How to Build a Functional Fitness Program in Your Health Club

Whatever your club size, there’s a turnkey solution that will allow you to maximize the small group training experience.

The popularity of functional training isn’t slowing down. These workouts, usually conducted in small group training (SGT) classes, continue to build followers, especially among Millennials and Generation Z. The trend has been well-documented by IHRSA researchers, who have seen a spike in participation in small group functional training in the last few years.

What is changing is the definition of these workouts. Functional training is a flexible term that includes a vast range of training concepts. And these trends quickly change, especially in the studio space.

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Consider indoor cycling. For the last few years, the rapid growth of SoulCycle spread to mainstream multipurpose clubs, who rode the wave like everybody else. Now, indoor cycling may have peaked, according to a report in Bloomberg. At the very least, cycling is experiencing market shifts, as Flywheel and other concepts flood the studio sector. And Peloton, the high-end, cloud-connected home workout, now has more subscribers than SoulCycle, according to research firm Data Points.

Indoor cycling is also competing against other workouts that are gaining significant traction in the marketplace. Rowing studios are increasing exponentially, as Row House, CityRow, and other row-specific SGT workouts increase in urban areas. It was recently announced that Row House plans to open 100 new franchises every year until 2020.

Other SGT functional fitness focused operators are on the rise. The training boutique F45, created in Australia, is quickly gaining steam. F45 is a variation of the circuit-training, HIIT theme, using many of the familiar training tools of functional fitness.

This shouldn’t surprise anybody. It’s the nature of the industry. But this market volatility can work to the advantage of mainstream multipurpose clubs if they remain flexible and position themselves to adapt accordingly. Studio brands are commonly locked into one type of workout or theme. Either you’re a cycling boutique, a CrossFit box, a yoga studio, etc. Multipurpose clubs don’t inherently have this problem. Larger, established chains and even small fitness facilities can host a variety of SGT classes that take advantage of today’s trends without going off-brand.

The question is: Do you have the floor space, instructors, and equipment for these different functional and SGT concepts? And, if not, how do you become nimble and versatile enough to cater to this critical segment of the market?

Dealing with the Logistics of Boutique Integration

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When mainstream clubs first absorbed the small group training trend nearly a decade ago, many club operators began to realize that the space requirements for functional workouts created a thinning effect on several traditional equipment categories. They also realized that older workout trends, like racquet sports, were occupying real estate that could be better utilized for newer training concepts to support greater member utilization.

Then it changed again as functional training evolved beyond Crossfit and broadened into other specializations that appealed to an even wider audience. Clubs learned that they needed more than squat racks, kettlebells, and wall balls to offer the variety of inclusive functional fitness programs that were drawing consumers to clubs. They needed the likes of suspension straps, rowing machines, and other equipment to support a wider appeal. They also had to hire or retrain instructors and consider the integration of digital programming support for certain classes.

Another challenge clubs faced was creating the feel of an experiential SGT-type functional workout. When multipurpose clubs reserve space in their facilities for SGT classes, they sometimes neglect design aspects that add excitement to the high-energy, social dynamics of group functional training—a key element to creating engagement.

Then there’s the storage issue. Functional training uses a lot of small form equipment that’s not bolted down. Equipment haphazardly strewn about is a safety issue and disturbs the appeal of an engaging studio environment.

Many club operators don’t have the design expertise to create a “pop-up” boutique that can serve up a variety of functional training classes. You can’t just throw a few floor mats on the ground and call that a studio space. To truly create the ambience of a studio you need to create an experiential training environment. And you need instructors who can guide these specialized SGT workouts.

Presenting ACADEMY: A Turnkey Functional Studio Solution

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Aktiv Solutions, experts in designing training areas in health clubs, have created ACADEMY, a new concept that’s an evolution of their years of experience. ACADEMY doesn’t just make space for a functional training experience, it delivers the entire training ecosystem, including digital programming, tailored equipment, guided flooring, and storage racks to optimize the workout environment.

“We’ve spent the last four years laser focused on the design and implementation of functional training spaces,” says Bryan Green, founder and CEO of Aktiv Solutions. “There are clear best practices and a lot of different ways to bring these energizing experiences to clubs.”

ACADEMY embedded studios are delivered in small or large formats, and can even convert racquetball and squat courts into functional training spaces. But Aktiv does more than reconfigure your spatial dimensions—they take the headache out of building equipment inventory and supporting instructors. They offer digital guidance for an unlimited variety of workout types, given you the training tools you’ll need, and provide storage and flooring solutions.

“Academy is a 100% turnkey and scalable solution,” says Green. “It saves the club operator a tremendous amount of time and guesswork spent on design process and other expenses. They gain all the benefits they're seeking from small group functional training establishment in a much more systematized and replicable way.”

One thing Aktiv has learned over the years is that clubs need to respond to rapid changes in SGT trends. With that in mind, Green says that ACADEMY has inherent flexibility built into their training ecosystem to allow for variations in workout concepts.

“One thing Aktiv has learned over the years is that clubs need to respond to rapid changes in SGT trends.”

“Clubs want to have flexibility. You may want to do HIIT training one hour and power yoga the next. Our system is designed to allow for different programming, so you can utilize the same space for multiple formats.”

Though ACADEMY is turnkey, clubs can utilize their own branding and integrate their unique content into the system. And while their Aktiv TV’s digital service has all the workouts you need, you can use your own instructors and programming if you desire.

“We know how to create the studio experience in an efficient, systemic way to optimize the space you have available, and layer in experiential enhancement in almost any situation,” says Green.

For more information on how ACADEMY and Aktiv Solutions can design the perfect functional training experience for your club, visit their website or call them at 888-895-0547.

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Jim Schmaltz

Jim Schmaltz is a contributor to IHRSA.org