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Entries in CBI First Set (25)


Health Clubs Must Balance Technology with the Human Touch

The following was written by IHRSA Board Chair Rasmus Ingerslev.

No doubt, our products, services, and business models will have to evolve to remain relevant. So what will these changes mean regarding our role—since we’re the flesh-and-blood part of the industry?

To illustrate the answer to that question, let me share this heavily tech-supported customer experience from a different industry: On Saturday, I pull in for service for my car. A camera shoots a photo of my plate, and a text is sent to my phone welcoming me to the store. Messages are relayed to my service advisor and sales advisor. My name pops up on a huge welcome display. The valet personally greets me.

(source: Instagram)

Technology is being used to make a customer feel loyal and special, and to create sales opportunities. This scenario is fairly easy to translate into a member’s visit to your club. Technology takes care of the “moment of truth”—the first impression—and a staff member takes over from there.
 But what kind of value, exactly, can that person add?

The human touch!

Bear in mind, however, that the bar has been set high by flawless digital solutions, so just any human touch won’t do. It should reflect empathy and social intelligence.

Technology—in this case, artificial intelligence—can’t navigate and negotiate complex social relationships and environments, which is the definition of social intelligence. Nor can it understand, or feel, what another person is experiencing. It has no human frame of reference; it can’t place itself in another person’s position.

In other words, it has no empathy.

My conclusion: We’ll continue to need the human touch to make the most of any kind of digital system. It truly is the other side of the equation.

My advice: Sharpen your focus on hiring staff who are very empathic and highly socially intelligent. Those staff members are the perfect human extension of any business system, and will continue to be relevant when other functions are digitized.

If we play this right, and maximize the leverage of digital and human capacity, then we’ll have enormous growth opportunities ahead of us. 


How IMAXShift and Peloton Are Disrupting Indoor Cycling

The following was written by IHRSA Board Chair Rasmus Ingerslev.

On a recent trip to New York City, two companies made an impression on me. One in a different industry is using its technology to create a unique fitness experience. The other, a cycling startup that streams its content, is reaching beyond physical walls, with global scale as its reward.

My first stop was IMAXShift, which is basically a cinema with a 40' x 24' screen and bikes rather than theater seats. The instructor was talented, the bikes and their individual data screens worked flawlessly, and the huge screen with its tailored content was an overwhelming experience.

Unique as the class was, the thing that fascinated me most was that IMAX is using its knowledge of cinema to create an exercise offering that’s been earning five-star reviews on Facebook. It’s innovative, and consumers like it.

Continue reading "How IMAXShift and Peloton Are Disrupting Indoor Cycling."

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What's the Game-changer the Fitness Industry Isn't Seeing?

The following was written by IHRSA Board Chair Rasmus Ingerslev.

Recently, I had a very inspiring conversation with the CEO of one of Europe’s leading health club groups, someone I consider to be a thought leader. He posed a very interesting and highly relevant question for discussion: “What’s the one thing we’re not seeing?”

He was referring to the fact that he’s running one of the largest club groups in Europe, yet no one gave a thought to its new business model when they first entered the market—high-volume/low-priced (HV/LP).

The fact is, HV/LP has changed the fitness landscape significantly; it’s grown markets and shifted market share. Those who didn’t foresee this and failed to adapt their business to it probably had a difficult time. With this in mind, this CEO wanted to understand what he and others might not be seeing now.

My answer was, and is, the impact of technology. At best, I think we’re underestimating the effect that fast-paced developments in technology will have on our industry. The worst case: We’re not recognizing it at all.

When Pokemon Go, an app that uses augmented reality to make people physically active, attracted more than 75 million users this summer, this was a very clear sign to me. We’ve spent decades building our industry to 150 million people, and Pokemon Go reached 50% of that within weeks. This was possible because technology has a scalability that’s unparalleled when compared to typical brick-and-mortar clubs.

Often, when trying to predict the future, our assumptions are based on a constant. In my view, our industry’s constant is that “people have to go to the gym to get their workout.”

Ironically, I believe the only constant we have is change. Even today, people don’t have to go to the gym to get a guided fitness experience. Like Pokemon Go, we’ll see more new fitness options using augmented and virtual reality, artificial intelligence, and other key technologies that will enable out-of-club workouts.

This development can be a threat or an opportunity; it’s up to each of us to decide. If you don’t adapt, there’s a risk that you’ll be in the same position as the operators who didn’t see the impact of HV/LP. However, if you embrace the possibilities that technology offers, you’ll have the opportunity to grow your business—and our industry—to reach new heights.


Health Clubs Should Focus on 'Being Our Best'—Not Competitors

by Rasmus Ingerslev, IHRSA board chair

In a fast-changing marketplace, competition can seem fierce, and adapting quickly enough is challenging. But, although change and increased competition are important, unavoidable parts of the game, it all starts with you.

I have an elite sports background. I used to compete on the Danish National Karate Team. In those days, weekends most often meant competition somewhere in the world. I’d have a day of travel, I’d make sure to fuel up, and I’d settle in at the hotel. On competition day, all the acquired skills and years of hard work were put to the test. You won or you lost. Both meant going back to the dojo—a karate term for a gym—and putting in more hard work to do better. If you didn’t strive for improvement, you’d automatically do worse, as the general level of competition continually rose.

Our industry is similar in that there’s constant change and improvement. That’s how we’ve managed to grow. However, it means that, if you do the same next year as you’re doing today, you’ll do worse. You must work to do better.

In retrospect, I never trained and competed to be better than anybody else. I did it to discover the best version of me.

Now that I’ve reentered club operations by launching my third club group, several journalists have written that I’m starting a “fitness war.” Obviously, we didn’t enter the market to compete with our colleagues in the industry. That wasn’t our vision during the many months of conceptual work. Our focus has been fully on creating the best possible gym experience for a certain demographic. We’re striving to be the best version of us, because that’s how we believe we can deliver the most value—and make a difference.

When challenged, it’s easy to start looking intensely at your challenger. However, it’s my belief that most of us gain much more by focusing on being our best, rather than on beating the competition.

I’m not saying that you should be blind to changes in consumer behavior, your strategic positioning, value proposition, etc., vs. those of other operators. I’m merely saying that, if you constantly have your eyes on someone else, it’s easy to lose perspective on the one thing that can really make a difference: being the best version of you.


Can We Make the World—and the Fitness Industry—Healthier?

by Rasmus Ingerslev, IHRSA board chair

We can send people to the moon, but keeping them healthy seems to be a bigger challenge. A survey of 188 countries shows that nearly 30% of the global population, or 2.1 billion people, are either overweight or obese.

And what’s even worse: Not a single country has lowered its obesity rate since 1980.

In my last column, I stated my optimism in regards to the further growth of our industry. That growth is key to making a difference on global health because regular physical activity—and, potentially, the mere presence of health clubs—has a positive impact.

The five U.S. states with the highest health club penetration don’t rank among the 15 states in the U.S. with the highest adult obesity rates. Demographics certainly play a role, but I’d like to believe that we, as an industry, are making a difference.

There is, however, a hole in our bucket, and it’s called attrition. As we battle to help more people get active, others leave. And once a member is out the door, we can no longer positively impact their health—and our businesses suffer as well.

It’s a fact that lack of physical activity is a reason people die. While we continue to lose members, let’s look at two major health statistics that have changed dramatically over time. In Sweden, for example, in 1900, 17 out of every 100 children died before the age of five. Today, that number is less than three out of every 1,000. Similarly, in the U.S. airline industry, there was one fatality for every one million person-miles flown in 1929. For the past 20 years, there’s been less than one fatality for every two billion person-miles flown.

These are enormous improvements. The key: science!

So my question is this: In addition to all the great innovation we’re doing to grow our industry, could we collectively apply more science to minimize the hole in the bucket? Not only would it make our industry and businesses healthier, it also would make the world healthier. That’s a goal I’m happy to fight for—with you and the rest of our colleagues in the fitness industry.


New IHRSA Board Chair Sets Sights on Reversing the Physical Inactivity Epidemic

by Rasmus Ingerslev, IHRSA Chairperson

As I’m entering my role as the chairperson of IHRSA’s board of directors, I’ve tried to take a step back and look at our industry and the role we play.

On the club side, we’re an industry that’s made up of close to 200,000 health clubs with more than one million employees worldwide, who cater to approximately 150 million members—or roughly 2% of the world’s seven billion people. At the same time, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), an estimated 3.3 million people die each year as the result of medical conditions that are related to physical inactivity—making inactivity a top-five, underlying cause of mortality.

We want to change that.

IHRSA’s vision is for our members, partners, and the association to be recognized as a primary solution to reversing the physical inactivity epidemic. With an industry reach of only 2% of the global population, how is that possible? Simply by taking one step at a time! But to take those steps, we have to obligate ourselves to embrace opportunity and continuously strive to do better. By doing exactly that, we’ve been able to grow our industry significantly over the past decades. Since the late ’80s, our industry has more than tripled.

Ingerslev speaking at IHRSA 2016 in Orlando, FL

Can we continue this growth and, maybe, even increase the pace? I absolutely think so. We’ve never seen as much diversity in our industry as we do today. Fitness has never been offered in as many ways, shapes, and forms, not to mention at so many price points. We’re seeing constant innovation from equipment manufacturers, operators, and service suppliers to the industry, which helps attract new members and retain current ones. We’re seeing leading industry brands become global, and local brands grow stronger.

This means that we’re able to cater to a larger number of people than ever before. Additionally, technology is starting to play a larger part in our delivery and ability to be relevant to members 24/7/365—in and outside of the four walls of the clubs.

I believe the starting point for continued growth is the many passionate professionals who work in our industry—you, me, and our colleagues. We need to keep our passion burning, as our dedication to do better is key to developing as an industry. And I can only urge you to use IHRSA in this context. “Success by Association,” for us, means being the aggregator of knowledge that we collect and share at our events, online, in our publications, and at the IHRSA Institute—so you have the best starting point to reach above and beyond.

If you succeed—we all succeed!


IHRSA Board Chair Prepares to Pass the Baton

Every ending yields a beginning, makes room for something new. So I’m viewing my own transition—from chairperson to ex-officio of IHRSA—as a process, rather than an event. 

My goals: continuity and increased momentum. 

Passing the baton well is critical to the result of any relay race. My last leg on the track will involve reflecting on the strategic course the board has set, working closely with Rasmus Ingerslev, the incoming chairperson, and planning a smooth handoff to guarantee a win for IHRSA and its members. 

Passing the Baton 

Having just returned from IHRSA’s incredible 35th Annual International Convention & Trade Show, in Orlando, FL, it’s perfectly clear that, for our industry, there’s never been a better time than right now. 

The 10,700 attendees represented 81 countries, and Rasmus brings a penetrating global perspective to his new post. He developed and subsequently sold two of Denmark’s largest club groups, and now serves as the executive vice-chair of Wexer Virtual, an international industry supplier. 

Rasmus is the right person at the right time. 

Given that, it’s important that the strategic focus of the association be on-target, precise, and vigorous; and, I have no doubt, the board of directors and IHRSA’s remarkable staff will ensure that it is. 

The Next Leg of the Race 

Going forward, I’ll be spending my time supporting the association’s leadership, and facilitating conversations in progress, and my pledge is to do so with:  

  • Optimism—serving with purpose, and in service to our members and the industry 
  • Confidence—committed to doing our best, and what’s best for our members 
  • Clarity and accountability—with regard to roles and responsibilities, communication of expectations, and current and future challenges and opportunities  

Serving IHRSA, its members, and the industry for the past year has been an indescribable honor and a deeply rewarding experience. I’ll treasure the new relationships made, and the established ones that have grown richer, through this experience for many years to come. 

My sincere thanks to each one of you for having given me the opportunity to serve in this capacity, and, also, for inspiring me with your passion and commitment to make a positive difference in the lives of our clubs’ members. 

After 35 years, we’ve only just begun! So, this isn’t, “Goodbye,” but, rather, “I can’t wait to see what’s next!”


13 Ingredients for Great Health Club Leadership from IHRSA's Board Chair

I’m often reminded that providing leadership isn’t a simple or an easy thing. Yet, it’s such a rewarding experience—one well worth the effort!

A few of the ingredients for great leadership that I’ve learned about include:

1. Be an eternal student both of our own industry and of others around us. Never stop learning, and growing, and waking up each day filled with passion and excitement. It’s contagious!

2. Visionary thinking/brokering ideas: View the organization not just as it is today, but also as it needs to be in the future. Foster a culture of speaking up, as well as of listening intently, to facilitate this approach.

3. Commit to doing what’s best for the organization, even if it’s currently unpopular. “Start with why,” share information, and be strategic to help others come to their own conclusions faster. 

4. See opportunities where others may see obstacles or nothing at all. Seek out reliable information to anticipate trends, remain connected, and stay ahead of the curve.

5. Call upon truth as well as your intuition. When great leaders recognize a fundamental truth about a business, a market, or emerging trends, they don’t bury their head in the sand. They dive into the tide of truth, trusting to their heart and gut.

6. Understand that you never arrive. Constantly seek ways to improve. And celebrate the victories, big and small, along the way.

7. Balance “must dos” with “thank yous.” Never lose sight of the fact that ours is a business of people serving people. It takes a village to do so well.

8. Embrace, engage, and enchant the human spirit of those around you to produce a culture that personifies what it means to be a “club.”

9. Learn from failures, and regard them as life’s greatest teachers. Encourage your team to be alert to the lessons and insights they offer.

10. Keep your house in order, literally and figuratively. Pick up the towels and put the weights away—even when no one’s watching.

11. Steering: A flock of birds doesn’t follow the lead bird’s squawk. They follow the direction the lead bird sets. That said: Be an eagle, not a turkey. Strive for excellence, and demonstrate what excellence looks like.

12. Take the time to develop and empower those members of your team who are most likely to become great leaders. This represents the best possible investment of your time and effort.

13. Satisfaction is very different from complacency—know the difference. Know what to hold on to, and what to let go of, in order to make room for something better.


Are These 2016 Fitness Industry Trends Here to Stay?

A number of the world’s most prescient industry experts have made the following predictions regarding 2016 trends. Now, at the end of Q1, it’s fair to ask: Are these really trends? And will they stick around? 

Partnerships, private/public: Partnerships can extend the industry’s reach, but also disrupt buying patterns. Class Pass is a perfect example. It’s essential to be aware how this has changed the way people are buying, as well as the economic impact it’s having. Partnerships between the fitness and wellness sectors continue to grow. 

Movement for a cause, community service: This is important to Millennials, and to operators and clients who consider themselves part of a “tribe” or “community.” Sweat Angel, Check-In Angels, Joining Forces, Clubs for the Quest, #whygetactive, Project Walk, The Roadless Ride, club financial assistance programs—all good ways to make a difference. 

Technology, in all of its many forms: Technology offers many opportunities to make our industry more efficient, more data-driven, and more consumer-powerful. This may involve members having access to online account and class information; members using wearables in class, and obtaining output data afterwards; and clubs engaging in real-time dialogue with clients. 

A fresh look at staffing models: For instance, members being greeted by a floating concierge carrying an iPad, as opposed to dealing with three people at a reception-desk hub. Many boutique models operate with the class instructor as the “receptionist” before and after class, using technology to support and enhance the experience. 

Experience-based exercise: “Experience” is at the center of the boutique model and has put traditional club operators on their toes. Making exercise entertaining, fun, educational, inspiring, impactful, transformational, and memorable is quickly becoming a basic expectation of today’s consumer. 

Exercise as part of a well-rounded approach: Today’s consumers are better educated than ever. They’ve learned that “harder is not necessarily better,” and that nutrition, sleep, rejuvenation, and recovery are as important as the work itself. All play a major role in the results the consumer is looking for. 

Education: With access to sound information generally available—via videos, wearables, “fitness on demand,” “fitness in a box,” “fitness via YouTube”—the consumer expects a fitness “expert” to be exactly that: an educated professional. But one of the few things these methods can’t replicate is a person-to-person, personalized approach rooted in caring, and validated by education and professionalism.


IHRSA Advocacy Provides The Protection We Need

Insurance protects the things we hold dear: our homes, our health, our automobiles, our lives, and our livelihoods. For health club operators, the ultimate “insurance,” perhaps, is IHRSA’s public policy team.

Helen Durkin, JD, IHRSA’s executive vice president of global public policy, and her group of “agents” are constantly on the lookout for impending problems, such as tax-exempt competition, burdensome restrictions on member contracts, and taxing health club memberships. Their mission: to protect IHRSA members and their businesses at the local, state, and federal levels.

The threats they address are often so inconspicuous that, if it weren’t for the team’s prompt and efficient responses, you might not be aware how many there are, and how dangerous they are. The 2015 record for Durkin’s crew is an astonishing 13 wins.

Recently, I spoke with Jim Worthington, the owner and president of the Newtown Athletic Club (NAC), in Newtown, PA, about a risk he’s faced. A proposal has been placed on the legislative docket to impose a sales tax on all of the health clubs in that state. If enacted, it would cost Worthington’s business more than $1 million a year.

Recognizing the danger, Worthington and Linda Mitchell, NAC’s director of public and community relations, did what any IHRSA member can and should do: They called on Durkin and her team, who immediately joined forces with them and their allies. Working with the support of local lobbyists retained by IHRSA, the group has petitioned state representatives aggressively.

The objective: to prevent passage of a law that would tax the public’s pursuit of healthy lifestyles.

“A monumental effort had to be mounted, and would have been impossible without the IHRSA team,” says Mitchell. “In order to help produce over 13,000 messages to state legislators in just one week, we had to not only engage our members and employees, but join IHRSA in reaching other clubs throughout the state. IHRSA staff and their lobbyist in Harrisburg supplied the strategy and technological resources, as well as minute-by-minute feedback in real time. It was a great example of marketing and communications at its best.”

The fate of this particular proposal remained uncertain when this column was written, so the industry’s vigilance and opposition remain both real and strong.

As an IHRSA member, I know that my investment in the association goes a long way—toward the annual convention and trade show, industry research, and CBI … and, importantly, to support IHRSA’s public policy team. They provide the insurance we can’t afford to live without.

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