Upcycle: Upping Your Cycling Game
As the average health club member has sought fitness experiences that facilitate a tribe mentality, indoor cycling programming has grown increasingly popular in clubs of all sizes. Clubs that understand the growing potential of indoor cycling have already begun to leverage its popularity into more memberships.
“When indoor cycling classes first started, the idea was to provide an environment where outdoor cyclists could train when the weather outside was adverse,” said Linda Haupt, the corporate director of group fitness at US Fitness Holdings. “Over time, it morphed into a group fitness environment where anyone could come in and get a great workout.”
Indoor cycling, when executed properly, functions as a great member engagement method and differentiator for any health club. Onelife Fitness, a US Fitness Holdings brand, offers indoor cycling in 60, 45 and 30-minute formats using Life Fitness bikes, and the program serves as a major draw for members.
“Cycling provides a low-impact training option that improves both strength and cardio fitness levels,” explained Haupt. “The popularity of a [cycling] program leads to packed classes and increased membership, thereby contributing to the success of the club.”
At Gainesville Health and Fitness, indoor cycling is considered a staple of the club’s offerings, not simply an additional program.
“Over the past year, we have welcomed almost 37,000 participants into our program,” said Pam Harrison, the SkyCycle team leader at Gainesville Health and Fitness. “To be able to serve that many members is a huge deal. It has become a special community within our member population and we continue to work hard to expose it to those who have not tried it. Cycling continues to be a strong pillar of our programming.”
Drawing from the experiences of US Fitness and Gainesville Health and Fitness in offering indoor cycling, it’s time to take a look at developing trends surrounding this popular group offering:
The most prevalent shift in the industry landscape has been the call for more “experiential” fitness classes. Many members don’t want to just workout — they want to experience a class that, in many ways, feels less like a workout and more like a game. Technology plays a huge role in creating this experience.
“It’s all about technology, and creating an environment where the class is either gamified or immersive,” said Haupt. “Both gamification and immersion allow members to become more involved in their virtual experience than in their actual exertion.”
In other words, according to Haupt, members want to be entertained while they workout, and might even achieve better results this way. “Members tend to work harder without realizing it when they are distracted by a visual stimulus,” she said.
Another engaging variation of indoor cycling is the addition of strength components to the workouts. Incorporating full-body work into cycling has become popular because members more commonly seek out encompassing exercise options.
“Within the industry, performance-based rides and fusion classes seem to be trending,” said Harrison. “Our program features a few performance-based rides, and a very diverse offering of class formats and personalities. Instructors are encouraged to be creative and true to themselves.”
And speaking of staff, the right instructors will make all the difference. Group fitness success is often predicated on an instructor’s ability to build rapport with members — the closer members feel to their teacher, the less likely they are to quit and try another class.
Indoor cycling classes are no different — hiring and retaining instructors is imperative to building and maintaining a successful program.
For Gainesville Health and Fitness, location has been a favorable variable. “We are a small university town,” said Harrison. “Usually, if an instructor moves to Gainesville, they find us. We have also had good luck with recruiting instructors who have taught at the University of Florida. Once they graduate, they can no longer teach at the school rec center, but many of them remain in Gainesville, which has been a great feeder system for us.”
Because there isn’t much local competition, Harrison often doesn’t have to worry about her instructors leaving for a competitor. “Our retention of instructors is very high,” she explained. “Usually, we will lose an instructor to a move — not to competition. It does become challenging if we have instructors moving at the same time.”
Onelife attracts talented instructors with great benefits, the ability to work within or outside of their comfort zone — depending on their preference — and numerous professional growth opportunities.
“We attract top instructors by the reputation of our brand and team, and we offer competitive class pay, as well as many other benefits,” said Haupt. “We believe in promoting from within and growing our team members’ skills. Instructors can also move out of their comfort zone and work in other areas of the club.”
Onelife — and all of US Fitness Holdings’ other brands — makes an effort to help cycling instructors continuously learn, according to Haupt. “We work to maintain our quality with upskilling, feedback sessions and evaluations, and team building exercises,” she said. “When an instructor feels like they are part of a team, they will be loyal to your brand.”
The result is an engaged team in which each individual brings his or her best effort to every class — and it is this kind of environment members can’t say no to.
Similar to the increased popularity of fitness experiences, boutique studios have resonated with individuals seeking specialty classes that meet their specific preferences. Boutique cycling studios, in particular, have become very popular, and in many cases, have served as serious competition to the traditional health club model.
According to Haupt, the best way to compete with boutiques is to offer your own specialty product — at a lower price, if possible. “Onelife is a one-stop shop for all fitness experiences, including cycling,” she said. “We offer boutique-style classes without the cost, and we do it with great instructors, state-of-the-art equipment and beautiful clubs.”
Gainesville Health and Fitness has had a similar experience. “Our studio features 50 Keiser bikes and the MyRide visual system,” explained Harrison. “Those items in themselves are differentiators. But our main differentiator is our staff, which consists of veteran instructors with over 20 years of indoor cycling coaching, as well as some young up-and-comers.”
The key to competing with any boutique or specialty studio is to create an exceptional experience and a community for members to be part of. That tribe mentality is the main draw of boutiques, so to remain competitive and relevant, your club has to offer the product your members will be drawn to.
From the moment a newcomer walks into your cycling space, you want them to be impressed. The more exciting and energized a space feels, the more engaged your participants will be.
“At Onelife, we focus on offering the ultimate fitness experience to every member, every time,” shared Haupt. “Through dynamic lighting, great sound, and interactive cycles and systems, we engage the members’ senses.”
According to Haupt, that focus on the member’s experience is essential. “We install stadium-style rooms so members can see the instructor and graphics,” she said. “And instructors can change the lighting in the room to guide the members’ experience through the ride.”
Gainesville Health and Fitness has found that making the indoor cycling programs visible has been critical to success, as keeping classes top-of-mind helps attract more participants.
“We have always had our cycle studios set up in their own space,” said Harrison. “The visibility of the studio always depends on the space available and the programming offered.”
At the end of the day, every decision regarding the experience, instructors, competition or setup of your indoor cycling program should be viewed through the lens of the member experience. If you can determine that your members will benefit from a new addition to your classes, it’s worth the time and effort.
“The most important thing in the studio is the member,” said Haupt. “The more engaged your members are, the higher the attendance, the more loyal they are, and the longer they will continue their fitness journey with you.”