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Going to Extremes!

High-intensity programs can produce superior results for your members and your business 


Intense. Hardcore. Hooked on adrenaline.

These are just a few of the terms that are used to describe the newest breed of fitness programming that’s growing in popularity in clubs.

Some call it high-intensity conditioning, and others, extreme functional fitness. Either way, the workout du jour is a hard-charging experience that’s relished by hard-charging individuals.

Inspired partly by “hot” programs such as CrossFit, boot camps, and mud-run obstacle races, a growing number of members are seeking workouts that include unorthodox activities—e.g., flipping tires, hefting battle ropes, and shoving weighted sleds—which require that they give it their all ... and then some.

Industry experts agree that the ranks of fitness enthusiasts who are seeking “thrills” of this sort have reached an all-time high, and they see even greater interest going forward. Martin Rooney, for one, regards extreme fitness programs as a significant sea change.

“I think we’re definitely going to see more and more of this in clubs,” predicts Rooney, a partner in the Parisi Speed School, the Wyckoff, New Jersey–based sports training franchise. Rooney also is the creator of Training for Warriors (TFW), an intense physical and mental protocol that was originally developed for professional fighters. “People want to be a part of extreme fitness, so the movement is gaining momentum.”

As a result, a growing number of leading clubs, directors of programming, and equipment manufacturers are enthusiastically embracing the trend—and, in a number of cases, spearheading it. Many companies report that it’s produced a substantial increase in their business and given them an edge on competitors.

Sound appealing? Don’t forget: The usual caveats still apply.

If you plan to “go extreme” at your club, you’ll need to be smart about choosing a turnkey program or creating one of your own, educating your staff, and outfitting your facility. Due to the intensity of the activities involved, the satisfaction and safety of members—and the very health of your business—are at stake. 

Enthused by intensity


Town Sports International Holdings, Inc. (TSI), is one club chain that’s endorsed the concept in a dramatic way. TSI (NASDAQ: CLUB), based in New York City, owns and operates 164 facilities in major cities in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions. Early last year, it announced it would introduce UXF Training Zones, with, among other things, green turf floors, sand bags, suspension bands, and tractor tires, at more than 55 of its clubs. Interest grew so quickly that TSI expanded its plans. “The UXF Training Zones have become so popular that we’re now planning to install 50% more than originally projected,” Bob Giardina, the firm’s president and CEO, announced in a release.

Equipment manufacturers are also riding—and driving—the wave.

Few companies have failed to take note of the development; many have already added “extreme” items to their product lines; and a few have made this category their specialty. Among the latter are Torque Fitness, based in Andover, Minnesota, the creator of the X-Lab module, a customizable functional training platform; Harbinger Fitness, of Fairfield, California, which, in 2013, introduced the HumanX performance line, specifically designed for high-intensity workouts; and MoveStrong, of Chattanooga, Tennessee, which pro- duces a variety of tools, from functional training stations to accessories such as strength logs and plyometric boxes.

Rooney’s TFW regimen is an interesting example of a prepackaged program. Specially adapted for use in clubs, it’s a licensed functional fitness routine that makes use of bands, ropes, BOSUs, and weighted balls. After clubs have obtained their TFW certification, which costs about $550, they’re eligible to purchase the TFW license, which costs approximately $1,900 per year. The program is currently being offered at some 90 locations, and additional sites are on the horizon. “We have a two-day certification program with 250 participants coming up shortly,” Rooney reports, “so we expect to more than double the number of countries we’re in.”  

At the Memorial Athletic Club (MAC), in Houston, members are so enthusiastic about the program that they wear TFW T-shirts and brandish TFW flags.

Equipped for success


Tommy Matthews is another advocate of high-intensity workouts, due to the wide range of program possibilities and the variety of tools that can be employed. 

 Matthews is the managing partner of Ushomi Training, LLP, a product-based education and program- ming provider based in Peterborough, England. He’s also the director of education for Escape Fitness, a partner company and a leader in functional fitness equipment design, education, marketing, and flooring.

When clubs are preparing to launch a program, he advises them to work from the ground up. “In setting up a functional zone, think about adding flooring that pro- vides good grip, absorption, and protection for the client and equipment, alike. Lifting platforms can be added if Olympic lifts are going to be performed.”

From there, he says, staple apparatus might include plyo boxes, a training frame or rig, Olympic lifting bars and bumper plates, kettlebells, soft-style medicine balls, core bags, battling ropes, slam balls, and power bands. “Your targeted demographic will ultimately determine what’s on your shopping list,” Matthews points out.

How much space is required? That depends on the number of members training at one time.

“You may want to allot at least 600 square feet for up to eight participants, as you want enough room to move,” he explains. “And there shouldn’t be fixed equipment or cardiovascular machinery in that space.”

Matthews also recommends displaying club branding on the wall, as well as bright colors and lighting to attract people and get them in the mood for fun.

The Rush Fitness Complex offers just that sort of dynamic, vibrant environment at its 23 high-energy, high-tech, 24/7 clubs in Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia.

One notable way the chain energizes the atmosphere is with its proprietary centerpiece—the Ring Of Fire (ROF) functional zone.

Developed in-house under the guidance of Tony Gray, the chain’s vice president of fitness, the ROF is a multi- station octagon that occupies anywhere from 1,000 to 2,500 square feet, and includes features such as monkey bars, suspension training straps, ropes, dip and pull-up bars, and other gear. Nearby, a full set of stadium stairs offers another way to up the ante. Members can frequently be seen running the steps, often with sand- bags, balls, or bars held aloft.

Gray says that trainers and members are “all over the ROF––they’re using it nonstop and everyone loves it. It’s really helped a lot both with profitability and retention.”

One ROF small-group training class, the 212 Degree XTREME workout, has far and away exceeded expectations. In its first month, 700 people signed up for the fee-based class.

Why the extreme popularity of this particular program?

“We charge $10 per class for members, $15 for non-members, so it’s significantly cheaper than personal training, which contributes to its allure,” responds Gray. “Lower pricing means more penetration. That, in turn, translates into more revenue for the club.”

There’s also the rapport, the social factor. “Members bond and form friendships,” he adds. “They’re overcoming a challenge together, and that unites them. And they get results!”

ROF also has helped the Rush increase its membership. “We get a good number of nonmembers who try it because it creates such excitement. Then, because the program generally exceeds their expectations, people are usually eager to join the club. We’ve recorded high conversion rates.”

Committed to safety

Of course, launching a new extreme fitness program safely and successfully comes only with a focused and concerted effort, Gray points out. “The most common mistake clubs make is not putting in the work. You can’t just set something like this up and think it’s all just going to happen. You need detailed development at every level and lots of advertising.”

Above all else, he emphasizes, dynamic, educated coaches are essential, because they’ll make each session challenging and keep it fun. “To ensure excellence, we do comprehensive in-house workshops to teach staff how to run classes and engage members.”

Rooney points out that careful planning, education, and execution also help eliminate the possibility of another potential problem—things going a bit too far. “I’ve seen this trend get crazier and crazier. At one mud race, for instance, people were being shocked with car batteries, and, as a result, one guy blew out his back. This is not a direction we want our industry to pursue. People are mistakenly associating fatigue and pain with productivity.”

Rooney gives the lie to that false impression. “If you get injured—it’s not better; it doesn’t make you cool. You can make gains safely.”

This distinction is important to note, he says, because some clubs feel pressured to incorporate these programs quickly in order to remain competitive. That pressure is intensified by the rapid proliferation of “specialized microfacilities,” often close to traditional health clubs. “It seems that, wherever in the world you are, there’s a new CrossFit box opening up,” he observes. “I think that fact has forced clubs to wake up. Today, members aren’t willing to settle for the same old, same old.”

What’s Matthews’ secret for competing successfully? “Invest and commit. Create a club within your club and exploit the social benefits of this exercise genre. Make it accessible. Try to attract a broad range of clients, not just the elite few. And support your staff; provide them with the tools they need to provide great service.

“We’re at a point where, as an industry, we’re seeing changes in how people train and how they participate in exercise at a club. There’s an opportunity here. It’s a very exciting place to be!”  



Extreme fitness programs satisfy club members who love to push themselves, but, of course, such programs also need to be safe. The following IHRSA associate members can ensure that these offerings are risk-free, as well as challenging.    



Fitness professionals may want to consider the NETA Personal Trainer Certification. NETA-certified personal trainers are equipped with the knowledge they need to “move” clients toward their desired fitness goals. NETA offers a two-day exam preparation workshop that covers the exercise sciences, health and fitness assessments, nutrition and weight management, guidelines for exercise programming, effective communication skills, the principles of behavioral change, and NETA’s NCCA-accredited certification exam. A “test-only” option is also available at over 500 Comira Testing Centers located across the U.S. 



PAVIGYM has transformed itself into a total concept and solutions provider, and is now offering turnkey solutions that complement any training program. Among them is Pavigym Energy +, a revolutionary high intensity interval training (HIIT) circuit format, that provides a total-body functional workout in 30 minutes; included are an online portal with updated programming, full marketing support, and trainer/instructor certifications. Also: the latest Pavigym 3.0 Interactive, an intelligent and interactive floor and wall system with integrated LED markings controlled by touchscreen software, facilitates progressive training, and individual and group challenges, and tracks users’ progress. 



TRX is adding TRX TEAM Blocks to its TRX TEAM programming,
which previously consisted only of TEAM Camps. The newly launched TEAM Blocks is a level-2 course that provides clubs with three new styles of small-group TRX Suspension Training classes: fit, lean, and strong. They’re optimized to help members meet their fitness goals, with new workouts updated on a monthly basis. In addition, the company has introduced its most innovative commercial business solutions to date that are customized to help commercial facilities of any size attract, engage, and retain members with marketing and programming support. 



SCW Fitness Education offers MANIA, fitness instructor training conventions that are held in seven different cities throughout the U.S. each year. Each three-day event features 18 different certifications, and over 200 energy-packed workshops and lectures. Seminars are offered on kettlebell training, small-group training, sports nutrition, lifestyle and behavioral coaching, and more; and seminars are conducted on HIIT, CrossFit, functional training, plyometric training, sports conditioning, boot camp, nutrition supplementation, and more. The finest faculty, including Jonathan Ross, Peter Twist, Fabio Comana, Keli Roberts, and others lead these challenging, educational offerings. 

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