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.