If a recent CareerBuilder.com survey is any indication, America’s workers are finding it more difficult than ever to balance work and exercise. According to the “Work and Health 2005” survey, which included feedback from more than 1,600 people, 47% of respondents have gained weight since starting their present jobs. Three-quarters of the respondents said their employers don’t offer workout facilities, gym passes or weight loss programs. So what’s a cubicle farm denizen to do? That’s where fitness professionals come in.

Lining Up the Troops

“Companies of all shapes and sizes are striving to make physical fitness part of their employees’ lives,” says IDEA member Jeff Rutstein, principal of Custom Fitness in Boston and author of Rutstein on Fitness: Strengthening the Body to Heal the Mind (Custom Fitness 2005). “Aside from the proven health benefits of exercise, physically fit employees can deal with stressful situations easier, handle physical work tasks better and tend to be less susceptible to illness and injuries. Companies realize that huge funds are being spent on employees’ medical claims—and that these expenses can be cut by proactively investing in properly designed wellness and fitness programs.”

In addition to overseeing internal programming for workplaces, Custom Fitness also provides personal training incentive packages. Rutstein’s focus is always on the mental aspect of fitness and how this can make employees more productive. “The physical aspect is a natural byproduct,” he says.

With the holidays around the corner and New Year’s resolutions looming, fall is a good time to put such program strategies in place. Bryce Jackson, IDEA Master Personal Fitness Trainer and owner of Real Fitness in Portland, Oregon, has learned that early planning is the key to a successful launch. His New Year’s motivational contest “Work in Progress” got a late start and thus had to be pushed back to the end of January. “We learned that in order to do things right and get the timing down, you need to start marketing and planning as early as October.”

Motivation and Fun

While everyone is looking for serious results, don’t forget to have fun. Stacey Del Rosario is director of corporate and special services for TimeOut Services Inc., which provides Silicon Valley corporations with a variety of wellness programs. She says the company’s incentive programs are enjoyable for both clients and trainers.

TimeOut’s “Lose Your Pants 2005” enticement provided health and fitness articles and other supplemental education tools to keep corporate clients motivated. The goal: Lose as many inches and pounds and as much body fat as possible from January through March. At the end of it all, there was a 34% improvement in participants’ overall scores, based on body fat, physical measurements and weight loss, according to Del Rosario.

The Lose Your Pants winner received a $50 gift certificate, in addition to $50 worth of personal training. The winner’s personal trainer got a $30 gift certificate, making the pie a little sweeter for all. “Anytime you [reward] the personal trainer as well as the client, you create a team approach to success and a desire to win that they both share,” Del Rosario says. “It brings out the competitive nature in the trainer, which leads to a higher level of motivation.”

Speaking of competitive natures, Del Rosario recommends capitalizing on clients’ team mentality to create sports leagues, biking and running groups. While working one-on-one has its advantages, program adherence may improve if co-workers stick together. “Working in teams is one of the most effective ways to ensure a program’s success.”

Joy Keller