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A heart pumping, sweat session is what members come to expect from their cardio training. Members have learned that a cardio workout expends a greater amount of calories and keeps their heart healthy.

There’s a lot of ways to get cardio training in one’s life other than just treadmills, said Jim McPhail, executive vice president and chief development officer for 24 Hour Fitness.

These days’ members expect to find a wide variety of cardio training opportunities at their gym — from the obvious treadmills, ellipticals and bikes, to racquetball courts and Group X.

What’s New?

The biggest trend in the industry, in regards to cardio training is the entertaining and gaming features on equipment.

“It’s no longer about the actual movement,” said Ed Trainor, the vice president of fitness services and product development with Town Sports International. “The entertainment feature is very important. In our markets, members are now used to personal viewing screens and having access to multiple channels.”

Recent evolution has very little to do with the decks and belts on cardio equipment and everything to do with personal TVs, iPod docks, USB ports and Internet access, agreed Billy Malkovich, the CEO of Mountainside Fitness. “This has had the added benefit of keeping people on the equipment longer,” he said. “But also the unintended consequence of making the experience a very isolated one.”

In addition to entertainment advances, members are also being able to track their workouts. According to Trainor, members want their workouts to actually mean something to them; the ability to track their workout gives them that satisfaction. Trainor is taking part in an IRHSA commissioned project to discuss standardizing tracking measurements to make the measurements more “user-friendly” for the members.

Now several vendors are incorporating USB functionality so you can download your workout details to your computer for better tracking, said Brian Zehetner, the director of Anytime Health at Anytime Fitness. “Some are even looking to make this functionality wireless.”

Members are not just tracking their exercise with this information anymore, he said. Some members are now able to pass this information on to their health insurance companies or corporate wellness programs, and receive discounts or rebates on their insurance premiums for exercising and preventing diseases.

Getting Members Using Cardio

Setting up the cardio floor in an organized fashion helps direct members throughout the gym. Mountainside Fitness uses a stadium style design with their cardio equipment. “All of our cardio is set up stadium style with five to six levels each about 3 feet higher than the previous level,” he said. “This ensures that our members are not staring at the back of another member’s head. It also allows for nice views of the facility.”

At 24 Hour Fitness, similar machines are clustered so members can easily find the type of machine they are looking for. “It’s very easy to get around,” McPhail said. “Our goal is to be very clear and concise. We want to give the member the ability to self select.”

Also, 24 Hour Fitness has recently changed the way they put equipment in their clubs. “We have focused a lot on making members gain mobility,” McPhail said. “We are trying to show members ways to meet fitness goals without destruction to their body.”

Showing members how to use the equipment properly is key to them seeing results in their workout. 24 Hour Fitness has banners and posters visible on the cardio floor to direct members to certain machines. McPhail said they also have instructions on machines informing members of different workouts and approaches to using a machine.

Offering some kind of orientation can also help members learn how to use different types of cardio equipment. “As do most facilities, we offer new members a complimentary fitness assessment and equipment orientation. We also have staff on hand at all times to answer questions,” Malkovich said. The nice thing about machines now is that they are pretty intuitive, Zehetner said. But, his members are still offered machine demos by a trainer or manager when they join.

Changes in Cardio

In addition to showing members how to use equipment, members may also benefit from knowing their target heart rate. “To have cardio equipment be completely effective you need a good assessment,” said Julie Kofoed, the vice president of marketing for KORR Medical Technologies. “VO2 testing equipment identifies an individual’s training zones based on their own measurements,” she said. VO2 testing involves collecting the air a person exhales while performing a graded exercise test on a treadmill or bike. It’s testing the rate at which the client consumes oxygen.

“[Testing] allows each workout to be customized for the member and provide them with the most comfortable workout by showing them how hard they need to be working for them,” Kofoed said.

The benefits of wearing a heart rate monitor allow members to utilize their VO2 measurements and help them track their heart rate when they’re not at the gym as well. “Using a heart rate training computer during cardio provides feedback before, during and after a workout, and helps ensure that a person is working out in the optimal zone to achieve goals,” said Jesse Harper, the director of sales and education for Polar Electro.

Group X classes are ever changing and can provide a heart pumping workout and help mix up the monotony of the same cardio training day in and day out. Classes are fun for members and in turn they don’t focus on the cardio aspect. “They think Group X, but not so much cardio training or health benefits! Of course you are using all your major muscles so there are a lot of additional benefits,” said Joy Prouty, the training manager for Zumba Fitness.

Members are still frequently using treadmills and ellipticals; however, they are starting to branch out. A total body workout is becoming preferred, Trainor said. “Members like it better because of the extra caloric expenditure. With increased load comes increased resistance,” he said. Malkovich said the step mill and rowers are making a comeback.

For McPhail, popularity depends a lot on age group. The younger demographic really sticks to replacing running outdoors with treadmills up until about their early 30s. Then he said there’s a shift for less impact and stress off of the knees and back so the elliptical becomes preferred. The older members tend to like the standard bike.

Buying and Maintaining

Upgrading equipment is typically based on usage. “Cardio pieces are upgraded at least every five years,” said Zehetner. “It really depends on the overall usage, the appearance of the equipment, whether it’s still functioning well and the demands and desires of your members.”

TSI looks at the date of birth for the machine and the total mileage and usage of the machine every year to get a good indicator of when the machine needs replaced or traded.

When it comes to choosing the right equipment for a club, a lot depends on the manufacturers. What really matters to Malkovich is how a particular vendor responds when problems arise and how strong of a warranty they are willing to put behind their product. Trainor visits with a lot of manufacturers at tradeshows. He said it’s like buying a car; you’ve go to do your research. 24 Hour Fitness and Anytime Fitness have found that members are a good source for input as well.

The right balance of equipment really depends on the uniqueness of each club, McPhail said. “Every location is unique, they have their own kind of balance so we try to tailor by location.”

Cardio training should be an everyday part of your members’ lives. Anytime Fitness recently put out some viral videos and commercials that involve various pieces of cardio equipment literally talking to members as they watch the videos. “They’re telling them “we miss you,” and that they should start coming to the club, or should come back if they haven’t been to the club in awhile,” Zehetner said. Ads like these put a focus on cardio conditioning because that’s what most people focus on when they start coming to the club, he said.

Focus on the message you want your members to receive when it comes to their cardio routine. “We are trying to convey convenience to members,” McPhail said. “We have an opportunity to show members an engaging workout environment that is convenient for them. Everything is bundled together because we know working out is hard.” -CS

By Ali Cicerchi

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