Personal trainers, group exercise
instructors—indeed, all fitness professionals—have to stay on their toes in
this dynamic industry. It’s not just fit people coming to the gym anymore. The
faces we see have evolved into a mix of kids, older adults, pregnant women,
people with postrehab needs and elite athletes, to name a few of the myriad
special populations. Meeting the demands of such a diverse spectrum of people
is an ongoing challenge for the entire industry. Doing it well requires paying
diligent attention to the latest research and implementing it safely and
effectively. Here we look to IDEA members across the country to find out how
they are meeting clients’ needs.

Data from the 2008 IDEA Fitness Programs & Equipment
Survey—our 13th annual—shows that even while new group exercise formats and
pieces of equipment arise, the old standbys don’t suffer much. This year’s results reveal the workout elements
that clients are sticking to, as well as some new ventures that make things
interesting. There is a wide range of activity choices and equipment to match
almost every category or special need that clients can present.

One thing is very clear from this year’s survey: fitness facilities
are responding to the call for community-building that their members crave.
Emphasis on group cohesion is evidenced by an increase in the number of clients
sharing personal training sessions (83%), as well as social activity groups
that go beyond the gym floor (43%). In this age of technology, clients are
looking for ways to make a human connection. Facilities are meeting this demand
by creating opportunities for members to bond with one another. The 214 IDEA
business and program director members who responded to the survey can help us
expand our viewpoints on how best to serve our clients. The percentages of
respondents representing yoga or Pilates studios (15%), multipurpose health
clubs (17%), personal training gyms (13%), fitness-only health clubs (9%) and
YMCAs/YWCAs/JCCs (7%) illustrate that this is a diverse group providing a broad
range of views. These are the facilities we use to make comparisons; the full
list of facility types, including colleges, corporate, hospital, etc., appears
in the actual survey (see July–August IDEA
Fitness Manager
for more detailed breakouts). Respondents report
that an average of 76% of their members/clients stay with the business for 1
year or longer, a statistic that has held steady for the past several years.
How do those surveyed continue doing this? A look at the numbers reveals how.

New Questions on This Year’s Survey

Male or Female Clients?

Two new questions were added to this
year’s survey to gather more information about the people we serve and what we
are doing with our members. One of these questions asked respondents to report
what percentage of clients served within their facility was female and what
percentage was male. The survey determined that the populations of IDEA member
facilities are heavily female (66%) compared to male (35%).

Nicki Anderson, president of Reality Fitness Inc., in Naperville,
Illinois, has a notion why women are in the majority. Her clientele, is, in
fact, predominantly female. “Women always tell me that when they [say to] their
husbands they are going to a trainer, [their husbands] often respond with, ‘Why
do you need to do that? Can’t you just figure it out on your own?’

“The reality is that women need and thrive on accountability in
an exercise program and tend to be more social. Women often respond better to someone
keeping them in check where their fitness is concerned,” Anderson observes.
“Men, on the other hand, seem to think that if they ask someone to help them
get in shape, it will appear as if they are weak or can’t do it on their own.
It’s a very interesting dynamic, and it seems to be consistent across the board
with all ages.”

Social Activity Valuable, Not Confined to the Gym

The second new question added to the
survey attempted to determine how many facilities offer social activity groups
(walking or running clubs, group trips, organized group activities) for their

Living an active, healthy life is rooted in enjoyment. Exercise
philosophers elucidate that mastering a skill, having fun and being healthy are
some of the core incentives that get people moving. While values differ from
person to person, any fitness professional knows that anticipation of a fun
workout is a great motivator to lace up the athletic shoes. Both fitness
professionals and program participants are constantly looking for ways to shake
things up and keep an exercise regime entertaining. Making friends at the club
doesn’t hurt either.

This year’s survey results reveal that creating a fun environment
is becoming a key focus for fitness managers, with 43% offering social activity
groups. A majority (67%) expect these groups to grow. Walking and running clubs
make up part of this category, but shopping trips, movie outings and group
cruises were reported as well. Client retention is crucial to growing a
business, and getting members to be social clearly plays a part in that.

Personal Training Number One Since 1999!

Among the
programs offered, personal training still tops the rankings (89%). Our
facilities report an average of 65 training sessions conducted per week, with
most of them lasting 60 minutes (65%). If we look more closely at these
sessions, adult one-on-one is still the most conventional (87%), with 2 clients
sharing a session not far behind (83%). Small-group personal training (3–
clients share) made an impressive leap to 58% this year, up from 44% in 2007.
And personal training for youth (aged 18 or younger, one-on-one) is now being
offered by 63% of the facilities surveyed. The majority of respondents believe
that personal training is either still growing or stable, with less than 6%
believing that it will decline.

Since 38% of clients in our facilities are at a beginning fitness
experience level, offering services free or at a discounted rate may help to
promote interest in continuing with these valuable services. Respondents
reported offering discounted or free fitness assessments (53%), goal setting
(49%) and personal training (36%).

Mind-Body Activities Divided in Popularity

Pilates and yoga remain strong in the
industry, with 68% of survey respondents offering Pilates and 61% offering
yoga. The average number of classes per week is 10. Pilates training is most
often offered in Pilates or yoga studios (100%), YMCAs/YWCAs/JCCs (87%) and
fitness-only and multipurpose health clubs (72%). Just 26% of personal training
gyms offer Pilates. Yoga has a strong showing in YMCAs/YWCAs/JCCs and in
fitness-only and multipurpose health clubs, but surprisingly not in businesses
that describe themselves as “Pilates and yoga” studios. This suggests that of
the 31 Pilates and yoga studios that responded to the survey, the majority were
Pilates-only studios as opposed to yoga studios.

While Pilates and yoga are popular within our facilities, tai chi
and mind-body fusion have declined over the past several years, with less than
25% of the facilities surveyed offering the programs.

In addition, 60% of those who offer Gyrotonic® or Gyrokinesis® exercise believe that this trend
will grow, but only 2% of those surveyed offer the activity and it has not yet
gone beyond the walls of Pilates or yoga studios.

Equipment Usage Reflecting Clients’ Diverse Needs

As new populations come through the doors
of our facilities, how are we handling them? A look at our equipment usage may
provide some insight.

Balance equipment has skyrocketed in popularity over the past few
years, with reported usage increasing from 60% to 83% since 2004. While a good
deal of this growth may be attributed to the mainstream balance pieces, such as
the BOSU® Balance Trainer,
disks, wobble boards and balance boards, perhaps use of even simpler balance
equipment reflects an increase in programming for seniors. Balance equipment,
along with foam rollers and small balls, can also be helpful for

Chart Toppers

Equipment topping the charts continues to
be small and versatile. Among survey respondents, 94% offer resistance tubing,
and 87% provide barbells/dumbbells. Creativity in the group exercise room has
clearly led to increased use of equipment that can function in a variety of
ways; for example, stability balls and weighted bars are offered by 88% and 70%
of respondents, respectively. In fact, weighted bars are the only piece of
weighted equipment that has seen a dramatic increase in usage since 2000.
However, the more traditional selectorized strength and plate-loaded machines
still find their place in the gym, holding steady in reported usage across 9
years of data.

Perhaps what we can glean from this is that while formats evolve
and fads come and go, the basics work for many. Elliptical trainers have been
around for years, yet usage is still expected to grow by 61%, according to
fitness managers who offer them. Even with the rise of weighted bars and the
increased use of resistance tubes and bands, conventional barbells and
dumbbells have declined in use only slightly.

Members Benefiting From More Nutritional Guidance

While the idea
of “fusing” two types of exercise together is currently very popular in the
fitness industry, perhaps one of the most valuable fusions in our field is the
emerging combination of exercise and nutrition education. Among respondents,
51% and 53% offer nutrition assessment and nutrition coaching, respectively.
While the former can be carried out using nutrition software, the latter
requires some knowledge regarding healthy diets. Exercise science and nutrition
departments at universities have the priceless ability to bridge the gap
between these two interrelated, yet often estranged, disciplines. Shawn Dolan,
PhD, RD, CSSD, says that “another avenue to growth for fitness professionals
and facilities is to build relationships with registered dietitians,
particularly dietitians who specialize in working with an active population. A
reciprocal relationship can be fostered that results in client referrals [back
and forth].” In addition, current fitness professionals have the opportunity to
expand their nutrition competency by taking nutrition-based certification and
continuing education courses.

Slightly more fitness managers believe that nutrition coaching is
growing (51%), as opposed to just nutrition assessment (43%), but both are on
the rise. Personal training gyms and in-home trainers are most likely to offer
nutrition assessment (71%) and nutrition coaching (82%) to their clients.
Members desiring to lose weight may benefit most from these programs. Weight
management classes, which would include nutrition guidance, are offered by 31%
of respondents. Of these, 52% anticipate this category will grow, and 37%
expect it to stay stable.

Ups and Downs in the Group Exercise Room

The number of
group exercise formats offered is staggering. While some formats are appearing
less often on the weekly schedule, that doesn’t necessarily mean they are any
less popular with members. While under half of all surveyed facilities offer
aerobics (including high-, low- and mixed-impact) (49%) and step aerobics
(46%), the percentages are much higher for some business categories. Aerobics
is available in 70% of fitness-only and multipurpose health clubs and in 67% of
YMCAs/YWCAs/JCCs, while 67% of fitness-only and multipurpose health clubs and
93% of YMCAs/YWCAs/JCCs offer step aerobics. In general, martial arts–based
aerobics and boxing-based/kickboxing classes have been on a downward slide
since 2000.

In the same period, many types of group exercise classes have
grown. Indoor boot camp, indoor cycling, core-conditioning classes and
stability ball–based programs have all increased. Group strength training
formats have likewise grown. Additionally, 40% of facilities now offer dance,
up from 20% in 2000.

Chalene Johnson, creator of dance-infused programs like Hip Hop
Hustle, Turbo Kick® and Turbo Jam, offers her reasoning for the
increase in dance offerings: “Dance makes people feel different than any other
type of exercise. Two left feet or not, you can’t help but enjoy yourself when
you are dancing. Dance makes people forget they’re working out. Most people
have so much fun dancing they feel guilty calling it exercise. It transcends
gender, age, culture, language and economic status. It’s the oldest form of art
and expression. It’s no wonder that we’ve returned to our roots. I’ve always
said, ‘We just have to get people to move.’ Most of the world hates to
exercise, but they love to dance.”

Unfortunately, after the category “branded choreography” was
added to the survey last year, it was inadvertently left off of this year’s
questionnaire. The format will be added back next year.

Looking to the Future

The fitness
industry continues to evolve in positive directions by educating our clients
with sound information concerning their health and by providing more
opportunities to make physical activity something to look forward to.

Taking the time to instill proper technique in our personal
training clients and in the group exercise room is paramount to creating a safe
and effective location for members to become healthier. At the same time, our
challenge is to offer many choices of equipment and exercise formats in order
to attract and retain individuals of varying backgrounds and needs. But with so
many options available, can we offer all the latest trends in the right way? Or
is it better to focus attention on just a few?

Moreover, this survey has shown us that facilities are providing
members not just an exercise experience but also a social experience. The
ability to connect with our members—and connect them to each other—through
exercise as well as social activities may help us retain clients and foster a
feeling of community. Will a sense of community encourage the nonexerciser to
join in?

In the future, the key to reaching the sedentary individual and
sustaining the active person may lie in a combination of training programs and
social activities that keep people connected to both their physical and their
mental health.

More Survey Trends and Results

The complete
results of the business member survey are available in the July–August issue of
IDEA Fitness
. There you will find the entire
list of programs and equipment being offered; growth trends; and multiyear
comparisons (10 extra pages of data in addition to the article you’ve just read!). IDEA business and program director members receive this issue as a
membership benefit. If you wish to purchase a copy, contact IDEA member
services at (800) 999-4332, ext. 7.

Look for more survey results in upcoming 2008 and 2009 issues
of IDEA Fit­ness Journal,
and IDEA Fitness Manager;
and expect the results of our newly revamped 2008 IDEA Personal Training
Programs & Equipment Survey in the September issue of IDEA Trainer Success. Overviews
of both surveys will also be post­ed on IDEA’s website,

SIDEBAR: 25 Most Frequently Offered Programs

SIDEBAR: 25 Most Frequently Offered Types of Equipment

SIDEBAR: 10 Types of Equipment Predicted to Grow

SIDEBAR: 10 Programs With Growth Potential

Schroeder, PhD, is an associate professor of kinesiology at California State
University, Long Beach.

Friesen, MS, is beginning her doctorate degree in exercise physiology at Oregon
State University this fall.

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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