Putting a new twist on traditional group fitness can increase member satisfaction and revenue. With this in mind, facility managers can develop, implement and ultimately profit by creating programs tailored to specific population segments. “For those special populations, such as individuals with cardiovascular issues, diabetes, orthopedic issues and others, individualized programs will lend credibility to the facility and a unique opportunity to members,” explains Stephen A. Black, PhD, PT, of Rocky Mountain Human Performance Inc. Read on to glean insight into developing unique niche programming for four particular groups of exercisers.

Getting Started

Most fitness centers offer group exercise classes as part of the general membership package. This should remain the norm, as it is expected by members. Nonetheless, by creating new classes and charging a nominal fee for certain programs, fitness facilities have the potential to increase ancillary revenue significantly (Black 2004).

Ideally, your facility should offer a combination of basic programs and signature programs. Basic programs are those that are popular in the industry such as step, yoga and group cycling. Signature programs are those that are unique to your facility. Providing signature programs is always beneficial in making your facility stand apart from the competition (Rhodes 2007). When developing niche programming, consider targeting the following four populations to maximize results.


Ongoing children’s activities encourage your younger audience to engage regularly in physical activity, aiding them in developing healthy habits for life. According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), 16% of children ages 6-19 are overweight. In fact, the number of overweight children has tripled in the past 2 decades (Atkinson 2006). Consistent exercise is essential in combating this escalating problem, thus creating a significant need for effective children’s programming.

When devising your children’s programs, keep two valuable points in mind. First, do not simply water down your adult offerings. Children move differently than adults. Their pattern of activity is more stop and go, so children will respond better to short bouts of high-intensity activity alternating with recovery periods (Atkinson 2006). Second, make it fun. Live by the mantra “If it’s not fun, it won’t be done.” Children’s goals are not related to healthy lifestyle or weight loss; they just want to have fun.

It is equally important to remember that different ages mean different stages of physical development, so select exercises accordingly. The following are guidelines for appropriate activities within various age groups:

  • 3- to 5-year-olds. Focus on noncompetitive games that stress locomotive skills, such as walking, skipping and leaping, as well as manipulative skills, such as rolling, throwing and catching. Simple obstacle courses combine both skill sets.
  • 6- to 8-year-olds. Children are now ready to start combining locomotive and manipulative skills by playing games that involve interacting with music or moving quickly in different directions. Gymnastics, jumping rope and karate are great for this group.
  • 9- to 12-year-olds. Moving in conjunction with others is important for this age bracket. Keep-away games, floor hockey and Frisbee are fine examples. Competition can be introduced at this age, but keep the teams small so everyone can participate equally.
  • Teens. Teenagers who aren’t playing
    a team sport can be introduced to different kinds of dance or adventure activities, like cycling or hiking. They may also be interested in a teenage version of some of your regular programming, such as kickboxing or aquatics classes.

Postrehab Clients

Individuals who need muscular conditioning following injury, illness or surgery compose a surprisingly large segment of our population (Westcott and D’Arpino 2002). You can provide safe and productive programs to return postrehab patients to their previous or an improved level of fitness.

Postrehab group training is a customized exercise program conducted with individuals who have similar injuries or conditions. It is designed for those who have been discharged from a rehabilitation facility or referred by a medical professional. Activities can be land- or water-based. The programs are administered and supervised by fitness professionals who are educated in and have experience with the specific injury or condition. Preferably, an exercise physiologist or physical therapist should oversee and conduct this program. The goal is to create a more functional lifestyle and reduce the risk of reinjury. As clients progress in their strength training, they may perform more specialized resistance exercises and train somewhat more intensely.

Innovative Health & Fitness, located in Franklin, Wisconsin, established a physical therapy clinic within their facility to cater to this population. Not only do they provide the benefits of
a traditional physical therapy clinic, but they also have the ability to transition postrehab patients into independent workout programs after recovery from their condition. In addition, they offer free injury screenings to both members and nonmembers and allow individuals to speak directly with a licensed physical therapist about specific pains or injuries.

Older Adults

Seniors are the fastest-growing segment in society. According to the U.S. Administration on Aging, in 2000 approximately 605 million people, worldwide, were 60 years or older. By 2050 that number is expected to be close to 2 billion. Implementing a senior program can provide financial rewards for your facility, but more importantly, you are helping this population live more independent and productive lives.

Exercise programs for older adults might primarily consist of balance, flexibility and stretching activities. These exercises are key to mobility and are an easy and effective workout for seniors (Perkins-Carpenter 2001b). Additionally, these types of activities safely allow for full potential of movement and reduce the stress of impact.

Many facilities nationwide are successfully catering to this older population with classes that concentrate on improving strength, mobility and flexibility in easy-to-follow routines. Pure Fitness Athletic Club in Tempe, Arizona, offers a “Golden Fit” class that implements traditional low-impact aerobics to improve cardiovascular endurance as well as stretching to improve strength, balance and flexibility.

If your facility has a pool, that could be a good place to introduce a seniors’ program. Conducting exercises in the water allows seniors to transfer “old skills” from activities like running and biking to a new realm. Instructors can guide seniors in exercises such as jogging, skipping or hopping in the water; walking through the water forward and backward; and side-stepping across the pool (Perkins-Carpenter 2001a). Some of your seniors may use their “rediscovered” skills to warrant adding land-based, targeted classes, such as gentle low-impact yoga, strength for seniors and other classes.

Pregnant Women

According to the American Pregnancy Association, there are approximately
6 million pregnancies annually in the United States. According to the World Health Organization, there are currently more than 130 million babies born annually worldwide (1996 World Health Report). The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that pregnant women maintain moderate exercise at least 3 days per week. By meeting the needs of this often-underserved market through prenatal programs, you play a beneficial role in the health of pregnant women.

Unlike other fitness programs, the purpose of prenatal exercise is not to improve athletic performance. Instead, the fitness goal should be to exercise in moderation to maintain prepregnancy fitness levels and prevent excessive weight gain while focusing on maximum safety (Kolevar 2002). Therefore, prenatal exercise classes should focus equally on cardiovascular fitness, strength training and flexibility. Excellent examples include low-impact aerobics with simple choreography, water-based exercises and prenatal yoga. In any prenatal class, include significant warm-up and cool-down segments, since pregnant women are more susceptible to minor injuries (Kolevar 2002).

More specifically, prenatal exercises should concentrate on strengthening the pelvic, abdominal and back muscles, as these are the areas that take much of the burden during pregnancy and childbirth. Also, avoid exercises that are performed while lying on one’s back (Brehm 2000).

A small number of facilities currently offer significant prenatal programming. For example, New York Sports Clubs offer prenatal fitness classes as well as seminars for pregnant women. PregnaGym in West Hills, California, designs individualized conditioning programs based on a personal health assessment.

What Needs Can You Address?

Look around your club and community to figure out what niche programs make sense for your members and potential members. With a little creativity and minimal expense, unique fitness programming that members cannot find at other clubs will strengthen the image, essence and revenue of your facility and keep members coming back for more.