 8% from outside the U.S.) and locations (30% large city, 28% suburb, 35% small city/town, 6% rural). The respondents represent a diverse group of facilities consistent with those represented in prior years.

While 57 percent of this year’s facilities have 999 or fewer members/clients, 30 percent have 2,000 or more members, so the range in the number of clients being served is wide. Most respondents are working in facilities that measure 10,000 square feet or less, with 44 percent of facilities measuring 6,000 square feet or less. All managers who responded are doing an outstanding job of packing a lot of programs and equipment into the space they have.

These managers must also be doing a good job of delivering quality programs and staff, since respondents reported that 71 percent of their clients/members stay with the business for one year or longer. The members/clients are also diverse: 34 percent are 34 years or younger, 52 percent are between 35 and 54 years old, and 27 percent are 55 years or older.

IDEA mailed the surveys with the May issue of IDEA Fitness Manager and received 212 replies. An independent research firm tabulated and reported the results.

Design Your Garden

You can plan your mix of programs and equipment in many ways. Who are your clients? What are their interests? How can you maximize the equipment you have?

Use your creative ability to make changes in the schedule, and set a time to evaluate the results. You could make a great leap toward increasing the number of participants in your program.