Group X has a huge impact in clubs. It builds relationships, both between instructors and members, and members themselves. It’s a retention tool, it’s a sales tool and to some members it’s the only reason they go to the gym.
“You find [members] in the parking lot talking about spinning class, not treadmills,” said Wendy Jett, the corporate group fitness director for Urban Active.
Members attend Group X for the experience. If they wanted to work out alone, that’s exactly what they could be doing on the gym floor, but they want to exercise in a group setting, with an instructor who knows and cares about what they’re doing. Members also seek out Group X as a relationship-building tool. They attend classes and become friends with the other people sweating around them.
Don’t underestimate the power of Group X classes. They can serve as an introduction to exercise for someone who is new or just coming back. “This individual will feel comfortable because they will be guided by theGroup X instructor on how to perform the exercises. They will have the opportunity to meet members and they will come out of the room feeling energetic and accomplished,” said Beth Franklin, the fitness director for Total Woman Gym & Day Spa.
At Lori Lowell’s Gold’s Gyms, Group X is huge. “It’s about giving [members] a destination — the power to find a place in the facility for them. It powers them to go other places in the gym too,” said Lowell who co-owns the franchise with her husband Jeremy.
To ensure members get involved right away, new members at Gold’s Gym attend a Group X orientation. Lowell described it as a social setting where new members could mingle and learn about each class. “We show them a three minute excerpt of every class. Then we ask them ‘what classes are you committing to?’ They pick classes and e-mails go to every instructor that you’ll be in their class,” Lowell said. “Then the instructor writes an e-mail to [them]. You’re creating a relationship.”
Group X builds relationships and a sense of community inside the club. “Community building is the ultimate retention driver,” said Jeffrey Perlman, Zumba’s chief marketing officer. “Zumba builds community inside fitness facilities because when people party together, they become friends.”
This community inside your gym allows members to assist each other. “[Fitness] is more fun in a group setting, and the energy of the group tends to push each other a little more,” said Mark Schneider, the president of The Blaster, whose product “The Blaster” is being used in Group X classes as an alternative to having several different types of resistance equipment.
Making Group X Successful
A successful Group X department must be professional. Members show up for class with expectations, they want to have fun, but also expect a professional experience.
Jett suggested getting the powers that be behind you to ensure a great program. “You need a good director of Group X that is really passionate,” she said. “Then you work with corporate to find instructors.”
“I want an instructor who always wants to get better, who is there for the members and not just themselves,” she said. Urban Active trains advanced members in-house to become new instructors. Jett said members can learn from the instructors and be mentored and receive the education they need. Good customer service is a must when it comes to Group X. “Certification is not customer service,” said Lyssa Lovejoy, the director of programming for Fitness on Request. “And clubs need someone to drive the customer service, someone to be teaching it.”
It’s beneficial to have someone whose sole focus is to oversee Group X. General managers that don’t know a lot about Group X may be somewhat afraid of it, Lowell said. There needs to be someone taking Group X’s budget into account for the gym and someone who is working on bettering instructors. “The job of instructors has changed. They’re not just ‘teaching’ anymore. They need to be e-mailing and talking with their member,” said Lowell.
Lowell said her instructors are using social networking too. “Our instructors are on Facebook saying ‘Come get your butt kicked at 5:15 a.m.!’ And then members are commenting and talking about our classes.”
Feedback is vital to a good program. Franklin suggested conducting surveys to determine the success or popularity of the class format or instructor. Jett made her phone number and e-mail available. “Any member can contact me anytime they want,” she said.
Along with feedback, supervisors should be constantly evaluating the value of every class. “If penetration rates are athigh levels, the class format, the time and the instructor are an excellent match for the type of members attending that class,” she said. “However, if penetration rates are low, the Group X supervisor must evaluate each element separately, and determine which one of them is not in sync with the formula for success.”
Looking at education for instructors will also help your Group X program be successful. “It really comes down to bringing education to the facilities. Hosting instruction at your facility can give you a better handle on what’s being taught and will help with consistency,” said Carol Tricoche, the vice president, Full Solutions™ for STOTT PILATES®, a premier brand of Merrithew Health & Fitness™. “Pilates instructors who have relatively the same training speak the same language. It confuses members if every instructor teaches the same class differently.”
Members expect the total package when it comes to Group X. “The members who attend Group X classes are individuals who like to workout by following a leader, who will give them all the necessary tools to have a complete, energetic and fun workout,” Franklin said. “They expect a high level of professionalism and knowledge from the Group X instructor.”
The programming for your club needs to be a balance of old and new classes. “The challenge is to find a good mix of new versus old,” Jett said. “Nothing is more fun than creating excitement in clubs with new classes, but you need your core classes as well.”
For Lowell, she found her core classes with Les Mills. She worked as the national group fitness instructor for GGI and needed a way to ensure quality and consistency across the gyms — Les Mills was it. Once she had her “core” class, and members learned to love and trust the classes, it was easier to incorporate others.
New classes can really add excitement to your club and Group X department. For Lowell, rowing is the next spinning. She described it as epic. High school students have begun their indoor rowing practices at her gyms. The excitement within the club built from there. Classes consist of about 20 rowers in a room rowing together. Her clubs also have different specialty classes like a “Kangoo Jumps” class, where members have on rebound sport shoes. Lowell also really likes the RealRyder® bikes and has begun putting them in all her clubs.
The use of accessories can improve classes as well. Michael Mannarino, the owner of 360 Spin Studio, incorporates heart rate monitoring products into his classes. He uses a system called Cardio GX by Polar Electro that allows the instructor to link up to 20 people wearing monitors to a box. This box then projects the information on a projector screen so that everyone’s heart rates are visible. “By doing this, it allows us to break up the room into subgroups and allows us to train different people at different levels based on their goals,” he said. “It’s as close to a one-on-one environment that you can create in a group class.”
Urban Active tends to use the change in season to spice up their schedules. “It helps jumpstart some energy and by that time members are ready for a little something different,” Jett said. Jett has been working on a new class, Strike Force, based on Irish Stick Fighting or Bataireacht, a form of Irish martial arts involving bata (any kind of stick). She was looking to add a class that was totally different from anything currently offered. The class is 45 minutes and is taught in an interval style presentation combining seven different moves in a pattern while using a 2-foot-long stick.
“Members leave feeling empowered after this class, like no one’s going to mess with me,” Jett said. “And you’re not attacking anyone. You’re attacking what’s been bothering you that day.
Specialty classes are designed to be fun. One specialty class at Total Woman, “Hoop-ercise” is designed to focus on one’s entire core while using hula-hoop-like equipment. It’s a “low to no impact” aerobic workout that works the abdominals and increases cardiovascular stamina. “Hooping can be done by anyone, no matter the age,” Franklin said.
“Fun is the key to any class, as members will come back for more,” said Melodye Wintemute, the creator of “Hoop-ercise” and the group fitness supervisor for Placentia and Brea Total Woman locations. Having fun inspired Total Woman’s newest class, The GROOVE Workout™. This class is designed for functional training by working on flexibility, coordination, cardio vascular endurance and balance with dance-like movements. With Group X, it’s all about the experience.
Providing members with a variety of classes, knowledgeable instructors and a friendly environment will keep members loving Group X. “Group fitness classes are where members can let go and enjoy,” Franklin said. “It’s their well-deserved time just for them.” -CS