In the constant hunt for new members, you may be overlooking a profitable group: pregnant women and new mothers. By meeting the needs of this often-underserved market through prenatal and postnatal services, your fitness facility can grow membership, gain long-term loyal customers and ultimately play a beneficial role in the health of pregnant women and new mothers.
This particular population is larger than you might think, and they need your services. According to the American Pregnancy Association, there are approximately 6 million pregnancies annually throughout the United States. And the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that pregnant women maintain moderate exercise at least 3 days per week.
“Exercising during your pregnancy makes a tremendous difference, both in how your body adapts to the physical changes occurring and in how quickly you recover postpartum,” explains Michelle Gagnon, founder of Infinity Personal Training based in San Francisco. Studies show that regular physical activity helps to maintain healthy weight gain; aids in preventing gestational diabetes; and helps a woman better cope with the mental and physical stresses of childbirth. Furthermore, women who continue to exercise after childbirth experience quicker recovery and a more rapid return to their pre-pregnancy shape.
Knowing the market exists is one thing. Knowing what services to offer is another. A prenatal class emphasizes exercises to develop the stamina needed for labor, while a postnatal class provides activities to assist in recovery after delivery. In prenatal and postnatal classes, unlike other fitness regiments, the purpose is not to improve athletic performance or participate in competitive activities. Instead, the fitness goal should be to exercise in moderation to maintain physical fitness while focusing on maximum safety.
“Prenatal and postpartum exercise is the window of opportunity for lifestyle change. Transitioning with a peer group through this important phase of life offers valuable psychosocial support as well as physical benefits from stretching, positioning and partner activities,” explains Elizabeth Noble, founder of the Section on Women’s Health of the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) and author of Essential Exercises for the Childbearing Years.
Prenatal exercise classes should focus equally on cardiovascular fitness, strength training and flexibility. Excellent examples include low-impact aerobics, water-based exercises and swimming, yoga and stretching.
Cardiovascular Exercise. Increasing endurance will assist during labor. Design programs with simple choreography, avoiding activities with rapid movements. Always offer modifications, and limit strenuous exercise to 15 minutes. Since resting heart rate rises during pregnancy, the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America (AFAA) recommends pregnant exercisers keep their heart rates between 60% and 70% of the maximum heart rate.
Strength Training. The focus should be largely on the pelvic and abdominal muscles. “Pregnancy is very stressful
on a woman’s body . . . especially the
abdominal and pelvic-floor muscles. If
a woman strengthens these two muscle groups during pregnancy, not only will it help her in labor but the recovery process will be much easier,” explains Julie Tupler, RN, president of Maternal Fitness in New York City and author
of Maternal Fitness and Lose Your Mummy Tummy.
Flexibility. Include stretching and limbering exercises to prepare the muscles and connective tissue for delivery and to protect joints from strain. Yoga and Pilates are ideal because the postures also build strength and promote circulation. Also consider incorporating imagery, music and breathing techniques.
Postnatal classes are equally important to new mothers interested in regaining their figures and energy levels. Nonstrenuous exercise during the postpartum period offers countless physical benefits and has been shown to reduce postpartum depression. Ideally, a postnatal fitness program should also focus on socialization and health education
to allow new mothers the opportunity to network with other moms.
Postpartum classes should involve activities similar to the prenatal programs, focusing on cardiovascular, strength and flexibility exercises. More specifically, postnatal classes should start gradually and work up to sustained activity. Having women jump back into high-intensity activity too early after
delivery may postpone full recovery.
To reduce any risks, postpartum classes should be offered to women at least 6 weeks postpartum. Go a step further and offer classes that new moms can take with their babies, such as “Mommy and Baby Aerobics” or a “Mommy and Baby Swim Class,” ideal for babies 11 months and older.
Now that you know what to offer, below are examples of facilities nationwide that embrace prenatal and postnatal programs:
- New York Sports Clubs: In addition to prenatal and postpartum classes, this chain offers seminars for pregnant women and on-site baby-sitting.
- YogaSource in Santa Fe, New Mexico: Postures are modified to help ease pregnancy and delivery by emphasizing strength, flexibility and breathing in the “Pre & Post-Natal” class, while the “Mommy & Me” class incorporates yoga for mothers and movement for babies.
- The Prenatal Yoga Center in New York City: Features “Mommy and
Me Yoga” as well as “Music Class for Babies,” where mom and baby participate in songs, movement activities and simple instrument play. An infant massage course and support groups for new mothers and moms-to-be are also offered.
- PregnaGym in West Hills, California: Individualized conditioning programs are designed based on a
health assessment performed by a registered nurse.
- AquaMom in New York City: Offers classes combining low-impact cardio, resistance training, stretching and relaxation, and yoga—all done in the water.
In addition to providing pre- and postnatal exercise classes, consider offering supplementary services in order to meet and exceed the needs and expectations of this population. Develop brochures and seminars with appropriate health professionals about the benefits of exercising and proper pre- and postnatal nutrition. Special services, such as prenatal massage and nutritional counseling, can also benefit this market. Personal training programs especially designed for new and expectant mothers will also help these women reach their specific goals.
Many mothers wish to exercise, yet are often challenged with having to find a baby sitter. If a woman can’t make it to your club, you’ve lost a customer. One of the most critical additional services to consider providing is childcare. 24 Hour Fitness clubs offer a Kids’ Club for children from 6 months to 12 years old. This “club” is a short-term baby-sitting service that is available at most locations for a reasonable rate. At the seven Fitness Edge facilities in Connecticut, mothers work out while qualified staff care for their children through the Kidz Kare program. Toys, crafts, story time and even special events, including “Mom’s Day Out” and “Kidz Night Out,” are provided.
When families begin to grow, so do the opportunities to grow your business and make a difference in the well-being of expecting and new mothers. When you cater to the needs of these women through ongoing prenatal and postnatal services, you’re not just gaining members and generating revenue; you’re helping them through an important life stage. It’s a win-win situation.
- Have trainers and instructors certified in maternity fitness.
- Keep emergency information on file for each participant.
- Obtain physician’s approval to exercise for each participant.
- Avoid deep flexion or extension of joints.
- Avoid exercises in the supine position after the 4th month.
- Avoid activities with a high risk of falling or abdominal trauma.
- Offer classes at least three times per week.
- Advise clients to drink plenty of fluids before, during and after class, as dehydration can cause premature labor.
- Make sure water fountains and bathrooms are nearby.
- Market new services through pregnancy and parenting magazines, La Leche League, new parent groups and support groups.
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Gagnon, M. 1999. Is it safe to exercise during pregnancy? www.childbirth.org.
Goldman, E.L. 2002. ACOG releases new guidelines
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International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA), 2004. Prenatal & postpartum exercise. Trends Insight, 2004.
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