If you ask a fitness professional whether energy is finite or infinite, the answer is clear. It's infinite, but only if you make the annual trek to the IDEA World Convention. Fitness consumers often marvel at how enthusiastic, inspirational and giving their personal trainers and group fitness instructors are. "How do they do it?" people ask each other in locker rooms across the globe. "Where do they get their energy?" The secret to staying relevant, passionate and educated is to stay connected with other like-minded professionals who are also dedicated to inspiring the world to fitness.

Close to 14,000 fitness and wellness professionals returned to the source: the 2016 IDEA World Convention, held at the Los Angeles Convention Center, July 13–17, where they recharged with more than 370 educational sessions taught by the shapers and sea-changers of the industry. Two new events helped expand this year's program: the IDEA World Nutrition & Behavior Change Summit and the IDEA World Club & Studio Summit, evidence that fitness and wellness professionals are evolving in meaningful ways to help clients make lasting changes in their lives.

Energy becomes tangible when the world comes together to study, discuss and implement transformation. Read on to discover more about how optimal wellness is elevating the hearts, minds and bodies of millions, and let yourself be ignited.

Leadership Linchpins and Business Brilliance

The 5-hour rule, a concept put forward by the entrepreneurship firm Empact, delineates three areas leaders should focus on in order to see a positive return: reading, reflection and experimentation, three rules echoed during this year's event. Many presenters urged attendees to read, not only the latest research and industry publications, but also business and self-improvement books. And speakers emphasized that good leaders reflect on their mistakes, in order not to repeat them, and are smart enough to experiment, within parameters.

Here are a few additional management highlights from the impressive session grid:

  • Managers need to research Generation Z—the group that follows Millennials—and prepare for this fresh influx of talent. The goal is to discover best practices for motivating and engaging Generation Z to do their jobs well and get off on the right foot. Panelists in the session "The Future of Group Fitness: Programming for Success" agreed that it's important to keep passing the torch down the line. They also mentioned how boutique studios have helped traditional group exercise programs become more relevant, calling group fitness the "new linchpin of the fitness facility."
  • In "Seven Steps to Doubling Your Fitness Business Income," Sean Greeley, founder and CEO of NPE, a business coaching organization, urged attendees to rethink their selling strategies. "Raise your hand if you learned anything about selling," he said. The room was still. "That's right. Nobody is ever taught how to sell. And the reason so many fitness businesses don't grow is because they aren't able to effectively communicate value to the customer. Understand the purpose behind the product or service, and business growth [will] follow."
  • What fitness professional doesn't want to build a better business and enjoy life more? Leading entrepreneur Trina Gray presented her 12-month model for programming—including themed boot camps, unique group training client celebrations, nutrition offerings and special events—and gave a step-by-step look at the marketing formula that makes these offerings sing. The preconference session "Build a Stronger Business and Life in 12 Months—Work Smarter, Not Harder!" was chock-full of practical information.

    "It's not the workout that makes my club a success; it's the transformation we do, and the way we package things," said Gray. "Yes, we're talking about revenue, but we're also talking about people and our ability to give them the invitation to try us out and to try to change their lives. A business can be a storefront, a job or a crusade. Only one is worth your life's work," she said.

Personal Training: A Return to Foundations

If you were to ask yourself what you do, what would your answer be? Lisa Druxman, MA, founder of Fit4Mom®, explained that for a long time she focused on the "what" of her Stroller Strides® business: to provide fitness programs for moms. After reading Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action (Portfolio 2011) by leadership and management consultant Simon Sinek, she dug a little deeper and asked herself why Stroller Strides exists.

"Our 'why' is to give women the strength for motherhood, at any stage of motherhood," she said in her session "Become the Expert and Explode Your Brand." This was part of the IDEA Success Academy, a forum designed to give entrepreneurs the tools and techniques to build a world-class business and career.

Druxman's presentation may have focused specifically on branding; however, she spoke to a theme that seemed to connect nearly all the sessions featured in both the summit and the personal training tracks: understanding the foundations of everything we do.

Structure and assessment. Building a solid house that will last is impossible without first laying a strong foundation. To demonstrate this, Jeremy McCann, owner of Range of Motion Fitness in Riverside, California, asked attendees to notice the areas in their bodies that were not in optimal alignment, including their feet. "Can you now see how pressures placed on the feet can potentially result in, say, a shoulder or neck issue? We must always start with the feet," Greeley said. His point: Start from the ground up in order to understand the limitations you and your clients possess.

Communication. Small-group training continues to experience growth and is an attractive program for personal trainers because it offers an opportunity to help more people—and make more money—in less time. However, these programs can fail—or worse, become dangerous to participants—if a coach can't communicate instructions effectively. Presenter Keli Roberts, owner of Real Fitness Inc. in Los Angeles, emphasized this point during "Teaching Strategies for Small-Group Training."

Irene Lewis-McCormick, MS, also a presenter, attended this session. She said one of her primary takeaways was that trainers need to pay more attention to the nonverbal cues participants give, because not all of them feel comfortable verbalizing how they feel. Perceiving what your clients aren't saying can be key to understanding how to serve them more effectively.

Motivation. San Diego-based Susan Fowler, author of Why Motivating People Doesn't Work …and What Does: The New Science of Leading, Energizing and Engaging (Berrett-Koehler 2014), challenged attendees to think critically about how they engage clients. She referenced a study in which individuals who worked with fitness coaches achieved poorer results when a coach was especially verbal.

"The participants felt that, when the coaches told them to keep going or push harder, the sessions became about the coach's wants and needs," she said. "The people interpreted the verbal coach as being selfish . . . Ask people what they've learned during the session. What did their bodies tell them? Every time we do a workout, we should be learning about ourselves."

Todd Durkin, MA, owner of Fitness Quest 10 in San Diego, echoed Fowler's statements in "Creating Your Purpose and Legacy—How to Live a Life Worth Telling a Story About."

He explained, "Ask people what their story is and listen to their response. We all need to learn how to listen better."

Nourishing the Mind: Nutrition Highlights

In addition to the inaugural Nutrition & Behavior Change Summit (see sidebar for more), the IDEA World program offered its usual rich array of evidence-based and practical information. Presenters feathered in personal-health cohorts like behavior change, mindfulness and planet sustainability as they related to sound nutrition.

Here are notes from a few of the many sessions:

  • Joe Weiss, MD, covered a lot of ground in his lecture "Food for Thought: Brain, Gut, Microbes, Diet," which summed up the latest in gut science, brain-gut connection and the wonder of the human microbiome. "Gut science, the microbiome, is going to change medicine," he said. "It's as revolutionary as discovering a lost continent—or even a whole new universe."
  • Chris Mohr, PhD, RD, clarified how to make the most of a workout by applying nutrition strategies before, during and after exercise. He presented the latest research—including recommendations for optimal recovery—and gave practical tips. As echoed in other sessions, Mohr told the cautionary tale of "overeating the workout," meaning, if you and your clients are fueling during exercise or in postworkout recovery, be cognizant of how much you are consuming. Try not to think of your workout as a special pass to eat more than usual.
  • In "Food Trends: Human & Planetary Sustainability," Michelle Ratcliffe, PhD, and Wendy Bazilian, DrPH, MA, RD, spoke passionately about the inextricable relationship between human health and planet health. We are the planet we eat from. A back-to-basics approach of growing, picking, cooking, eating and composting can together go a long way in extending both our lives and the life of the earth, they said.
  • In his IDEA debut presentation, "Protein Overload: Are You Eating More Than You Need?," Stanford's Christopher Gardner, PhD, demonstrated through data that Americans on average eat about twice the recommended amount of protein. He also cleared up misunderstandings about the amount and quality of protein in plant foods. Bottom line: They are a rich source of dietary protein containing all 20 amino acids, and they convey numerous additional health benefits. "Americans are justifiably confused about how much protein they need and from what sources to get it. In general, they get a lot, and with some qualifiers, a lot more than they need. There is tremendous room for a substantial shift from animal to plant protein."
  • In "Rebranding Exercise: It's Not About Weight," Yoni Freedhoff, MD, started with a point similar to Chris Mohr's—that we "can't outrun our forks," and that "eating back your exercise gets in the way." "We have to rebrand exercise and start talking more about things like body composition and strength training," said Freedhoff.
  • In "Mindset, Motivation and Changing Habits," Kara Mohr, PhD, RD, discussed "fixed" and "growth" mindsets, offering ways to evolve both through practices that foster clients' best qualities. She described strategies like doing a daily gratitude practice (e.g., keeping a gratitude journal), setting aside time for meditation and reflection, and being kinder to ourselves. One strategy: "Set a daily intention: Ask, 'How do I want to be in this day? How will I show up?' she suggested. "Get your mind right by recognizing and acknowledging challenging situations and understanding how you will show up for them."

Group Fitness Gains Ground

The friendship between personal training and group fitness has blossomed to the point where the two are sometimes inextricable. Many of this year's group fitness offerings were set up to work for both small and large groups, with quite a few new programs being equipment-based and team-based. In workshops, attendees tried out the latest equipment, including spring-loaded bars and plates, and a large Bulgarian bag. Not only were lines blurred in program design, but a number of classes had multiple teachers—some of them trainers, others with roots in group fitness. One class even had 12 celebrity instructors.

Travis Barnes came to the convention as a first-time attendee and presenter. The CEO and personal coach of Journey Fitness in Elmira, Corning and Ithaca, New York, was enthusiastic about the vast selection of programming. "You could literally learn about anything you wanted at IDEA," he said. "This was the Ritz of fitness education."

Here are some highlights:

  • Blending seems to be a trend for class formatting and fitness technology as well. Companies like Intel® and Exos®, for example, are teaming up to teach fitness pros how to collect, interpret and then individualize data. Apple Watch is rolling out new fitness features that can link trainers, medical pros, exercisers, friends and teammates. "Metrics" is becoming a key word in many indoor cycling classes and performance-based circuits.
  • Another trend is the continued dominance of dance workouts. International influences were in abundance, with Israeli music coming from one room, New York club music from another, pop music from a third, and Latin hustle from down the hall. Many experts agree that dance is on the rise and predict that in 2017 very specialized, niche dance workouts inspired by celebrities, TV shows and movies will become popular. While complex choreography made a return in various sessions, presenters taught in small blocks that gave attendees time to master each segment.
  • Programming for both boomers and older adults behind them is a mainstay. Presenters were clearly treating these age groups as unique and separate entities, and the proffered lectures and workshops were numerous and packed with attendees. As the first generation of exercisers to continue moving post—college age, boomers are driving this trend, both as professionals and as consumers.
  • Equipment remains a vital part of group fitness, although the body itself is still the best "equipment" option. Attendees learned a variety of ways to train classes with balls, bags, foam rollers, barres, balance apparatus and more.
  • Indoor cycling keeps its space as a top option for cardiovascular fitness and community building. Sessions focused on the finer aspects of leading a rewarding ride, including music mapping, cuing, stage-building and recovery, which is an often-overlooked part of instructor training.
  • Attendees got a taste of what's hot in top fitness facilities around the world with Club Spotlight, offering creative classes from Equinox, Holiday Sports Club Japan, Life Time™ and 24 Hour Fitness®.

Mind-Body: Technique, Flow and Form

Mind-body specialists dove deep into experiential learning at this year's event, as presenters honed in on techniques to help clients go deeper into poses and connect more fully with the present moment. A perfect union of theory and practice created a unique web of professional education.

  • In her session "Peak Pilates®: Connect the Dots," Zoey Trap, MSc, encouraged attendees to apply current research to their "Pilates darlings" and understand that as we learn more about the body, it's normal and healthy to upgrade techniques. Case in point: She challenged instructors to rethink common poses like tabletop. She also suggested that cuing bones is more effective than cuing muscles. "Instead of asking students to activate their adductors, ask them to move their femurs or thigh bones inward, and notice any differences."
  • Many sessions focused on refining alignment and adjustment skills. Stacy McCarthy taught attendees how to adjust with confidence and compassion during "Yoga: Adjust Me Puhleeeeeze!" One of her take-home messages: Blend teaching styles to reach more students. "A well-balanced teacher can effectively teach a class utilizing auditory, visual and kinesthetic learning styles," she said. "The most fulfilling classes happen when the teacher blends all three."
  • Leslee Bender urged attendees to teach barre based "on the science of movement" in the session "Barre Biomechanics 2016, by Savvier." Bender demonstrated the many ways barre is taught ineffectively, and she challenged teachers to focus on integration, dynamic sequencing and function.