When 4,500 fitness and wellness professionals, product exhibitors, expo guests and expert faculty from more than 60 countries converge in one place to learn, network and share, the result is nothing short of combustible. Another IDEA World Fitness Convention may be over, but the chain of energy unleashed by this year’s
fitness event (July 8–12) in Las Vegas will spark and inspire people of all ages to transformations that could be permanent and life-changing.

“IDEA’s message to Inspire the World to Fitness® is positive and uplifting,” observed educator Zoey Trap, MSc, after the convention. “The reality is that so often as fitness professionals we want to do just that, but we hit a burnout point that does not let us work with our passion on fire. Thank you for hosting such a great event—one that inspired us and recharged our passion so we could come back renewed and ready to inspire—because we were inspired. Thanks for another great week!”

Well, Well, Well . . .

When Billy Crystal used to parody Fernando Lamas on Saturday Night Live, he had the lines all wrong, darling. “You look maaaahhvelousss” and “It’s so much better to look good than to feel good” are the antithesis of today’s fitness and wellness consciousness—at least where many of the educators at this year’s convention were concerned. 2008 IDEA Personal Trainer of the Year Nicki Anderson, owner of Reality Fitness Inc. in Naperville, Illinois, readily pointed this out in an on-the-fly interview between sessions. “This is not just about numbers anymore. It’s about inspiring people to wellness. It’s about getting them closer to living in a capable body. It’s not just about weight training anymore—it’s about life training,” she said.

David Mesirow, founder of Beamfit™, agreed: “It’s not just about the physical aspects of the person; it’s more about how that person is feeling about where they are right now. Maybe I need to lose 10 pounds—maybe I don’t. It doesn’t matter. I’m still a good person. I should still feel good about myself. I can still have good strength and flexibility, good cardiorespiratory endurance, balance, coordination and speed and not live in a body that resides on the cover of Vogue, which quite frankly, who cares? It’s really about feeling great from the inside out.”

There’s a lot of work to do to get to that place, and that is what the industry needs to focus on now, added Fred Hoffman, MEd, 2007 IDEA Fitness Instructor of the Year. “How are we going to talk to that person—who maybe isn’t even going to the health club yet—to get into that mind space and feel comfortable about themselves so they can finally start? We’ve got to start somewhere. I think the approach is going to change now toward fitness to get to those people.” (You can watch this video interview with Nicki, David and Fred at http://w2.ideafit.com/blog/idea-world-fitness/2008/holistic-wellness-discussion-with-david-fred-and-nicki.)

Personal Training Buzz

The personal training curriculum and many satellite discussions at the convention reflected this “whole person” vantage. Trainers and the techniques they use are regressing back to basics rooted in thorough assessment of each individual’s needs. Professionals are re-examining dosing clients with functional exercises for the sake of functional training. There are no “good” or “bad” exercises; rather, it’s whether exercises are appropriate based on the compensations and limitations of each individual. It’s called personal training for a reason.

Other hot topics:

The Economy. Trainers everywhere are concerned, but most see the current slump as an opportunity to operate a leaner and smarter business.

The Growth of Small- and Medium-Group Training. This correlates directly with the economy. Consumers see a price break by training in numbers (there is the social-compliance aspect to consider as well), while trainers see a boost in hourly income.

Diversity of Clientele. This presents tremendous opportunity for trainers to broaden their reach while simultaneously becoming expert in chosen populations.

Overall Elevation of Professional Standards. Knowledge is power, and personal trainers are understanding and responding to that by continually raising the bar.

Group Fitness: How Big Is Your Playground?

As a specialized area of health and wellness, group fitness has expanded to become a giant playground with a lot of professional potential. This playground is divided into areas of expertise and knowledge: step, indoor cycling, boot camp, circuit training, etc. As the “coach,” you have to make sure everyone is “playing” nicely. You also have to know the best ways to motivate different levels of ability—some “kids” can’t do what the other kids can. And of course you can’t forget about the kid on the sideline who needs a little extra push to get involved and have fun. Add to this the stress of finding a sub to monitor and lead the playground action when you’re out and the uncertainty of finding a new leader to help the playground grow, and you have yourself an interesting challenge.

Group fitness instructors are meeting this challenge and accepting their place as respected professionals in an industry that many believe is just now starting to hit its stride. As more and more people start to grasp the importance of exercise, group fitness is perfectly aligned to offer diverse avenues to health. Veterans in the field already boast numerous specialty certificates, degrees and certifications. They’ve blazed a path, and now it’s time for the next generation of leaders to make their mark. Will the future include a community of playgrounds, rich in fun and activity? Or will a dearth of new energy stymie the growth? If the happenings at IDEA World Fitness are any indication, tomorrow’s playing field looks expansive and exciting.

Here are some highlights and trends from this year’s convention:

  • After more than two decades of experimentation with choreography, equipment and ideas, much of the programming is coming full circle. More fitness facilities are offering nostalgic favorites, such as high-low, and fun, safer variations on “classic” high-impact aerobics classes.
  • There is still buzz about prechoreographed formats and how they might affect the overall quality of instruction. However, their impact remains to be seen and, at this point, program managers seem to hold the key. As long as quality and practical knowledge are prerequisites for employment, instructors will be held to an adequate standard.
  • Dance-inspired classes continue to be hot items on class schedules, thanks in part to programs like Zumba® and the Kukuwa Dance Workout, which re-inspire participants (and instructors) to get in touch with the meaning behind the movement.
  • Indoor cycling is keeping up a steady pace with an ever wider variety of options. Classes range from basic drills to tour-themed athletic rides to classes that fuse mind-body with heart rate monitors.
  • Formats for older adults are becoming more refined as fitness professionals glean knowledge directly from the field. This “special population” is quickly becoming a playground on its own with numerous opportunities to specialize. Participants are coming into clubs with a wide range of abilities, and programs are diversifying to reflect this.
  • Step classes are stronger than ever, with more ways to use the platform than you can possibly program in one facility. The problem is that the majority of participants are not able to take advantage of all the advanced choreography. Nevertheless, instructors are taking ideas and spinning off their own custom, creative concoctions.
  • Circuit training and boot camp classes are big hits at a lot of group studios, and many directors are creating fee-based programs that bring in additional revenue.
  • Economic concerns are forcing many instructors to become even more creative with their class designs. Many are coming up with unique approaches, such as partner drills that share equipment and body-weight strength classes.
  • The pool is still a prime space for participants to play, and more instructors are finding their way onto the decks and into the blue to help motivate a wide variety of members.

Managers Get Motivated

Personal training and group exercise directors got a crash course in leadership during the Focus on Fitness Management preconference on Tuesday, July 8. This all-day experience immersed attendees in the finer points of managing people and programs, an invaluable skill set that leads to continued success. Fitness managers got a chance to refine their abilities and learn secrets from other industry leaders, including the following:

  • Fitness consultant Bob Esquerre, MA, connected the dots
    between group exercise and member retention. “Do you have any idea how truly valuable your program is to your fitness facility?” he asked attendees. Esquerre outlined several ways to boost membership directly through programming and shared several proactive ways to impact revenue via the class schedule.
  • Shayne Kohn, MS, owner of SPÄCHITECTS Inc. in Palm Beach, Florida, explained how to ask strategic interview questions that will ensure you hire the right person for your customer service-oriented position. Kohn argued that every position in a fitness facility is service-based and shared tips on how to improve the customer relation skills of all employees.
  • Helen Vanderburg, 2005 IDEA Fitness Instructor of the Year, offered several different definitions of quality and how this one word is “the name of the game in the service business.” “Quality is organic,” Vanderburg said. “You have to look beyond the product to the complete experience. You also have to walk the talk every day, from every angle, starting with your front desk.”

Putting “Special” in Special Populations

This year’s line-up of special population-themed sessions included targeted ideas on how to inspire pregnant women, older adults, children, people with varying levels of ability and disability, and clients with injuries (some they might not know about). However, the most inspiring aspect of these classes was the heart and soul that attendees themselves brought to them. Session
after session, in every room and even in the hallways, fitness professionals shared ideas and stories about how to reach pockets of populations that might need extra attention. Attendees’ thoughtful questions and insights brightened and underlined offerings that were already power-packed. Here are some inspirational tidbits overheard in some of these sessions:

  • In “Childhood Obesity: Current Research and Practical Tools,” led by Karen Donaldson, MS, RD, LD, attendees talked about tricks they learned to reach their child clients. “I learned very early on that I needed to save the fun stuff for the child and use my diplomatic skills with the parents,” said one attendee. “Parents are the primary models for children, and so many of them are in denial about not only their child’s health but their own health as well.”
  • In “Peak Pilates® for the Obese Client,” Trap walked the class through a very user-friendly and practical approach to introducing obese people to Pilates. “Do not automatically presume that your new client can’t do a roll-up simply because she’s obese,” Trap said. “It’s your job to help her connect with her core musculature and find the juiciness of articulation in the spine.” Trap asked the group how many of them had once been obese, and about a quarter of them raised their hands and shared their amazing stories.
  • During Milo Levell’s “Hip-Hop Academy,” the origin of hip-hop came up. Levell talked about how this unique and creative form of exercise and dance helped him rise above the stress and strain of poverty. Several people in the packed room nodded their heads in unison. “When I was growing up, all we had to eat between us in the entire family was a bowl of cereal, with no spoons,” Levell said. “You had a choice about how you were going to express your pain, and hip-hop is what I chose.”

Mind-Body Medley

This year’s mind-body program delivered a rich mix of sessions, ranging from innovative fusion blends to specific skill training. While some more nuanced mind-body topics (such as “Full-Presence Sensory Walking” and “Listening to Stones as a Path to Deep Awareness”) now find their home at the Inner IDEA® Conference (see www.inneridea.com), IDEA World Fitness continues to serve up a generous variety, especially in the fields of Pilates, yoga, Gyrotonic® exercise and Nia®.

  • Pilates classes—offered by STOTT PILATES®, Peak Pilates® and Balanced Body®, along with others—were bursting at the seams with equipment, both large and small; and surprisingly, music accompanied most sessions, running the gamut from New Age to hip-hop. Veteran presenter John Garey, MS, tested the strength and skill of experienced Pilates professionals with his level 2 jumpboard training. PJ O’Clair, the 2008 IDEA Program Director of the Year, modeled excellence in her sessions on Pilates for pregnant women and active seniors. Clare Dunphy—with her wit, spunk and expertise—made sure no one was sleeping. And newcomers Portia Paige, Lizbeth Garcia and Cecile LeMoine Bankston stepped onto the scene with skill and poise.
  • Yoga sessions honed in on alignment, flow, and the needs and limitations of niche populations (including breast cancer survivors and clients with back pain). Simone Hodgkinson’s workshop on “Yoga for Runners” provided thoroughly practical information. And Juliane Arney’s “The Eight-Step Path™ for Yoga Class Design” outlined an easy method for planning well-balanced yoga classes and keeping them fresh.
  • Fusion sessions were among the most exciting on the program. In “The New Yoga-Pilates Blend,” Linda Freeman seamlessly blended elements from the two disciplines in a workout designed to sculpt and stretch the body while improving spinal alignment. And in “Downward Dog Meets the Hundreds,” led with theatrical humor and technical mastery by Buddy Macuha and Valentin, yoga and Pilates moves were first presented for comparison without a trace of judgment and then woven together in sequences that moved joyfully between the two methods. It was refreshing to see.
  • In other areas, Nia, Gyrotonic and Gyrokinesis® workshops attracted enthusiastic and dedicated followers, as well as curious newcomers. Nia, with its expressive, full-body movements, has been around since the early ’80s, offering a creative alternative to more linear disciplines. Similarly, Gyrotonic—and its “mat” form, Gyrokinesis—invite the body to luxuriate in spiraling motions echoing wave forms. The flavor is sensuous. Stephanie Spencer, cuing her Gyrotonic class, urged, “Find that place where it feels good in your spine—nice and chewy, juicy.”
  • And still there was more. Jay Blahnik’s “Stretch Sequence Solutions” proved a huge success. With the help of scores of watermelon-red stability balls, the charismatic Blahnik wowed attendees with short, focused stretch routines ideal for wrapping up cycling routines or ending training sessions. “As disparity between active and passive stretch capacity increases, so does injury risk,” he warned. “You want to maximize both and minimize the difference.” Fellow veteran presenter and IDEA award winner Kari Anderson also taught to a full crowd. Premiering at this year’s convention, her “REACH: Fluid Strength” workshop offered an elegant mix of ballet-inspired but fitness-infused moves designed to develop total-body strength and flexibility.