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Hop on the Express

Focused 30-minute classes appeal to clock-watchers

Fitness participants’ needs are constantly changing and often reflect current trends. Both exercisers and nonexercisers face a similar challenge—finding enough time to exercise regularly or participate in the wide variety of activities available. Many program directors have already recognized the need for shorter fitness classes and are now offering them. Classes that focus on specific body parts provide a popular and profitable way to reach time-crunched participants. These classes train areas of the body that participants perceive as “trouble” spots and want to target more than others. For example, a 30-minute class dedicated to abdominals and core stability training is sure to be a hit, simply based on the never-ending requests from participants for more abdominal work at the end of classes.

Getting Started

Before choosing classes to format and market, determine how many time slots you have available. Since express classes are short, they can often fit into odd times. If you have only a couple of time slots available, think about adding abdominals and lower-body express classes, because these tend to be the most popular. The more time slots there are, the more options you have to mix and match classes. Decide which muscle groups can be effectively trained together. A B.L.T. (Butts, Legs and Thighs) class gives an instructor enough latitude to choose a variety of exercises, and yet participants know that the emphasis will be on the lower body. Think of working the body in sections—shoulders, back, chest, arms, abs and, of course, lower body. Next, choose catchy names to market the classes. For example, “Stunning Shoulders,” “Amazing Arms,” “Chiseled Chests,” “Six-Pack Abs” and “Buffed Backs” are fun names that appeal to participants looking for results-oriented workouts.

The Best Times

When deciding on the best time slots for express classes, you need to consider a number of factors, including participants’ needs and the availability of prime and nonprime studio time. Shorter classes early in the morning and at noon are ideal for time-challenged participants. Before work or during the lunch hour, people are often too rushed to commit to a 45-to-60-minute workout, making a 30-minute express class ideal. In addition, because a 30-minute class doesn’t include any cardio, sweating is kept to a minimum, which is perfect for noon-hour participants with no time to shower or reapply makeup. If any participants do have extra time, they may choose to do some recommended cardiovascular training before or after the scheduled class.

Another option is to schedule an express class immediately before or after a prime-time group exercise class. The Fitness Group in Vancouver, British Columbia, offers a number of 8:15 am and 6:00 pm express classes before the extremely popular 9:00 am and 6:30 pm group exercise classes. These combinations allow participants to add strength work to their programs before attending their favorite workout classes. Finally, if scheduling is tight in your facility, a 30-minute class often fits nicely between other programs. An additional advantage: Since most express classes require minimal equipment, setup and breakdown are almost nonexistent.

Formats That Work

When programming express classes, determine how long they’ll run for. Generally 6 to 8 weeks is a good length—long enough to produce results, but short enough to hold participants’ interest. Because the classes are brief, recommend that participants come early to warm up on their own for 7 minutes or so. This ensures that classes can start on time.

For the first couple of weeks, it is a good idea to make a disclaimer stating that attending one abdominals class a week is not going to produce perfect abdominals, nor will a B.L.T. class spot-reduce thighs. Teach participants that, if they want real results, they need to follow a well-rounded program that includes cardiovascular training, flexibility training and additional strength workouts.

Although participants may warm up before class, it is still important to ease into an express workout. Start with basic exercises and advance as the group limbers up. In the first class of the series, choose one particular “test” exercise to repeat at the 8-week program’s conclusion. For example, a sit-up or core stability test performed during week one and then again at week eight will show strength improvements in regular participants, giving them something to measure their progress against. This benchmark, coupled with results participants see and feel, serves as strong motivation to continue.

The type of express class will determine the workout’s design. Generally, it is best to group two or more muscle groups together in a workout. A 30-minute biceps-only class may be far too intense. However, combining biceps and triceps in an “Amazing Arms” class allows you to include a variety of exercises without completely overloading one muscle group. Although endurance training is the general focus for these types of classes, you should not sacrifice movement quality for quantity. Always cue proper technique and remind participants to take short breaks whenever they need them. The class should be upbeat in nature, so moving quickly between exercises is important. Use background music for motivation and interest. Always give participants “homework” that varies from week to week and consists of two or more additional workouts they can do on their own, lasting 10 to 15 minutes. Don’t forget to finish the class with a short stretch focusing on the areas worked in class.

The Final Touches

Finding instructors to teach express classes tends to be easier than covering other classes. Whether an instructor is fabulous or just mediocre, he can shine in an express class if he has a general knowledge base, is creative and can motivate a group. Given direction, personal trainers can also teach a very good express class. Because express classes last only 30 minutes and require less planning then one-hour classes, instructors should be paid half their usual hourly wage. However, an additional bonus system based on the number of registrants may be an incentive for instructors to promote their classes.

Because time is of the essence, keep equipment to a minimum. For an abs class, mats are probably the only items needed. Handheld weights, resistance bands and even stability balls may be used in lower-body and upper-body express classes, but they should be easily accessible. Build rapport with your participants and try to determine their goals. Remind them continually that they can’t spot-reduce and that one or two express classes won’t make a real impact—they must exercise regularly.

Express classes are results-oriented and participant-focused—a perfect combination for members short on time. Thirty-minute classes are also motivating and simple to market. Whether your members are looking for variety in their workouts or wanting to challenge certain muscle groups, express classes are sure to inspire.

Marketing Express Classes

One advantage of express classes is that expenses are generally few, which can translate into profit. Here are some tips on how to market these targeted 30-minute programs successfully:

  • Give the classes catchy names and post announcements in strategic areas to pique interest. A question followed by a call to action is a good formula to use when writing marketing text for this program. Here’s an example for an “Amazing Arms” class: “Tired of floppy triceps or weak biceps? This 30-minute workout will help sculpt your upper body by defining your biceps, toning your triceps and training your shoulders for stunning results.” The idea is to keep the write-ups short and catchy.
  • If possible, market express classes to both members and nonmembers and include a price differentiation. Nonmembers will often be intrigued enough to try an express class based purely on the class description and format.
  • To encourage participants to register for two or more sessions and to decrease marketing costs, provide an incentive. If a participant registers for two programs, she could receive 10 percent off; three programs, 15 percent off; and so on.
  • Include an express drop-in rate. The drop-in rate should be higher than the registration rate, to encourage participants to register for the entire program, but reasonable enough to allow for flexibility. The additional revenues from drop-ins can add up quickly.

Express Class Price Structure

If you are going to charge for an express class, determine your expenses and decide whether the goal is to make a profit or use the class as a loss leader. If the class is not part of the regular group exercise program, the main expenses will be marketing, instructor wages and studio space charges. If your facility currently runs specialty classes that are 60 minutes long, a good starting rate for registration would be half the cost of an hourlong class plus an additional 10 to 15 percent. For example, if a participant pays $13 per hour for a 60-minute specialty class, you could charge $7 per express class (half of $13 plus approximately 10 percent). If the expenses for an 8-week express class are $240 ($30 per class), five registrants paying $7 per class will cover all basic expenses. Registrations above and beyond five ensure a profit.


Name: Six-Pack Abs

Duration: 8 weeks

Expenses: $240 (or approx. $30/class)

Fee per Registrant: $56 (or $7/class)

Drop-In Fee: $8.50/class

Expenses / Registration Fee = Required Registrants for Break-Even: $240 / $56 = 4.3

Therefore, four registrants plus a minimum of two drop-ins would be required to cover all expenses for a break-even program.

Krista Popowych

Krista Popowych inspires fitness leaders, trainers and managers around the globe with her motivating sessions. She is the 2014 IDEA Fitness Instructor of the Year and a three-time (2016, 2008, 2003) canfitpro Canadian Fitness Presenter of the YearShe is Keiser’s global director of education, as well as a Balanced Body® master trainer, JumpSport® consultant, DVD creator, published writer, Adidas-sponsored fit pro and IDEA Group Fitness Committee member.

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