Equipment-based combination classes are popular, not only because they offer participants variety, but also because they deliver an effective, time-efficient workout.

Why Members Like Equipment-Based Combo Classes. “Combo classes offer variety by combining two [or more] activities and allow [members] to be more efficient with [their] time,” explains Karen Asp, MA, a certified fitness professional and health and fitness writer based in Fort Wayne, Indiana. “Even with two pieces of equipment, you can get the full use of the gym,” explains Stephanie Morris of Destin, Florida, who with her husband Mike founded and developed Resist-A-Ball Inc. Mindy Mylrea, 1999 IDEA Fitness Instructor of the Year, owner of Jump Inc. and creator of numerous equipment-based training videos, agrees: “In a one-hour class, [members] get more bang for the buck.”

Equipment-based combo classes also appeal to a large membership base, points out Carol Murphy, owner and fitness director of FitLife in Fairport, New York. Men, soccer players and college students find their way to her combo classes because these groups are interested in cross training and intrigued with the variety of equipment used in the classes. “People love toys, and they help reduce boredom,” explains Murphy. Morris says combo classes also attract men because these classes are “less choreographed” than some traditional group fitness classes.

Getting Started. Ask your members what they want to get from a new combo class. “Instructors can experiment to see what [members] are interested in,” says Asp. Also consider what equipment is available, advises Morris. Once you know what members want and what equipment you have, Mylrea suggests you design your equipment-based class just as you would any class, incorporating a warm-up and cool-down. However, Mylrea points out that people are resistant to change, so you may want to introduce new equipment during the last part of an existing class. This strategy worked well for Morris, who introduced a stability ball for core training into a class she was already teaching. It wasn’t long before she offered an entire class using stability balls. Even if you don’t have lots of equipment at your disposal, you can still design a great class. “We didn’t have a lot of equipment, and storage was a concern, so we got our feet wet with circuit training,” explains Murphy. Mylrea also recommends circuit classes: “They are great, since you only need four stability balls.”

Class Formats. Popular combo classes integrate strength training, flexibility and cardiovascular workouts by using a variety of equipment, such as stability balls, medicine balls, hand weights, body bars and tubing. Instructors can choose to teach members in a circuit training or class format, depending on the space and equipment available. Murphy takes free weight training further in her hour-long “Body Tech and Ball” class, which uses a stability ball as a weight bench in a seated, incline, bridge or prone position. Members use hand weights, tubing or a body bar to complete the strength training portion of the workout. Because the trunk muscles are working to stabilize the body throughout the class, members get a challenging workout. For a strength training and cardio workout, Morris uses a circuit training format. During the cardio portions, members move from one strength training
station to the next.

Other Considerations. When you are designing an equipment-based combo class, safety is a big concern. Instructors need to be concerned about proper form and about where the equipment is placed when not in use. “Show [members] how to hold and use the equipment,” says Morris. She cues members on how and where to place items on the floor. Storage is also a concern. “Have equipment safely placed out of the way so members don’t trip over it,” says Murphy.

“Start simple, then add more complex moves,” suggests Mylrea. She does all movements first without equipment so members become familiar with the exercises. Murphy encourages an atmosphere in which members listen to their own bodies and don’t pay attention to what others in the class are doing. “You can’t rush from one exercise to the next,” says Morris. “The way you make the transition [between activities or equipment] is important,” says Mylrea.

It’s also important to be clear about who should attend the class. “State the objectives of the class and who the class is for, such as beginner or advanced,” says Morris. It helps if members are familiar with the different components so they understand what the class is about. Explains Murphy, “When participants are training on the ball, the muscles are contracted to stabilize the body for the entire workout, so the challenge is greater.”

Instructor Qualifications. Most instructors who teach equipment-based combo classes at Murphy’s facility are personal trainers and group fitness instructors. And most are specialty certified. “Instructors need to be educators, not performers,” explains Murphy. Because risks are increased when equipment is added, Murphy makes sure the instructors take the time to explain how to properly use the equipment and what muscle groups are being worked throughout the class. Murphy also has newer instructors team up with experienced instructors before teaching classes on their own. As an added benefit, Murphy notes, the amount of education members receive during these classes helps with member retention.