Innovative Programming Strategies from 4 Fitness Industry Pros

What distinguishes your business from competitors? If you're still searching for your 'wow' factor, consider these strategies from industry pros.

“How can I engage my members more intensely, more completely, more deeply?”

It’s a question that IHRSA club owners, operators, and fitness directors wrestle with constantly. They’re always on the lookout for that “certain something,” “X-ingredient,” or “wow factor” that will intrigue, excite, and energize their members.

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Two of the key factors in offering that sort of programming, the experts agree, are change and surprise.

Members need and, more importantly, want new challenges that work different muscles and improve their cardiorespiratory fitness in unexpected ways. They’re looking to be stimulated—physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Fortunately, our industry has never been short of creativity, innovation, and out-of-the-box thinking. Its practitioners and suppliers are forever concocting inviting new programs, some of which put familiar concepts and equipment to fresh use, and some that evoke entirely new “can-you-believe-it!” fitness fantasies that involve brand-new products.

Here, to get your creative juices flowing, are examples from four inventive industry pros—Jonathan Cruz, of BURN Fitness, a successful, Boston-based studio; Mira Valeria and Aviva Baumann, of Santa Fe Thrive, a popular boutique in New Mexico; Alan Leach, the regional manager of the West Wood Health Club chain, based in Dublin, Ireland; and Tommy Matthews, the head of education at Escape Fitness Ltd., an IHRSA associate member based in Peterborough, England.

BURN Fitness: Reinventing Indoor Rowing

If you have rowing machines somewhere in your club, are they being well utilized, or simply being used by a few members every now and then?

At BURN Fitness, a group exercise and personal training studio in Boston, clients use them often and enthusiastically. For 45 minutes three times a week, the posh, chandelier-embossed facility replicates the sculling activity on the city’s Charles River.

Two unique indoor rowing programs, Indo-Row and Circuit Row, simulate on-water rowing, an activity that’s particularly popular in the Boston area.

As the name implies, the Indo-Row class makes use of a program developed by Indo-Row, a Canton, Ohio–based provider, and equipment produced by WaterRower, a Warren, RI–based manufacturer and IHRSA associate member. The program calls for members to work as partners, in teams, and as an entire crew—capturing all of the qualities of competitive, on-water rowing. The class is engaging and fast-paced, and the machines, which are equipped with digital screens that detail exertion and progress, provide motivating feedback.

In Circuit Row, participants alternate stations and movements and incorporate Indo-Row with functional and other forms of training to deliver a satisfying full-body workout.

These sessions are novel, but they’re also effective, attests Jonathan Cruz, BURN’s founder and owner, as well as an instructor. “We always want to be on the cutting edge of fitness, and rowing classes are one of the hottest trends right now,” he says. “They also work.”

Cruz notes that the workout is appropriate for users of nearly all ages and fitness levels, is low-impact, and can burn up to 800 calories during a 45-minute session.

To promote the programs, Cruz hangs banners inside the studio, posts on social media, and advertises in conjunction with the Head of the Charles Regatta, the largest two-day regatta in the world, which originates nearby at Harvard University in Cambridge.

To keep up with increasing demand, he’s doubled the size of his fleet of rowers, and plans to schedule more sessions. Individual classes cost $28, and packages are available.

Also attesting to the growing popularity of rowing is the fact that several manufacturers, including Life Fitness and Matrix Fitness, have recently introduced rowing machines.

Santa Fe Thrive: Groovin’ with Hip-Hop Cycle

If you’re looking to jazz up your indoor cycling classes ... envision this.

Every Thursday night, the music of artists such as 2Pac, E-40, and A Tribe Called Quest pulsates at Santa Fe Thrive in Santa Fe, NM.

No, it’s not a nightclub. It’s the 45-minute International Hip-Hop Cycle class at one of the area’s most popular hot yoga and cycling studios.

On most nights, Hip-Hop Cycle is a sell-out, its popularity driven largely by the fact that the city could use a good dance club where people can move, sweat, and blow off some steam, observes Mira Valeria, the club’s owner and director. “Our Hip-Hop class provides that experience.”

Aviva Baumann, the class instructor, echoes Valeria. “The music is loud, the lights are low, and the room is full of people who aren’t afraid to push their limits. Students can get rowdy or feel sexy and, then, ‘dance it out.’”

She points out that, in order to change up the tempo and keep everybody engaged, she creates a new playlist for each session.

Valeria notes that all of the grooving takes place on Schwinn AC Performance Plus bikes. “They’re chain-driven and have a sturdy, real-life feel,” she says.

Classes are sold individually for $17 or in packages, and are limited to 20 participants, so members must sign up online to reserve a spot. Nonmembers can sign up, too, at a drop-in rate. “This was our first offering that developed a regular wait list,” Valeria enthuses.

The heavy emphasis on music—both in Hip-Hop Cycle and Thrive’s other classes—reflects Valeria’s background. “I was a dancer growing up, and loved to move to music,” she explains. “I took cycling classes for years and enjoyed the physical workout. Then, I lived in Rio de Janeiro and Barcelona, two places where rhythm is inherent and music plays a dominant role in cycling classes.”

“Be yourself! Lead with your own musical tastes,” advises Baumann. “Don’t be afraid to be goofy. And ask your students what songs they want to hear.”

“Many operators are hesitant to invest in their trainers out of fear. If one of them develops a successful program, and then leaves—they’ve lost that program and its fans. However, because the club owns the MOVE IT program, it can simply train new instructors without a break in continuity or consistency.”

Tommy Matthews, Head of Education

Escape Fitness

The West Wood Club: A Virtual Video Game

If you’re like most operators, you consider the floors and walls of your facility to be mundane, static fixtures. But what if they could be transformed into an interactive fitness platform that engages members’ imaginations and helps them achieve their fitness goals?

That notion intrigued Alan Leach, of the West Wood Club chain, and now, as a result, West Wood members have the chance to experience what might be a childhood dream—participating, in real time and 3D, in what amounts to a video game.

Earlier this year, the company’s flagship, high-end, multipurpose facility in Dublin installed PRAMA, a one-of-a-kind system produced by the Pavigym America Corp., a Carlsbad, California–based supplier. The program converts any standard, square studio space into a video game environment that’s designed to make members break a good sweat.

The system, which consists of pressure-sensitive floors and walls, with integrated LED lighting and sound, guides users through engaging, fast-paced, total-body exercises. Participants react to unpredictable LED light cues, which prompt short bursts of intense exercise. They might, for example, bounce a basketball off rapidly flashing circles on the wall, or hop onto randomly lit squares on the floor and do a squat in each square. The routines also help train reflexes and muscle memory.

The possibilities are virtually endless—the PRAMA system can be configured to facilitate more than 500 exercises.

Using a touchscreen app, a trainer controls the environment, changing the lighting and music, and, at the same time, is able to track a client’s progress. Data on the member’s activity is stored in the cloud, so the member can log on to a PRAMA-hosted portal to view it.

Pavigym provides marketing kits for each PRAMA product, including customizable “coming soon” and “activation” posters, as well as “getting started” brochures, class passes, and feedback forms.

Leach reports that West Wood’s clientele are incredibly enthusiastic about the installa- tion. And the PRAMA system, Pavigym reports, is gaining in popularity throughout the U.S. and Europe.

Escape Fitness: Group Functional Fitness

You can purchase the best functional-training system in the world ... but if it’s not being utilized fully, then you’re not reaping the return on your investment in equipment and club space.

To avoid that less-than-rewarding situation, Escape Fitness introduced MOVE IT during IHRSA’s 35th Annual International Convention & Trade Show, in Orlando, FL. This turnkey program is designed for clubs that want to offer functional group training activities that are fun, deliver results, and support their retention strategies.

“There’s a great need for programming for functional-training equipment,” says Tommy Matthews, the head of education for Escape, who spent nearly three years creating the class. “This simple, effective training system enables one coach or trainer to work with large numbers of people, and still focus on good technique and instruction.”

MOVE IT offers two training options. The first, MOVE IT 45, is a 45-minute, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) session that takes members through four of the six possible “zone escalators,” enabling them to reach the heart rate needed to yield the benefits of HIIT. A second choice, MOVE IT 30, is a faster version, and takes them through two of the six, but still delivers a great HIIT workout.

“Through months of research and testing, I found the best methods to achieve the maximal post-exercise benefits with HIIT, and have incorporated them into MOVE IT,” says Matthews.

The program, now available in the U.S., Europe, and Asia, provides a team training certification; annual programming updates; learning and support via Escape Training online; a strategy and member- tracking system; and in-club marketing and promotional materials.

“It’s a business in a box,” Matthews says.

MOVE IT, he points out, also reduces the risk a club can experience when a successful trainer moves on.

“Many operators are hesitant to invest in their trainers out of fear,” he explains. “If one of them develops a successful program, and then leaves—they’ve lost that program and its fans. However, because the club owns the MOVE IT program, it can simply train new instructors without a break in continuity or consistency.”

Lilly Prince

Lilly Prince is a contributor to Club Business International.