How 'Get Fit' Helped 3 Clubs Connect with Their Community

Commit to Get Fit launched 30 years ago. What lessons can we learn from three of the original participating clubs?

2019 marks the 30th anniversary of IHRSA’s first health promotion program, “Commit to Get Fit.” Commit to Get Fit was a marketing and outreach program that ran from 1989 to 1993 with the aim of getting more people from the community into the club. Many of the clubs that took park in the program during its four-year run are still working diligently to improve the health—and lives—of their communities.

To get a sense of how far we’ve come since Commit to Get Fit first launched three decades ago, we talked to three clubs:

All three of these clubs took part in the original program and were happy to share how things have changed since 1989 and what they’re up to now.

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A personal trainer at Healthtrax.

Technology Has Changed the Conversation

Technology has brought different ways to communicate with consumers, and now they are more receptive to the health message. Healthtrax CEO Steve Capezzone has noticed vast changes in how we communicate with both members and potential members. “The 21st century is less about print and mail and more about your social media brand, website, and constant presence of your messaging on the big wide world of the web,” says Capezzone.

He remembers when health clubs would print and mail everything, including:

  • health promotion newsletters,
  • free community wellness program course booklets,
  • postcards featuring free health education events,
  • guest physician lectures in facilities,
  • information on health fairs, and so on.

Now health clubs—including Healthtrax—email events and health tips to their corporate clients, post news and events on social media, and run digital advertisements on in-house televisions and static posters.

But not everything has changed. For Capezzone, the value of networking face to face in the center of and around the community from business to civic events is crucial to ensuring that people see Healthtrax as not only the face of fitness but also as local experts that serve as a resource in the area. Building this kind of reputation allows clubs like Healthtrax to ask for—and receive—referrals from their members, community networks, and clinicians for lead generation.

Technology has not only changed how we communicate with consumers, but their receptiveness to hear the message of the benefits of exercise. Just ask Columbia Association Director of Sport and Fitness Dan Burns. He has seen a significant increase in awareness around the health and wellness message. The conversation around health and wellness is becoming mainstream. Burns says, "[With] the proliferation of apps and technology that track or deliver information and metrics, more and more people are joining the march toward a longer and more fulfilling life.” This is good for clubs, he says, because it makes consumers more open to the message of getting more people more active.

The Key to Overcoming Challenges is Your Club's Mission and Message

Keeping up with lower-priced competition is one of the challenges Danielle Brouchard of Aspen Hill Club faced, but she found that by staying their course and providing excellent service Aspen Hill Club was able to win out over their competitors. Brouchard emphasizes the importance of having “a committed staff that comprehends what real service is about and ensuring that member needs and expectations are met as often as possible.”

Aspen Hill Club is not the only club that faced this challenge. Healthtrax also had to overcome competition. Capezzone says, “Since 1979, we have been witness to fitness fads and competitors large and small coming and going in our rural markets.” The thing is, members often come back to the higher quality club that has superior service. He says, “When surveying members who leave and return, the common thread is that our staff, amenities, classes, and programs just feel different. They miss us.”

Another challenge clubs face is breaking down barriers to exercise. All three clubs aimed to make their clubs a welcoming place, with inclusivity being an important theme common to all three clubs.

The Columbia Association is focused on addressing common barriers to exercise. As Burns points out, “There have been many challenges over the years, many of them revolving around getting people to overcome their fear, their excuses or intimidation. We have worked hard to get people to participate by creating inclusive and easily accessible programs and services that speak to a wide variety of people.”

Capezzone noted that his club consistently faced “an industry-wide challenge which is to break down the barriers and misconceptions often held by non-traditional joiners. Our challenge amidst more and more niche competition is to stay the course and attract the ‘fragile eggs’ to join and thrive in our safe, supportive environments.”

“Once you understand what your goal for the program is, you are free to do everything you and your team can do to achieve them.”

Dan Burns, Director of Sport and Fitness

Columbia Association - Columbia, MD

Commit to Get Fit Aligned with Clubs’ Missions—and It Still Does

Healthtrax has long had a medical wellness mission. In the early 80’s they re-branded as a medical fitness facility, using branded physician prescription pads to making it as easy as possible for the medical community to refer patients for exercise. Commit to Get Fit just made it easy to share their message widely. Now, Healthtrax is an acac p.r.e.p. provider and are following that model with great success. P.r.e.p. is a physician referred exercise program, in which recipients receive a 60-day membership for $60. P.re.p. Provides a guided introduction to exercise and includes small group training and nutrition in addition to club access. Healthtrax has also seen an uptick in participation from Medicare Advantage users.

For the Columbia Association, an organization with a clear community service mission, Burns says Commit to Get Fit was “a natural extension of who we are and why we are in business.”

Today, they provide a number of programs including income-qualified memberships; Optimal Health (a weight loss program featuring exercise and education); FitBeginnings for beginner exercisers; and My Baby and Me (pre and postnatal program).

In addition, Columbia Association is a primary sponsor of their local biannual county-wide Health Assessment Survey, which provides comprehensive health demographics to a variety of governmental and community programs and services, and recently kicked off a Healthy Eating Series with a presentation by a national speaker that drew more than 350 community members.

For the Aspen Hill Club, Commit to Get Fit was “a great way to get the community to understand the importance of exercise and it was a great way to market health and fitness.” Aspen Hill is a privately owned club, so their focus is on getting existing membership more fit. They accomplish this through several programs, including weight loss programs in January and February, group training, as well as with a team of staff that consistently leads by example.

Advice for Starting Health Programming from Veteran Club Operators

Define your goals from the very beginning. Burns says clubs need to understand that creating a revenue stream and creating a community wellness initiative are different, even if they are not always mutually exclusive. "Once you understand what your goal for the program is, you are free to do everything you and your team can do to achieve them.”

Start small and minimize your expectations. Brouchard says, "[Clubs should] ask the members what brought them to you in the first place and that might assist with community outreach.”

Focus on having the most qualified staff. “I think the lesson we learned through Gregory Degnan, M.D., medical director of acac / p.r.e.p., is that the fitness industry still has a ways to go with breaking through to the medical community to build confidence in them to refer patients into our health clubs," says Capezzone. "Having credible spokespeople and support materials to market to physicians gets a foot in the door.”

Hiring credentialed staff is the next step, Capezzone says these include p.r.e.p. trained nurses and certified personal trainers. This step is essential because when you have quality staff, they leave a positive impression on your members, who then report back to their physicians that they are having a rewarding experience with their new fitness provider and seeing results. Ultimately, building trust between you and referring physicians, as well as solidifying your club in the community as an area expert is key.

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Alexandra Black Larcom @ihrsagetactive

Alexandra Black Larcom, MPH, RD, LDN, is the Senior Manager of Health Promotion & Health Policy for IHRSA. She spends her days working on resources and projects that help IHRSA clubs offer effective health programs in their communities, and convincing lawmakers that policies promoting exercise are an excellent idea. Outside the office you'll most likely find Alex at the gym, running on the Charles River, or, in the fall, by a TV cheering on the Florida Gators.