The group exercise schedule is one of the most overlooked, undervalued tools at a fitness facility. Too often, it’s viewed as a simple grocery list of classes to direct members to—and not recognized as a powerful way to drive sales, balance budgets and make your facility more marketable. This article explores why you’ll want to take a second or third look at the class schedule in order to maximize your group exercise program’s potential.
Your schedule may be the first impression you make on potential members, so make sure it is clean, neat and organized. Blurry, crooked photocopies or schedules that have classes scratched off, that aren’t up-to-date or that contain handwritten notes look unprofessional and disorganized. Use color and program logos when possible. If making multiple color copies isn’t in your budget, consider displaying one- or two-color copies in hard plastic frames and placing black-and-white “take-home” copies within reach.
Timing Is Everything
Ensure that classes start consistently for each time slot. I recently saw a schedule for classes in the main studio beginning at 5:00 pm, 5:15 pm, 5:30 pm and 5:35 pm Monday through Friday. This can be confusing and frustrating for members who typically come in at the same time most days of the week. Schedule your classes at consistent intervals in one studio. Don’t stagger the start times based on the availability of instructors. The schedule should be member-friendly, not staff-friendly.
What’s in a Name?
If you want to increase participation, remove instructors’ names from your schedule. Focus instead on the format. The argument for naming instructors is that “members want to know.” However, your instructor team should be skilled enough to provide consistent, up-to-date content while encouraging members to take all classes, not just the ones a particular instructor leads. When our clubs first instituted this change, we got some negative response (both from members and from staff); however, within a month participation in all classes had increased by over 4%-5%.
I recently saw a schedule that featured seven step classes—or at least that’s what I thought they were. Each class had a different name: Step-Tastic, StepJAM, Latin Step, Power Step, Step Fusion, Step It Up, Step-n-Sculpt. I called the facility and spoke with two flustered employees: a front-desk attendant and a membership advisor. When I asked what the difference was between the classes, the answer I got was that one was Suzi’s, one was Marci’s, etc. Not only was I (a potential member) confused, so was the staff! The class name just disguised who was teaching the class. Keep your class names simple and consistent.
Leave Off the Label
Avoid labeling your classes as “beginner” or “advanced.” Your automatic response might be that categorizing a class based on ability will help guide participants. That philosophy can backfire. Are you prepared to tell enthusiastic newcomers that they are not “advanced” enough for your class? What factors determine one person’s fitness or experience level? Instructors should be able to modify and progress for everyone.
Consider members who can come to the facility at only a certain time of the day and whose only option then is a class that you consider advanced. Would you discourage them from coming because they may not be able to keep up? Why not encourage them to attend and stay as long as they can? Trust your staff to modify for them if necessary. As they participate safely, their fitness level increases and you create raving fans.
Paint the Picture
Make your class descriptions visual, concise and appealing to the consumer. Include basic content, such as “strength training using barbells and dumbbells” or “cardiovascular conditioning using a Step®.” Sell the benefits of the class, too. For example, add that your strength class “allows you to build stronger legs and shapely shoulders” or that “you’ll burn a lot of calories in this athletic-based cardiovascular class packed with easy moves, motivating music and enthusiastic instructors.” You want members to envision themselves in the class.
Limit descriptions to two to three sentences, and make them short but not vague. A description that simply says, “This is a great, motivating class that offers plenty of fitness benefits in the water (or on a bike, etc.)” is uninformative. People already know that fitness classes are healthy, and they already expect that classes will be “great.”
Variety Is the Spice of Life
For your schedule to be a marketing marvel, you must include variety. Don’t create a schedule that appeals to only current group fitness attendees, or even to only your existing club demographic. Instead, skillfully balance consistency and variety to please current members while enticing prospects.
Consider the usage trends of most members. They habitually come in at the same time, such as directly from work or after putting their children on the school bus. Look at all your offerings in that one time slot. For example, let’s take 6:00 pm, a peak time in most clubs. If you schedule step classes on Mondays and Wednesdays and dance fitness on Tuesdays and Thursdays, you might be turning away members who want or need to strength train. You may also be excluding a large portion of your membership—males! Potential members may decide against your center because of the lack of variety offered in their preferred time slot. If you provide a variety of class formats, your facility will be more marketable and your classes will fill.
Be consistent with strength classes. In order for participants to gain strength, it’s recommended that they incorporate weight training at least twice a week on nonconsecutive days. Carefully plot your schedule to include various cardio-specific classes—such as step, dance, cycling, kickboxing or cardio combo options—on days opposite strength classes. For example, a well-balanced schedule may offer step, strength, kickboxing, strength and dance at 6:00 pm over the course of a week.
If possible, vary the instructors you schedule as well. Always having the same instructor in the same time slot can spell danger. In most cases, that one instructor will pull the same group of attendees—who take ownership of classes, often making new people feel unwelcome. Even if teaching different formats, an instructor typically uses the same teaching style, which may appeal only to that instructor’s groupies. Different personalities and a range of teaching styles are just as beneficial as various formats for growing your program.
A Perfect Match
In the electronic age it’s paramount to post your group fitness schedule on your website. Many consumers surf the Web before they purchase anything, including fitness facility memberships. Your current members benefit too, as they’re more likely to check your website before they visit. Make sure your online schedule is updated frequently and matches your in-house (hard) copy.
Think Outside Your Groupies
To increase participation and positively affect member retention and sales, your schedule must be carefully designed. You cannot simply “set it and forget it.” The schedule will always be a work in progress. As directors and owners, we need to go beyond offering classes that our current participants support. Let’s take a chance and offer classes that will attract a different demographic or participant.
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- Don’t “fill in the blanks” when placing classes or assign classes randomly to open spaces. Do look at other classes that surround a class, and know members’ usage trends. For example, avoid putting two classes of the same format at the same time or back-to-back.
- Don’t set it and forget it. Do continually analyze and change the schedule based on trends.
- Don’t schedule classes that appeal to only your current attendees. Do create classes that will attract everyone else.
- Don’t use the word “aerobics.” Do use “exercise,” “fitness” and “movement.”
- Don’t offer only hard copies at the center. Do post your classes on your website, and make sure they match the hard copies!
- Don’t create a schedule that is convenient for your instructors. Do create a schedule that appeals to members and potential members.
- Don’t focus on who is teaching. Do focus on what is being taught.
- Don’t label classes. Do educate staff on class formats and whom they may appeal to. Do allow members to increase their ability and their comfort level by modifying their movements or even leaving early.
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