The International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association is the fitness industry's only global trade association representing over 10,000 for profit health and fitness facilities and over 600 supplier companies in 75 countries.



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Entries in IHRSA (99)


A Homecoming: Augie Nieto Returns to Life Fitness 

September 16 was a warm and sunny day in Franklin Park, IL, when Augie and Lynne Nieto arrived at the Life Fitness factory there.

It had been nearly 16 years since Augie, the cofounder and former chief executive of the company, had last entered the building, which had been its headquarters when he served as president.

Augie stepped down in 2000, when the company was acquired by the Brunswick Corporation (NYSE: BC). In March 2005, he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a muscle-wasting condition also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Since then, he and his wife, Lynne, have launched and directed Augie’s Quest, which, thus far, has raised more than $50 million to fund research to find a cure for ALS.

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Ready for a New Career in 2017? IHRSA is Hiring!

IHRSA—the trade association serving the global health club and fitness industry—is growing its team.

Our mission is to grow, protect, and promote the health and fitness industry, and to provide our members with benefits that will help them be more successful. IHRSA and its members (health clubs and fitness facilities, gyms, spas, sports clubs, and industry suppliers) are dedicated to making the world healthier through regular exercise and activity promotion.

IHRSA’s headquarters, located in Boston’s desirable Seaport District, has two full-time job openings.

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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.


Best Practices: How Much Should I Spend on Fitness Equipment? 

The following post was written by Melissa Rodriguez for our Best Practices series.

Question: As an independent health club operator, how much should I spend on each type of equipment each year?

That’s a good question to ask. I’m sure you’re well aware of the important role that equipment plays in attracting and maintaining members. According to The IHRSA Health Club Consumer Report, eight of the top 10 club attractions cited by members are equipment-related.

Facilities responding to IHRSA’s 2015 Equipment Survey—the basis for The IHRSA Health Club Equipment Report—said they spent an average of $84,172 on new fitness equipment in 2015. Specifically, fitness-only clubs spent an average of $92,000, while multipurpose clubs spent $88,000. Nearly half of annual equipment spending (45.9%) was allocated to cardio machines.

It’s also important to note that the top-performing clubs reported spending more on fitness equipment than others in the overall sample. In fact, those clubs ranked in the top 50% in terms of EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization), spending an average of $90,655.

In addition, determining the most productive use of a club’s square footage is another critical business decision. Among those responding to the survey, cardio equipment commanded the most space at 20.1%, followed by traditional strength equipment at 15.7%. Group exercise and functional-training areas were allotted 12.1% and 8.2% of the space, respectively.

Finally, The IHRSA Health Club Equipment Report, sponsored by Precor, reported that the average club has 19.2 group cycling bikes, 15.4 treadmills, 11.5 ellipticaltrainers,92 dumbbells, and 12.8 barbells.

Melissa Rodriguez
Senior Research Manager
Boston, MA 




IHRSA/Mercado Fitness: An Industry Fiesta

In just three years, the IHRSA/Mercado Fitness Mexico City Conference & Trade Show has become the preeminent industry event in Mexico, which, by any gauge, is one of the five largest markets in the Americas.

According to The IHRSA Global Report 2016, the country now has 7,826 fitness facilities, with some 2.7 million members, and annual revenues of $1.5 billion—and all of those numbers are growing.

Testifying to the sector’s vibrancy is the fact that, this year, attendance at the 3rd annual IHRSA/Mercado Fitness (I/MF) gathering, taking place October 26–27, at the World Trade Center in Mexico City, is expected to jump by 20%, topping 6,000.

Upgrades and Improvements

The increase is being driven, in part, by the numerous upgrades and improvements to the 2016 edition of I/MF.

“While the 2014 and 2015 events in Santa Fe were very successful and well-attended, this year the conference and trade show will take place in the heart of Mexico City, which will boost attendance,” says Jacqueline Antunes, IHRSA’s senior manager for Latin America.

In addition to increased accessibility, I/MF ’16 boasts a host of other enhancements, explains José Antonio Mársico, the CEO of Mercado Fitness Mexico, the program’s producer. It’s been promoted by well-known athletes and government organizations, has introduced a new web platform and app, and has fine-tuned its schedule of conferences and workshops to maximize the possibilities for attendees.

In all, it will offer some 10 conferences and four seminars that, together, will address virtually every essential, as well as some extraordinary, aspects of health club operations. And, as it has in the past, I/MF will attract operators from throughout Mexico and countries such as Argentina, Belize, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Panama, Spain, Uruguay, Venezuela, and the U.S.

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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!


Shape the Future of the Health Club Industry by Joining the IHRSA Board

If you’re an IHRSA member club operator interested in promoting the association and the fitness industry—and having a little fun while you’re at it—now is the time to consider applying to the IHRSA Board!

The IHRSA Board of Directors is an elected group of industry leaders who are chosen to provide strategic direction and insight to the association. The mission of IHRSA is to promote, protect, and grow the health and fitness industry, and board members act as ambassadors charting the course of the association.

Who Should Apply to Join the IHRSA Board

“The board looks for member club owners and principals that are highly engaged in the association and industry,” says Allison Flatley, chief strategy officer for Corporate Fitness Works and chair of the IHRSA Board Nominations Committee.

Engagement comes in many forms, including: 

  • Participating in industry events and IHRSA programs; 
  • Leading education sessions for our future leaders; 
  • Sharing trends and best practices at conferences or in digital or printed articles
  • Promoting public policy as an active ILC member; 
  • Serving as international or regional association leader;
  • Encouraging others to participate in IHRSA membership, programs, and meetings.

“A strong board candidate should have the professional experience to represent clubs or management companies and members of IHRSA,” Flatley says. “It is always helpful to have a diverse group representing different professional experiences, demographics, geographical locations, business types, club sizes, etc. Most importantly, a good board candidate must be able to make unbiased decisions. We need representatives that can think for the good of the association and industry.”

Why You Should Join the IHRSA Board

There are many benefits to serving on the IHRSA Board beyond the prestige of holding a position that helps to guide the association and the health club industry.

“First, board members have the pleasure of working closely with IHRSA’s CEO and staff; they are a diverse and talented group of professionals that work hard to advance our industry and serve the association members,” Flatley says. “Second, the shared time with other board members is extremely rewarding and fulfilling. Being able to collaborate with so many successful leaders is inspiring. Plus, you develop close relationships and network with industry colleagues.”

And, while the typical Board of Directors may call to mind a stuffy, formal organization, the IHRSA Board is anything but.

Board Members playing spike ball during a break at a recent meeting.

“The IHRSA Board practices what we preach by incorporating activity into our meetings,” Flatley says. “Some of my favorite highlights include running, walking, yoga, and weight training while discussing industry best practices or brainstorming how to grow the industry.”

The Board of Directors’ term is four years. The time commitment is five to 10 hours per month, including travel to three two-day board meetings and committee participation. Travel costs for the Board meetings are covered by the association.

How to Apply to Join the IHRSA Board

New Board Member applications are due July 31, 2016.

The application process involves answering seven questions about your involvement in the health and fitness industry, and with IHRSA. We are also interested in your involvement in civic or community affairs and/or national and international association activities. We request at least five industry references.

All applicants are screened and interviewed by at least three members of the IHRSA Nominations Committee. Interviews are done over video chat.

Learn more about the IHRSA Board, and download the IHRSA Board application form


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.


IHRSA Supports Release of 2016 National Physical Activity Plan to Get Americans Moving 

Yesterday, leaders in Washington, D.C. gathered at the National Press Club for the release of the 2016 National Physical Activity Plan (NPAP), which encourages all Americans to participate in routine physical activity as a way of improving national health by reducing rates of obesity, preventing the onset of chronic disease, and creating a culture of wellness.

Jim Whitehead, CEO of the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), spoke at the ceremony along with a number of other prominent representatives from organizations such as the American Heart Association and the President's Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition. IHRSA representatives Jay Sweeney and Tom Scanlon were also in attendance.

The 2016 plan capitalizes on the importance of habitual physical activity for every citizen and aims to "establish a set of initiatives that the NPAP Alliance views as critical to moving the physical activity and public health field forward and accomplishing the overall goal of increasing physical activity in the U.S. population."

In order to achieve this goal, the new plan expands upon the 2010 National Physical Activity Plan and tasks Americans with creating environments that encourage and support physical activity across nine societal sectors. These sectors include business and industry, community recreation, fitness and parks, education, healthcare, mass media, public health, transportation, land use, and community design; and the addition of two new categories relating to faith-based settings and sport.

Health clubs are referenced under the "Community Recreation, Fitness and Parks" sector of the plan, which recommends that the fitness industry and private business sector "should recruit, train, and retain a diverse group of leaders, staff and volunteers to promote, organize, and advocate for initiatives that encourage physical activity in their communities" as part of their obligation to improve the health of our nation. 

Following the launch of the plan, a congressional briefing was held where the Global Alliance for Health and Performance unveiled its first Congressional Commitment to Physical Activity. The Congressional Commitment urges members of Congress to recognize and prioritize the importance of nationwide opportunities for physical activity. During the briefing, Rep. Bob Dold (R-IL), co-chair of the Congressional Fitness Caucus, and Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS) both signed on.

IHRSA strongly supports the established guidelines set by the 2016 National Physical Activity Plan, as they provide Americans with specific steps they can take to get involved in initiatives that encourage an active, healthy lifestyle. 


3 Positive Indicators for the Health Club Industry 

Though there are many similarities between the club industry and other retail, hospitality, health-promotion, and leisure-time businesses, the health and fitness industry is distinctive in many ways—and several favorable factors bode well for the sector’s growth, according to The IHRSA Health Club Business Handbook: The Ultimate Investor and Operator Guide to Gyms, Studios, and Fitness Centers.

Here are just three of the many positive indicators The Health Club Business Handbook (HCBH), sponsored by ABC Financial, identified for the health club industry.

1. Historically, the industry has been relatively resilient during economic downturns. Whereas, in such downturns, most retail and hospitality businesses experience contraction, the health club industry has proven more resilient. To be specific, when the economy has been strong, same-store sales at many mature clubs have increased annually an average of 4% to 6%; when the economy has been weak, same-store sales at the majority of clubs have continued to grow at a rate of 2% to 4%. However, the 2008–2010 recession had a material impact on the club industry, particularly on member attrition levels.

2. The industry generates attractive and above-average “free cash flow.” Free cash flow can be interpreted in a number of ways. Often, it’s defined as cash flow after all operating expenses (including rent and/or debt service), interest expense, taxes, maintenance CAPEX, and working capital investment. Applying this definition, free cash flow for retail businesses falls only in the range of 2% to 5%, or even less. For the health club industry, on the other hand, free cash flow often falls into the 5% to 12% range, with some leading operators exceeding these levels.

3. The industry enjoys “annuity-like” features. In most retail, hospitality, and leisure-time businesses, whenever a purchase is made, the customer pays for the product or service, and then leaves, having no further financial commitment. However, in the health club industry, a member commits to an annuity-like arrangement. The health club member agrees to pay every month, irrespective of variations in season or club usage. Admittedly, a significant percentage of members (35% to 45%) continue to pay only for a short period, ranging from three to 11 months. But many other members (40% to 50%) continue with their regular monthly payments month after month, and year after year. Many clubs have more than 50% of their membership with tenures of three years or longer.

HCBH is organized into 11 sections, each featuring graphs culled from industry research or from the private collection that the author, John McCarthy, IHRSA’s executive director emeritus, has gathered over the course of his career.

“This is the best updated guide the club industry has had since the previous recession, and is a wonderful example of IHRSA making effective use of relevant research findings,” said Rick Caro, president of Management Vision, Inc., a Manhattan-based consultancy. “It’s the ideal resource for a developer, or someone who’s thinking about buying a club, or a current owner who may be considering selling. It can also serve as a tool to help owners evaluate future options, such as new clubs, refinancing, or introducing a minority investor into the business.”

Read the full “A Textbook for the Times” article in the March issue of CBI.