The X Factor
Since the founding of Jazzercise, one of the first-ever group fitness classes, Group X has evolved. Today, clubs have hundreds of group exercise classes to choose from, such as Zumba®, Spinning®, LesMills and more. Some incorporate popular fitness accessories like kettlebells and TRX®. In addition, on-demand classes transmitted from computers and projected onto screens have become popular.
How have these evolutions affected clubs and their members? We took a Darwinist approach to Group X, to discover what natural selection has proven to be affective when it pertains to group exercise.
On-Demand Group X
When Onslow Fitness in Jacksonville, N.C., transitioned to a 24/7 facility in September 2011, it began looking for ways to enhance its Group X programming. In its search, it came across Fitness on Demand, a company that provided members with the opportunity to choose from hundreds of Group X classes at any time of the day. “With Fitness on Demand we are able to not only offer Group X 24/7, but also on holidays, and weekends that traditional classes are not offered,” explained Beth Saroka, the CEO of Onslow Fitness.
Using a 120-inch motorized screen, HD projector and four-way speaker system, Fitness on Demand offers members a variety of classes they can pick and choose from, including kickboxing, Latin hip hop, yoga, Pilates and more. “It allows us, as a club, to be able to meet more members’ needs at their convenience, versus limiting the times and opportunities members have Group X classes available to them,” explained Saroka.
Chelsea Piers Connecticut turned to Fitness on Request for on-demand Group X solutions. Its pre-recorded Group X classes are chosen by members on a kiosk and projected from a 1080p data projector onto a 120-inch screen.
“We liked the convenience of scheduling and the variety of classes offered,” explained Markus Johnson, the fitness director for Chelsea Piers Connecticut. “The system was very user friendly, and with such a variety of customers at Chelsea Piers Connecticut, we thought it made a lot of sense.”
According to Johnson, Fitness on Request has been especially helpful for parents, or those with limited time. “Members with children especially love the time duration feature because it allows them to utilize a small window of time for maximum benefit,” explained Johnson. “After dropping the kids off at one of the many youth programs we offer at our facility, mom and dad can take a quick Fitness on Request class.”
Saroka said Fitness on Demand hasn’t replaced Onslow Fitness’ live Group X classes, but it has helped supplement them. “We did not bring Fitness on Demand in to replace any live classes, but we have used it when, at the last minute, the instructor was not able to make it for their class,” said Saroka. “So we never have to cancel a class due to last-minute situations.”
Johnson agreed, stating that Fitness on Request is a great complement to live Group X classes. “Fitness on Request offers a solution to clubs that only provide a few live fitness classes, or none at all,” explained Johnson. “It prevents members from feeling like they have limited options and puts the control of their workout in their hands.”
According to Donna Cyrus, the senior vice president of programming for Crunch Fitness, Crunch has been using TRX Suspension Trainers® in some of its group exercise classes since 2001.
“I first saw the product in 2001 in one of our San Francisco clubs,” explained Cyrus. “Randy Hetrick, the creator [of TRX], had just designed the product and was showing me the diversity in exercises you could do with TRX at that time. It was mostly being used on the gym floor for personal training, but I also saw the versatility of the TRX and thought, ‘wouldn’t it be great if we could find a way to use it as a group fitness experience?’”
According to Cyrus, part of the appeal of TRX group exercise is its versatility. “The beauty of the TRX is that you can adjust your body, and the TRX itself, depending on your fitness level,” she said. “The versatility of TRX, and a fun group fitness experience, is really a winning combination.”
Studiomix, a club in San Francisco, Calif. considers its expertise to be in Group X. “We offer over 100 classes per week with options like Pilates, Zumba, kickboxing and studio cycling,” said Michael Espero, the director of development for Studiomix.
When looking to diversify its offerings, Espero decided to add group exercise classes that used TRX’s Suspension Trainers. “A challenge with exercise classes is teaching to a range of skill levels and different [body types],” said Espero. “We chose [TRX] for its simplicity of use, and also its ability to flow through movement variations with minimal adjustments to equipment.”
Studiomix’s TRX classes — TRX® Bodyweight Burn and TRX® Basics — have been well received by its members and instructors. “Our members have requested more TRX classes on the schedule since we’ve started, and we’re up to eight a week now,” said Espero. “It helps our coaches teach the squat, lunge and row, and allows them to vary hand positions and intensity across a wide population. It has worked very well for us.”
One Group X class that has greatly evolved over the years has been indoor group cycling. A crowd pleaser, it is often the most popular group exercise class among club members. Joseph Duffy, the group fitness director for Boom Fitness in New York City, attributed some of group cycling’s popularity to its effectiveness.
“It’s a way for people to get in a great, high-intensity cardio workout, without having to learn any new skill sets,” said Duffy. “It’s no mistake that a step class has lost its popularity to something like a cycling class. No choreography to learn. No new language to remember. You’re in and out in about 45 minutes and you’re soaked. What more could you ask for?”
Over the years, Duffy said he has seen the greatest evolution occur in group cycling equipment. “We started with bikes that had traditional bike pads,” he said. “Now we use the new magnetic resistance model. It is a smoother ride and quieter. There are fewer moving parts, which translates into less bikes breaking down.” The club currently uses Schwinn’s line of cycling bikes.
In addition, Duffy said the classes themselves have changed. “The instructors are getting more and more creative with their classes by adding different elements to their class structure,” explained Duffy. “Some classes are crazy, while others are more introspective. I think that we will continue to evolve and use more technology in the future.”
Tara Tims, the program director for The Belmont Athletic Club in Long Beach, Calif., believes group cycling is highly successful due to its versatility. The club began offering its members the Spinning® program, which Tims believed to be a beneficial, comprehensive group cycling program.
Spinning® is a form of group cycling branded by Mad Dogg Athletics, which covers group cycling from the ground up. The Spinning® program utilizes Mad Dogg’s brand of Spinner® bikes manufactured by Star Trac, is taught by certified Spinning® instructors and offers continuing education. Clubs that offer Spinning® receive marketing support, permission to use the Spinning® trademark and logo, assistance with Spinner® bike maintenance and more.
“A very knowledgeable team of people run the Spinning® program,” said Tims. “They offer many continuing education workshops, which are easy to schedule and host at my facility.”
Tims said members have been extremely receptive to Spinning®. “Indoor cycling lets an individual have their own space, and even though they’re working out in a class and inches away from others, they can still feel like they have their own bubble,” she explained. “With the combination of Spinning® classes, our Spinning® instructors, and our other class offerings, people talk about The Belmont Athletic Club.”
Chelsea Piers: Parkour – At Chelsea Piers New York, members taking Parkour learn to overcome obstacles through running, jumping, climbing and other acrobatic movements. “We run a very popular and fun program in New York City with regular attendees,” said Phil Mincone, the assistant gymnastics director for Chelsea Piers New York. “The class is a great, untraditional full-body workout done in the gymnastics facility.”
Crunch Fitness: Training C.A.M.P. – Training C.A.M.P. (Cardiovascular Agility and Muscular Performance) was developed by Curtis Williams, a former NFL athlete. “I took what I learned from the NFL and created a series of exercises that incorporated power, agility and strength to make people of all types feel stronger and faster,” explained Williams. A high-impact, high intensity class, Williams said all members could benefit from it. “It’s a great class for people to get excited about,” he said.
Studiomix: Tai Chi – According to Michael Espero, the director of development for Studiomix, the club wanted to provide a class for its members that focused on building energy, rather than just expending it. Cue Tai Chi. “It’s a slow-moving, mindful class taught by Brenda Hatley, our resident traditional Chinese medicine practitioner,” explained Espero. “We aim to offer a range of services and perspectives on health and Brenda brings a uniquely Eastern approach with Tai Chi.”
By Rachel Zabonick