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Dream Machines

Versaclimbing at Rise NationMachine-based cardiovascular workouts—e.g., running on a treadmill— have long been a solitary, solo sort of affair. Now, however, club members no longer need to go it alone.

Today, the equipment on your cardio floor is muscling its way into the group fitness studio. This relatively new phenomena is enticing clients to sweat more and giving clubs a significant upgrade in terms of retention and secondary revenue.

The way you offer group fitness might never be the same again.

New roles for machines

First, there were the bikes.

Group cycling, now nearly three decades old, is still going strong, and seems to be unstoppable. In fact, wheels are spinning feverishly, not only in traditional clubs, but also in facilities dedicated to the practice. For instance, Soul Cycle, based in New York City, has more than 40 studios across the U.S., staging classes that are consistently sold out, and is planning to expand in Europe.

Given this, the question many in the industry are asking is: If bikes can do it, why not other types of equipment, too?

As a result, manufacturers, club owners and operators, and fitness professionals are all looking at equipment in an entirely new way, and weighing the promising possibilities.

Treadmills are, perhaps, the front-runners in this growing trend. Crunch Fitness, the ever-entertainment- minded, New York–based brand, offers sessions such as Tread N’ Shed and Runway, both of which utilize treadmills. And Orangetheory Fitness, the Fort Lauderdale, Florida–based fitness franchise, features a 60-minute workout that employs treadmill-based intervals.

“People want to train smarter. And harder,” points out Debora Warner, the founder and program director of the Mile High Run Club (MHRC), a 4000-square-foot boutique treadmill studio in New York City. “They’re eager for better results, and these classes deliver them.” Her facility, open 7 days a week from as early as 6 a.m. until as late as 9 p.m., offers classes such as Dash28.

The 45-to-60-minute classes cost $34 each.

Warner is a former instructor for Equinox, the Manhattan-based chain that offers its own take on group treadmill classes as part of its Precision Running program, and which, coincidentally, also operates SoulCycle.

For Warner, machine-centric group workouts
 are definitely not a passing trend. “There’s great 
potential here to equal the success of group 
cycling,” she contends. “The music, the lights, the group dynamic, the accountability, and the coach 
who guides and inspires you—they make this a 
compelling option with definite staying power.”

It also appeals to a wide demographic. “We’re attracting beginners, as well as the advanced, elite, competitive runners,” she explains. “There are far more indoor runners than indoor cyclists, and treadmills are actually the No. 1 most popular type of cardio equipment.”

MHRC makes use of 30 treadmills provided by Woodway USA, and, Warner reports, “They’re in a league all their own—built like a tank.”

At TheRUN, another treadmill-focused New York studio, Technogym is the manufacturer of choice; 20 Excite treadmills line a mirror-filled studio, providing outings that, lasting 45 minutes to two hours, also start at $34. This offering, inspired, in part, by SoulCycle, is the result of a collaboration between Technogym and John Henwood, a former Olympian.

“The partnership is a mutually beneficial arrangement,” says Isabel Coscia, Technogym’s vice president of marketing for North America. “John really brings our treadmills to life. He was given unique access to our Mywellness open platform, and worked with us to program and customize the treadmills using his own special algorithm.

“It wouldn’t surprise us if treadmill-based group workouts and studios become exponentially popular in the months and years to come.”

Treadmill class at TheRUNNew uses for equipment

There aren’t many cardio equipment companies, or eager industry entrepreneurs, who aren’t eyeing the upside potential of machine-based group classes. A short list of the current players includes Heart Rate, Inc., the manufacturer of the Versaclimber; Precor International, with its Adaptive Motion Trainer (AMT); Octane Fitness, with its elliptical trainers; and IndoorWalking, with its specialized crosstrainers. And the manufacturers of rowers have long understood the appeal of classes, challenges, and contests.

Jason Walsh is convinced that equipment/group programs are the fitness industry development to watch. He’s the founder of Rise Nation, a 3,000-square-foot, nightclub-like boutique studio in West Hollywood, California, where 31 Versaclimbers—a full-body, vertical climbing machine—are the main attraction.

Clients pay $26 for a 30-minute class, but can also purchase an unlimited-use monthly pass for $199. “I wouldn’t have opened this facility if I didn’t think it had the potential to revolutionize the cardio sector,” he explains. “I developed it because, when I looked around, I felt there was a huge need for it. I felt it just made sense.” Initially, Walsh hadn’t planned to make use of a classroom setting, but, he explains, “When I put pen to paper, and started to construct the concept, I was confident I’d come upon something that was truly amazing. Now, I can’t explain how genuinely excited I am about this. 
“They love the energy, they love grinding it out with their peers,” he continues. “Sure, you can put on headphones and use the equipment on your own, but classes like this give you a chance to meet and talk to people, to share the experience. You’re in it together, pushing, pulsing with the music, and getting fired up by the instructor.”

If they haven’t already, traditional clubs should explore the concept, he suggests. “These workouts tap into different markets,” he points out. “Group fitness has been around forever and appeals to a large number of people, but this goes beyond that. These classes appeal to an even broader demographic, and can lure in a larger, more varied population.”

“What really gets people to buy into these programs is that they make cardio training more fun and more effective,” observes Erica Tillinghast, the global education manager for Precor. In March, the company introduced its Adaptive Motion Trainer (AMT) Team Fit small-group fitness workout at IHRSA’s 34th Annual International Convention and Trade Show in Los Angeles.

“This program is about meeting clients where they’re at,” she says. “Many people, particularly new exercisers, are most comfortable on cardio equipment, so we’re simply meeting them in a place that’s familiar and non-intimidating.” She notes that the group format is also useful in terms of educating members. “They may know the basics, but, typically, they won’t know how to obtain a comprehensive workout, one that marries cardiovascular fitness with strength and balance. So here’s your chance to show them what these machines can really do.”

The payoffs for members are many, and, for
 clubs, equally numerous: the appeal of fresh, new 
programs; competitive differentiation; increased 
utilization; higher retention; increased ROI ....
“AMT Team Fit provides clubs with an opportunity 
to maximize their equipment investment and create a secondary stream of income,” Tillinghast
 points out, “and the personal trainers who conduct 
the classes gain some exposure. It’s an excellent
 way to educate your members about the value a trainer brings to bear.”

Octane Fitness’ CROSS CiRCUIT program utilizes its innovative ellipticals, which have adjustable Powerblock dumbbells conveniently attached to the machine. The turnkey offering includes a variety of predesigned workouts, but also allows clubs to get creative by incorporating other accessories (e.g., BOSU, kettlebells), or by employing different techniques (e.g., interval or mixed martial arts [MMA] training).

“CROSS CiRCUIT combines HIIT, circuit training, and small group workouts to produce powerful cardio and strength sessions for members at any fitness level,” notes Tim Porth, the executive vice president of product development and marketing at Octane Fitness. “It also allows clubs to create excitement and a valuable new revenue stream on the cardio floor.”

Indoorwalking’s pre-choreographed, crosstrainer-based option delivers an energizing, low-impact, full-body workout. In addition to the equipment and the exercise regimen, the company also provides a comprehensive package, including press kits, display banners, and assistance in creating promotional campaigns. Indoorwalking classes, recently introduced in the U.S., are currently being offered in more than 20 other countries.

“Group fitness is one of the biggest trends going,” concludes Tillinghast, “and machine-based, group exercise programs are filling a real void in the industry. These unique, boutique-style classes are a great way for clubs to provide members with what they want—an experience that’s going to keep them coming back again and again.”

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