Why one club created outdoor fitness spaces and the benefits these areas are bringing to the facility.
While many gyms and health centers launched outdoor fitness classes out of necessity in 2020, according to ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal worldwide survey, outdoor fitness has been a trend in the industry since 2010 and has continued to grow in popularity over the years.
People have been involved in outdoor activities such as walking, running, cycling and hiking for years. During the COVID-19 pandemic when many indoor fitness facilities were forced to shut down, gyms pivoted to offer cycling and other fitness classes outdoors to keep profits coming in and members engaged.
When indoor operations resumed, many facilities found members enjoyed the outdoor scenery and asked to continue the offerings. One facility that includes outdoor fitness in its programming is the Wisconsin Athletic Club (WAC).
“We have eight locations, and all have designated outdoor areas, spring through fall,” said Julie Crowley, the director of group fitness at WAC. “Each outdoor space is unique based on the building, parking lot and grassy or fenced area available. We have five clubs with permanent outdoor fitness areas that do remain available all year but most likely will not see any activity in the frigid Wisconsin winter months.”
WAC offers a wide variety of complimentary group fitness classes outdoors including Boot Camp, Strength, Interval, Zumba, Kickboxing, Pilates and Cycle. Three of the locations have outdoor pools where water aerobics and Aqua Zumba are offered during the summer when the pools are in operation. Additionally, many of WAC’s personal trainers will take their one-on-one and semi-private sessions outside when weather is permitting.
“We also have multiple paid programs that are specific to outdoor areas,” explained Crowley. “For example, Gladiator Boot Camp, which uses unique equipment like tires, sledgehammers and the Torque Fitness TANK. Another example is Tabata which might use the grassy area for bodyweight exercises mixed with sprints on the outdoor track. A few other popular paid programs will meet at the club to travel offsite, like Bike Club — individual bicycles required — and Climb Time, where groups hike up a local ski hill and combine strength training intervals.”
While outdoor classes are typically seen in warmer states such as Florida, California and Texas, Crowley said they have had great success at their locations. “In Wisconsin, many people enjoy being outdoors as much as possible during our short warm weather season,” she said. “Providing the option of taking their workout or attending a class outside keeps it interesting and fun. We can utilize different equipment and exercises like tire flipping and track sprints.”
More recently, WAC has noticed less membership and class cancellations since members now have access to plenty of outside options. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, Crowley said WAC’s outdoor fitness options have been a huge selling point since members have felt more comfortable exercising in larger spaces with fresh air and optional masks.
While there has been some disagreement on whether or not trends that were made popular due to COVID-19 will stick around, Crowley said outdoor fitness isn’t going anywhere.
“Absolutely outdoor fitness will be a mainstay for health clubs,” said Crowley. “We have made several enhancements to our outdoor spaces to ensure the best member experience and capitalize on each space. They are now a programmable space, personal training hotspot and will continue to provide more opportunities for our business in the future.”