The Future of Group Fitness
"Feel the burn!" "Bet you can't do it all!" These were the cues of aerobics classes of the past. "Jab-jab-punch!" "Visualize yourself climbing a steep hill" and "Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth," are common cues in group fitness classes today. And just as verbal cues have changed, so have fitness classes. Some believe that group exercise classes were left behind in the '80s, and that it is dead. But as Mark Twain once said, "Rumors of my death are greatly exaggerated...." Group exercise is alive and well. What will group fitness classes be like in the future? To predict this, past and current trends need to be examined.
Historical group fitness
Group fitness classes in the U.S. originated from a dance background, with programs such as Jazzercise and Jackie Sorensen Aerobics. Movements were given specific names that were choreographed to music, and a group of moves was taught at each session. If you missed a session, you needed to learn the choreography by the next class to keep up. Then, Jane Fonda-style classes became popular. These classes incorporated more calisthenics, and the aerobics movements were more free-form than choreographed. This enabled participants who had never taken a class to feel comfortable since the instructor gave spontaneous cues for moves. Instructor training and certifications were just beginning to be accepted.
Then, in 1989, the step was born. All of a sudden, a piece of equipment became an essential part of group fitness, and classes that incorporated all types of exercise became the norm instead of the exception. Classes started to be called group fitness rather than aerobics.
Current group exercise
The main theme of current group fitness classes is variety. Settings vary from the traditional studio to workouts on cardio equipment to outdoor hiking and inline skating. Class types and experiences vary from sculpting to aerobics to pre-choreographed strength training to indoor treadmill training to heavy-bag kickboxing. And the types of equipment used for classes vary from weighted bars to rubber bands to stability balls to workouts on stairclimbers, treadmills and bikes. Basically, if clients have a need or desire, a class is created to fill it.
S.A.F.E. (Simple, Adventurous, Fun and Effective) is the foundation of group fitness classes today. Following are the key components of S.A.F.E., and how it relates to group exercise.
When a new exercise or program is introduced, a learning curve takes place. Whether you're an instructor or a participant, moves are learned progressively starting with the basics. This is the kinesthetic phase of learning. Take step training for example. In the kinesthetic phase, an exerciser is most concerned about executing the basic moves. Once the basics are mastered, a participant will feel more comfortable adding arm movements and increasing the complexity of lower-body movements. This is the associative phase, where feelings and descriptions are associated with specific moves. In the autonomic phase, participants usually know what the instructor is going to do before the instructor cues the moves. (These people are usually in the front row of the class.)
Now, group fitness classes usually consist of participants who have already experienced all of the phases of learning. Classes can be 90 percent full of "front row" participants. This can be intimidating for new members, first-time group exercise participants and the deconditioned market. To attract all types of participants, group fitness instructors have had to focus on teaching to everyone, regardless of their level of experience, age or fitness abilities. Classes that have become popular and successful today are athletic and repetitive, and have no or very simple choreography. People enjoy classes more and feel successful when they don't feel awkward and uncoordinated.
Group fitness has never been so exciting. Whether inside or outside the club, walls, mirrors and a sound system no longer restrict classes. If your members want a Latin dance class, a class to walk their dogs, a class to inline skate, a class to rock-climb, a class to go hiking, an African dance class, a class for Brazilian-style martial arts, a tumbling class for kids or a hip-hop class for teens, no problem. Instructors who are the most creative create the most unique experiences for members.
Fun is the key to motivation and adherence. Fun begins with professional group fitness instructors and great programming. Professionalism equals consistent quality in the classes that each group fitness instructor teaches. Certifications and continuing education for instructors are necessary to improve your programs and to provide consistent high-quality classes. Instructors who are well-educated and well-versed in their areas of expertise can help participants to vary their experiences, which is an essential part of motivation. If participants never know what to expect from each class, they will never get bored.
Creative group fitness programming helps to retain existing members, recruit new members, and keep both instructors and members motivated. A basic rule of thumb for developing new classes is, if there are more than two people interested in a particular type of fitness program, promote it as a class. Chances are, interest will build, since people generally like to experiment with different classes to escape stress and relax their minds. When it comes to group fitness programming, anything goes. Following are a few hot programming ideas:
* Combination classes (i.e., aerobics and step), indoor cycling, group strength training, martial arts, mind/body (yoga, tai chi, meditation, Pilates, Feldenkrais, NIA, qi gong, stretch, chi ball), mini-trampolines
* Belly dancing, Afro-Caribbean, Swing, Latin-Salsa, hip-hop, jazz, ballet, tap
* Group rowing, treadmill, stairclimbing, cycling, elliptical training
* Sport conditioning (snow sports, golf, running, training drills, triathlon training, racquet sports, etc.), jump rope, group personal training
Classes for special populations:
* Cardio rehab, senior classes (aerobic and strength), back class, family-fun Fridays, kickboxing for kids
* Aqua aerobics, swim lessons/techniques, stretch, toning/strengthening, youth programs
* Walking, running, cycling, hiking, inline skating
Time is a valuable commodity for fitness professionals and their clients. In the past, members loved taking classes that lasted more than an hour. Now, quick 30-minute classes are more the trend. Quality training that doesn't require a lot of time is the most efficient way to help members reach their health and fitness goals. Physical results may not be the main reason why members stay with a club, but they help members to feel good about themselves and help fitness professionals have a sense of purpose.
The "E" in S.A.F.E. also represents Entertaining. Classes where the instructor wears a costume, teaches by candlelight or recites poetry have become more of a norm rather than an exception.
Future group exercise
The future of group fitness is exciting. Having S.A.F.E. (Simple, Adventurous, Fun and Effective) programs will give your classes a focus and keep your members and instructors happy. Remember, the more variety you have, the more safety is increased, risk of injury is reduced and exercise adherence is increased.
Clients will continue to be well-informed about fitness, training techniques, disease prevention and training options. Fitness professionals will simply have to stay abreast of trends and information, and step out of their comfort zones to provide the most efficient, effective and safe workout experiences possible.
There's a place in group fitness for literally everybody, whether it is dance, athletic training or mind/body classes. Group fitness has come a long way, and its ongoing changes will help to make the future of health clubs that much more exciting. Remember, people join health clubs as an individual, but they remain a member when they are part of a group. FM
Lynne Brick is the founder and president of Brick Bodies Fitness Services. She owns a chain of Brick Bodies health clubs, has starred in more than two dozen videos, has authored five books and is an international presenter. Her website can be found at www.brickbodies.com.