The 16th annual IDEA Fitness Programs & Equipment Trends survey was distributed to member club owners, fitness directors, managers and program directors in order to gather information on current programming and equipment offerings and to gauge industry trends. As club owners and directors have continued to hurdle the challenge of a down economy, they have been forced to get creative with staffing, space, equipment and programming so as to meet the needs of a diverse clientele demanding more economical fitness solutions. This year’s data reflected a broadening of offerings as respondents rose to this challenge.

Facilities are providing clients with a wide range of equipment—from increasingly popular small and portable items to stationary and adjustable pieces—designed to address a wide range of fitness levels. Group fitness programs have been modified to accommodate participants at lower levels of fitness. A broader swath of exercisers with varying skills and abilities can benefit from group classes; however, there still is room for growth in the modification and expansion of programming for additional special populations. >>

This year, our business and program directors were asked to tell us what they felt the developing trends are within our industry. Programming trends focused on two main areas: modes of personal training and group activities. Equipment trends continued to show the value of small, portable tools.

The 148 IDEA business and program director members who responded to the survey provide insight into the equipment and programming available to fitness facility members and offer guidance on how we can economically and efficiently meet the needs of our clients. The diversity of this group is reflected in the percentage of respondents representing yoga or Pilates studios (14%), fitness-only health clubs (13%), multipurpose health clubs (12%), personal training gyms (12%), colleges/universities (10%) and YMCA/YWCA/JCCs (6%). These associates report that an average of 77% of their members/clients stay with their businesses for 1 year or longer.

How are they accomplishing this? A deeper dive into this year’s data reveals their methods.

Respondents choose the top-10 program trends.

The survey asked respondents to report the top trends for programming and equipment. The top programming trend was balance training, followed by functional resistance training and body weight leverage training, stretching/flexibility and strength training.

Nicki Anderson, president of Reality Fitness Inc. in Naperville, Illinois, sees the logic in the way these trends ranked, given the millions of Baby Boomers who are aging into active seniors. “Now, more than ever, training is all about balance and about function (i.e., promoting an increased quality of life, reducing injuries and keeping people more actively engaged in life as they age),” she says. “[Boomers] exercise to live life more fully, and I think we’re going to see that continue to grow. The growth of body weight leverage training, ropes and ladders is simply to keep things fun and interesting. The industry must be constantly evolving and innovating or we’re going to lose people. As clients demand more ‘fun,’ we will see those types of equipment gain popularity.”

Also among the top 10 trends were programming techniques that involve group participation: mind-body programs, small-group personal training (2 clients share, as well as 3–5 clients share), group exercise programs, outdoor activities and social activity groups.

Peggy Gregor, group fitness director and corporate group fitness leadership team director at Healthtrax Fitness & Wellness in Bethel Park, Pennsylvania, well understands this trend toward group activities. “I’ve heard that T.E.A.M. stands for ‘Together Everyone Achieves More.’ This statement strongly relates to fitness and the many trends we are seeing,” Gregor says. “Exercise for many is not enjoyable, so dropout rates can be high. Bringing in the social aspect allows for greater exercise adherence. People are less likely to let their friends down. In addition, individuals can make more friends [during group activities], which may fuel their enthusiasm to engage in other exercise activities outside the gym.”

Respondents choose the top-10 equipment trends.

Respondents also reported balance equipment (e.g., BOSU® Balance Trainer, disks, wobble boards and balance boards), body weight leverage equipment (e.g., TRX®, GTS® [Gravity Training System], climbing ladders, ropes, push-up and pull-up devices), foam rollers and small balls, and kettlebells as the top equipment trends of 2011. Among the responding facilities, kettlebells and body weight leverage equipment are currently offered by only 49% and 57%, respectively, meaning growth is expected in years to come.

Mitch Batkin, senior vice president of fitness for Sport & Health in the Washington, DC, area, again points to functional training as an explanation for these top equipment picks. “The trend toward ‘functional training’—where you learn to move better, move more efficiently, mimic daily activities, increase your ability to play sports and your ability to play with your kids, etc.—is enhanced tremendously when you incorporate more of these fun ‘tools’ or ‘toys’ of the personal training trade. [Functional training] also brings a new level of variety, challenge and fun to any exercise program.”

Stefanie Meyer, health and wellness director of the YMCA of Cass and Clay Counties (Moorhead, Minnesota, and Fargo, North Dakota) adds that functional training is practical. “It allows for variety in exercise and doesn’t require large pieces of equipment,” she points out. “Balance training can be challenging but also allows clients of many different fitness levels to work out in a group, due to the individualized nature of the equipment.”

Personal training shared (2 or more share a session) and small-group sessions continue to grow.

Trends over the past 10 years have shown consistent growth in all types of personal training in facilities that offer such services. The greatest increases continue to be in shared personal training for 2 clients and small-group training for 3–5 clients. Shared sessions were offered by 66% of respondents in 2002, 71% in 2007 and 93% in 2011. Small-group sessions were offered by 43% in 2002, 58% in 2008 and 78% in 2011. Program directors also appear to be maximizing space, time and revenue by offering group personal training programs such as small-group boot camps (59%) and small-group circuit training (72%).

Carolyn Erickson, club manager of 24 Hour Fitness in San Diego, explains this growth: “Members like the shared personal training option because it allows them to share training costs. Shared training also combines personalized training with the extra motivation that comes with having group support. When managed correctly, it can be a win-win for the member and the club. It allows trainers to train more clients and helps the clients stay more engaged and motivated to reach their fitness goals.”

Bill McBride, president and chief operating officer of Club One Inc. in San Francisco, agrees, saying, “We have seen a lot of growth in our circuit programming. These programs have three primary benefits: (1) team accountability—people show up when they belong and are committed to a group; (2) community—they form relationships and bonds with the group, and this increases adherence and enjoyment; and (3) cost-effectiveness—for the client, club and trainer.”

The power of group exercise continues as a facility mainstay.

Group exercise classes remain popular with the facilities surveyed; 84% provide this service to their clients. The average number of group exercise classes on the schedule in an average week is 43, with approximately 35 people participating per class. Group exercise classes are taught for a variety of durations, with 60 minutes (87%) and 45 minutes (38%) being the most popular.

Over the past 10 years, dance (e.g., urban street, funk, hip-hop), branded choreography (e.g., Zumba®) and cycling-based classes (indoor) have continued to grow exponentially. The largest declines have occurred in step aerobics, martial arts–based aerobics, boxing-based/kickboxing classes, “aerobics” (all types combined) and combination/hybrid classes. While it’s true that these formats have seen big declines, it should be noted that the majority of the 13 group exercise formats on the survey are offered at only about half of the facilities.

Gregor says trends in group exercise will continue to change as class formats evolve. “More and more men are attending group exercise classes that focus on strength, cycling, martial arts and mind-body,” she says. “More classes are geared specifically toward seniors, teens and children. In addition, we’ve seen instructors evolve as well. Today’s instructors are taking more of a ‘coaching’ approach. They teach not only a movement, but the meaning behind it and how to properly perform it for maximum benefit, thereby keeping participants motivated and focused.”

Is there a disconnect between our client population and the services we offer?

The majority of respondents’ facilities (97%) service the apparently healthy client through many programming options. However, there seems to be a missing link between clients who need specialized training and current programming options. For example, 80% of the facilities surveyed have members with special medical needs (e.g., diabetes, arthritis, obesity), but only 43% of facilities report providing specialized exercise options for these chronic medical conditions. While 89% of the facilities have older-adult members, only 52% offer classes for seniors. In addition, 83% of facilities report having clients with chronic or temporary injuries, but only 51% offer postrehab following an injury.

Cody Sipe, PhD, associate professor and director of clinical research in the physical therapy program at Harding University in Searcy, Arkansas, believes that as a whole, the fitness industry is way behind many other industries that have realized that our population is rapidly aging. “The 55+ population is exploding, which is why there are so many members and clients with chronic diseases or in need of postrehabilitation,” he says. “Unfortunately, it seems that the majority of trainers are still stuck in a time warp focused exclusively on the young, healthy client. While there will always be a market (although it is shrinking) of 20- and 30-year-olds, the reality is that the mature market (Baby Boomers and seniors) is growing exponentially, and they are in need of different kinds of specialized services. The unfortunate fact is that many fitness professionals are leaving lots of money on the table because they do not have the appropriate expertise.”

Mind-body programs maintain a healthy slice of popularity.

Program directors responding to this year’s survey expect growth in mind-body programming as a category; it was reported among the top three program trends of 2011.

There has been a resurgence in the offering of yoga and tai chi classes over the past several years, while Pilates has experienced continual growth within facilities that offer mind-body programming (63% in 2002 to 88% in 2011). Pilates and yoga fusion classes have also shown growth, from 31% in 2004 to 51% in 2011.

Respondents have reported fluctuations in yoga and tai chi classes over the past decade, but the most recent trends reflect growth. For example, 85% of respondents reported offering yoga in 2002; 60% in 2004; 56% in 2007; and 82% in 2010 and in 2011. Tai chi class offerings were reported at 35% in 2002; 26% in 2004; 22% in 2007; 31% in 2010; and 29% in 2011.

John Garey, president and program director at John Garey Fitness & Pilates in Long Beach, California, notes that all great programs ebb and flow over time. “I never doubted that yoga and tai chi would come back,” he said. “They have stood the test of time. The mind-body connection that is such a great part of both yoga and tai chi means that they will never be out of style for very long. In addition, they are both economical programs that require little overhead for practice, and that’s very attractive in the current economy for clubs.”

Garey feels that Pilates is unique in that it offers many variations—including options for using equipment and small props with matwork—that can keep it interesting and fresh, not only for the participant, but also for the instructor. “I think Pilates has yet to hit its high,” Garey says. “There are so many ways that Pilates can be included with other modalities, and many of those are just being recognized. Also, the trend in fitness is still in core work and functional training, and—besides the mind-body connection—that is the basis of what Pilates is all about.”

This year, the average number of yoga and Pilates classes on the schedule was equal at nine each per week. Yoga classes had slightly higher attendance, averaging 19 participants, whereas Pilates classes had 15. The most popular class duration for both yoga and Pilates was 60 minutes.

The number of facilities using Pilates equipment has also grown, up to 48% in 2011 from 29% in 2002. Yoga mats and equipment offerings have remained relatively steady, with slight growth ranging from 73% in 2002 to 80% in 2011.

New equipment is added to the survey.

New equipment, with a focus on assessment, was added to this year’s survey. Interestingly, fitness assessment equipment, in general, was listed as the number 7 developing equipment trend in our industry. Of those who responded, 64% offer blood pressure cuffs/stethoscopes, 61% offer body composition analyzers, 23% use postural assessment technology and 17% offer goniometers.

Jane Bahneman, owner of Well Equipped LLC and director of fitness and wellness at Orchid Island Golf and Beach Club in Vero Beach, Florida, affirms that ongoing assessment strategies and use of appropriate assessment methods and equipment are imperative for optimal program design and ultimate client success. “While traditional assessments—such as blood pressure and body comp measurements—are valuable, it is likely that personal trainers utilize postural assessment tools and goniometers less often because they are not as versed in the proper methodology and application into programming with the results they attain,” she said. “Each assessment tool is a ‘snapshot’ of the client’s total needs; the body works as a system, and postural analysis and movement screens are an imperative part of the assessment process. There is a place for each assessment tool, and ongoing education of fitness professionals will enable them to apply these tools most effectively to the big-picture needs of each client.”

In addition to fitness assessment equipment, a new category—vibration devices/technology—was added to the 2011 survey. Results showed that just 5% of respondents offer this tool to their members. Nik Zaharis, fitness director at Gold’s Gym in Colorado Springs, Colorado, understands why: “Simply put, it is the cost associated with the vibration machines. It may be hard to justify the $15,000 investment if you are unsure of the benefits to your club. We make a point to introduce all of our members to the vibration machine at the club; therefore, it is in constant use, which we consider a success.”

What Does the Future Hold?

2011 survey results show us that IDEA member owners and directors continue to create unique programming and to give clients a wide range of options to keep fitness pursuits interesting.

Programming designed for groups, whether small or large, continues to increase in popularity because of the economic advantages and also because of social-experience and adherence factors. Facilities seem to be offering a wider range of group exercise formats than ever, and class participation continues to be high, suggesting that managers are doing a good job of giving members what they want. Small, portable equipment fits well with group exercise formats, as it can be individualized to meet the varied needs of group participants.

However, the survey shed light on one area with strong growth potential that hasn’t been fully tapped by facility leadership: programming services for members with special needs (e.g., special medical needs: diabetes, arthritis, obesity). As these populations continue to expand “exponentially,” as Sipe puts it, it is important that we regularly review who makes up our clientele and how we can better serve their requirements.

Many people within our communities continue to rely on us, not only to offer suitable activities to meet their wellness goals, but also to provide an environment that is supportive and informative, up-to-date and sound in its practices. We have a professional responsibility to help clients be successful and to encourage them—and thereby also to influence those closest to them—to adopt healthy habits. A key strategy is to continue providing a variety of programming supported by appropriate equipment. In doing so, we will positively impact the health of this nation.

More Survey Trends and Results

The complete results of the business member survey are available in the July–August 2011 issue of IDEA Fitness Manager. There you will find the complete list of programs and equipment being offered; growth trends; and multiyear comparisons. IDEA business and program director members receive this digital issue as a membership benefit. If you wish to receive a copy, contact IDEA member services at (800) 999-4332, ext. 7.

Look for more survey results (personal training–specific) in upcoming issues of IDEA Fitness Journal and IDEA Trainer Success.

top 10 programming trends

top 10 equipment trends

25 most frequently offered programs

Personal training, group exercise and mind-body programs’ percentages are based only on those facilities that offer the programming. For example, 86% of facilities said they offer the category of personal training. Of those 86%, 99% reported offering personal training, combined; 99% reported offering personal training, adult, one-on-one; and 93% reported offering personal training, 2 clients share. Statistics in this chart were also reported in this manner for group exercise and mind-body.

© 2011 by IDEA Health & Fitness Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is strictly prohibited.

25 most frequently offered types of equipment

© 2011 by IDEA Health & Fitness Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is strictly prohibited.

Jan Schroeder, PhD

Jan Schroeder, PhD, is a professor and past chair of the department of kinesiology at Long Beach State University. She coordinates and teaches in the fitness and integrated training undergraduate program and has written 60+ articles on exercise physiology/fitness. She is also a certified group exercise instructor who teaches weekly in the private sector. Schroeder is the recipient of the 2021 IDEA Fitness Leader of the Year Award.

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