How Your Health Club Can Capitalize on Fitness Training Trends

Here’s how you can make the most out of new training concepts with minimal investment.

Hot workout trends are both a blessing and a curse to the health club industry.

While new training systems can bring more people into the fitness lifestyle, clubs come under a lot of pressure to spend significant capital on new equipment and instructors with specialized skills.

Unfortunately, some of these trends are flash in the pans, leaving club owners with expensive equipment that collects dust in a storeroom. Boutique concepts that make their way to the mainstream can be hit or miss. In the end, it’s difficult to know exactly what has long-term promise, but when it works, it’s great for everybody.

Yoga is a perfect example of a unique workout experience that has been successfully adopted by mainstream clubs after incubating in studios. According to the 2018 IHRSA Health Club Consumer Report, yoga is currently the No. 1 group exercise activity at health clubs nationwide. Yoga’s quick rise in popularity is in sync with the explosion in the wellness market, a sector of the economy that’s worth $4.2 trillion dollars, according to data compiled by the Global Wellness Institute.

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IHRSA 2019 attendees at a morning workout.

One of the key draws of yoga is how, ahem, flexible the ancient discipline is for diverse audiences. From kids to seniors, yoga can be customized to fit almost any demographic. According to IHRSA research, more than 1.2 million children between the ages of 6 and 17 participate in yoga at U.S. health clubs, representing 10% of all yoga participants at fitness facilities. Seniors represent 6% of yoga participants, though yoga is most popular with Generation Z and Millennials.

This recent history of yoga follows a familiar sequence: a unique workout concept is created in a studio environment, gains popularity, becomes a surefire trend, then finds its way into mainstream clubs. Usually these trends aren’t replicated in their “pure” form, but are altered in a way that’s both practical and consistent with the club brand and culture.

“One of the key draws of yoga is how, ahem, flexible the ancient discipline is for diverse audiences.”

The lesson here: Don’t copy trends outright, but adapt them in a way that fits what you do best. But that’s easier said than done when the concept may require a significant investment in equipment and other resources.

What’s Coming, and What You Can Do to Exploit It

While clubs may draw the line at cold yoga (called Brrrn, which is conducted at 45 degrees Fahrenheit) and goat yoga, most facilities have found a way to include some form of yoga into their class schedule. An advantage of including yoga is that it’s not equipment-dependent. All you need is floor space, a qualified instructor, and some mats.

When it comes to low-investment trends, yoga is the exception not the norm. Think about CrossFit, a registered trademark of what’s come to be known as functional training. CrossFit caught the fitness industry by surprised about 15 years ago. Suddenly people everywhere were demanding this new type of intense, short workout that focused on free weights and bodyweight training in a group environment. Most multipurpose and fitness-only clubs didn’t have the equipment and elbow room to accommodate functional training. But their members demanded it.

CrossFit also put more pressure on suppliers to provide the necessary equipment for functional training. Suddenly, squat racks, workout ropes, pullup bars, kettlebells, medicine balls, and the like were in high demand. Worse, cardio and resistance machines were often in the way of the space necessary for these workouts. Clubs had some tough decisions to make: invest in new equipment and design or risk losing members to CrossFit “boxes” and studios that catered to functional training.

“CrossFit also put more pressure on suppliers to provide the necessary equipment for functional training.”

It all worked out eventually. Traditional clubs cleared room, added gear, and hired trainers who could run these workouts. Today, functional fitness techniques are integrated into a number of different programming modalities, including HIIT, heart-rate training, and other group X concepts that drive retention and non-dues revenue. Not only did the health club industry survive the challenge of the functional fitness wave, it may be in a better market position because of the competition from CrossFit.

A New Machine That Can Deliver on New Training Concepts

One reason for this nimble ability for health clubs to adapt to new concepts is that equipment suppliers have reacted swiftly to these challenges. They’ve worked with clubs to deliver equipment that fits new fitness concepts while being practical for a club environment

One company that consistently sees these trends coming is Jacobs Ladder. With their flagship climber and newer variations like the Stairway GTL, Jacobs Ladder creates equipment ideal for the high-intensity, low-impact training favored by today’s consumers. Jacobs Ladder machines are popular with professional and college athletes, as well as military, fire, and police personal for their ability to provide maximum intensity without undue stress on joints and connective tissue.

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The product developers at Jacobs Ladder have now unveiled their newest innovation called RopeFit. This self-powered rope climber provides a combination resistance/cardio workout that fits the current appetite for HIIT, functional, and circuit training. RopeFit offers five resistance levels with a cleanable rope that’s easy to grip. And it’s versatile enough to adjust to any fitness level and member demographic.

Bob Palka, president of Jacobs Ladder, says that RopeFit went through an extensive beta-testing period, including two IHRSA trade shows, where his team collected comments and modified the unit. “We took our time developing the product,” says Palka. “We received an awful lot of feedback in those two years that we incorporated into the design.”

Palka and his team learned that club owners needed cost-effective equipment solutions that satisfy the demand for the wide range of HIIT and performance training concepts. And they needed something that wasn’t bulky and complicated.

“Our RopeFit units are shipped fully assembled,” says Palka. “And once the machines get there, it’s easy to fit them into doorways and move them around. They’re not cumbersome at all.”

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One reason RopeFit spent so much time in the development phase was to ensure it was engineered to be self-powered like other Jacobs Ladder equipment. “Because people don’t stay on a rope climber for very long, we had to learn to be very energy conservative,” explains Palka.

The two-rope system is made of a normal rope with a clear PVC tube for maximum grip ease. This also has the benefit of making the rope easy to clean. And the multiple resistance levels and seating option make it more accessible. Says Palka: “The 50-and-over group like it because they can get the resistance training they want without having to worry about dropping a dumbbell or a weight stack. It’s safer for them.”

To learn more about RopeFit and other Jacobs Ladder exercise machines, visit the company’s website, call them at 866-697-4100, or send an email.

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Jim Schmaltz

Jim Schmaltz is a contributor to IHRSA.org