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Making headlines with the 2004 IDEA Fitness Programs & Equipment Survey

Public-health officials and the press talk about good health and weight loss, but dedicated fitness professionals are doing the work of inspiring people to exercise. Using creative ideas, good science and great personal rapport, the fitness community is purposefully working behind the headlines to change lives.

To capture the activities that are working for IDEA business and program director members—with 71% retention, these programs do work—the 2004 edition of the IDEA Fitness Programs & Equipment Survey features an expanded list of programs and equipment and more scheduling information. Plus, for the first time ever, we asked survey respondents to tell us which programs and equipment categories they believe will grow, stay stable or decline.

The result is a collection of trends in the fitness world that represent a broad range of businesses and geographies.

Trend: Mind-Body
Activities Infuse Fitness

Yoga and Pilates are still a big story
in fitness, most evident in facilities (multipurpose or fitness-only health clubs, and hospital or corporate wellness centers) where rooms are available for classes and equipment.

The new addition by fitness professionals is the combination of yoga
and Pilates with one another or with strength training. The most frequent merger is with personal training,
regardless of the setting. It appears
that personal trainers may be adding some yoga or Pilates movements to clients’ training sessions. Tai chi is
holding on in fitness facilities, but
has shown no growth.

Trend: Personal Training Tops
List of Fitness Offerings

Personal training is unique in that it is the only activity offered by all types of fitness businesses in many settings—87% offer a PFT format. Trainers have the mobility to create exercise in clubs and in living rooms (as evidenced by the 60% of personal trainers who use body weight for strength training).

The growth areas in personal training are in the diversification to partner training (already prevalent with 65% offering) and small groups of three to five clients.

With a group of three to five clients, when does personal training stop and small-group training begin? This point is debatable, but the popularity of small groups is not (see the next Trend). The challenge for personal trainers is the focus and timing required to train two or more people simultaneously.

Online personal training has not caught on with IDEA business members. Very few offer it, although those who do see it as a growing area. Articles in IDEA Personal Trainer reported that online training cannot duplicate the direction of an in-person trainer. That may be why businesses are using the Internet for client communication only.

Trend: Small-Group Activities Continue to Increase

Two new questions on the survey expanded the look at small-group training. Small groups provide social interaction, a component of exercise adherence, and potentially save the participants money. Small groups are also an efficient delivery vehicle for the business, since one instructor or trainer is working with multiple customers. Of those who offer very small groups, many feel the concept is growing.

Trend: Weight Management Shifts to One-on-One Environment

With the injunction to lose weight pouring from every television and
radio, it’s interesting to see that formal weight management classes are still on
a downward trend. In fact, classes are
offered by just 33% of all respondents,
a drop of 32 points since 1998.

Nutrition assessment and nutrition coaching appear to have replaced these classes. Usually assessments are done on a one-on-one basis, and in this survey personal trainers do the majority of the coaching.

Nutrition is a complex area for
fitness because of scope-of-practice
issues. Some businesses hire or refer
to dietitians for nutrition counseling, while others ask staff to simply remind clients to limit portion sizes and follow the USDA Food Guide Pyramid.
A consistent formal exercise program
is probably helping clients achieve weight loss goals.

Trend: Core Conditioning
Increases Use of Equipment

Core conditioning has been an industry buzzword and has recently become the topic of more in-depth discussion on goals and technique for training the trunk musculature. Transferred from sport to fitness by personal trainers, core conditioning is now prevalent in the group fitness room. (Yoga and Pilates emphasize core work, too.)

With the addition to the survey this year of the smaller equipment often used for core conditioning, the frequent use of foam rollers, balls and unstable equipment is apparent.

Making Headlines

Portable Strength Training Equipment. Resistance tubing and bands (90%) top the list of provided equipment, followed by barbells/dumbbells (87%) and stability balls (87%). These smaller, portable pieces of equipment are used in group and one-on-one activities for multiple purposes, which is probably why they are so popular.

Balance Equipment. Added to
the survey for the first time, balance equipment is used by over half (60%)
of respondents. This strong showing is supplemented by 62% of respondents who use foam rollers and small balls.

Elliptical Trainers. Still growing in use, according to 64% of respondents who provide these pieces, and currently at 70% availability, ellipticals are well on the way to being as ubiquitous as treadmills (provided by 74% of respondents).

Trends to Watch

Boot Camps. These classes have gotten good press over the past few years, although they are still limited (28% offer boot camps indoors, 14% offer them outdoors). Yet, 51% of those who offer outdoor boot camps say they are growing, so it is an activity to watch.

Outdoor Exercise. Respondents who offer outdoor activities and personal training sessions say outdoor exercise is growing, but most businesses are still programming inside a building. Outdoor group activities are offered by 35%, and outdoor personal training sessions by 26%.

Shorter Classes. Sixty minutes remains the standard for most schedules, although 45-minute classes are the next most popular (35%) for group exercise. Unlike group exercise and personal training sessions, yoga and Pilates classes are offered in longer 90-minute classes (17%) in addition to the traditional 60 minutes (82%).

Very Slow Strength Training. The strength training protocol of very slow eccentric and concentric reps has been adopted by 17% of respondents. Very slow is used primarily in clubs (31%) and corporate or hospital wellness centers (27%).

Write Your Own Headline

Knowing which fitness programs and equipment increase exercise participation is the first step to implementing them. This survey represents 281 IDEA business and program director members across the United States and Canada. They work in 12 types of businesses (see the survey respondents on page 6) and in communities large and small. Their experience shows that most of the fitness programs will work anywhere, but you must make that critical match between the program and your audience of current and potential exercisers.

You’ll find additional survey information in these articles:

  • IDEA Fitness Trends Report. July–August 2004 IDEA Fitness Journal, pp. 122–7.
  • Trends in Personal Training. September 2004 IDEA Trainer Success, pp. 1–4.
  • 2004 IDEA Fitness Programs
    & Equipment Survey. Visit “Professional Education” at www.ideafit.com to order.

Start implementing the trends that meet the needs of your audience, and continue your work to Inspire the World to Fitness™.


Concerned about your place in the new fitness industry? We have 40 years of experience supporting pros just like you! Let’s create a new wellness paradigm together—IDEAfit+ is the extra edge you need. Once you team up with IDEA, be sure to take full advantage of all the benefits of membership.

Patricia Ryan, MS

Patricia Ryan, MS, develops educational content for leaders and professionals in the wellness, fitness and older-adult marketplaces. Ryan has conducted market research and authored numerous white papers, survey reports, industry analyses and research reviews along with producing educational webinars. She holds a master’s of science degree in instructional technology aimed at designing professional education. She was IDEA’s first editor in chief and developed the Gold Standard of content for which IDEA is still known.

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