Finding the sweet spot in group fitness

NEW YORK Mon Nov 14, 2011 10:09am EST

Students sit in hammocks as they take part in an ''antigravity'' yoga class at the Om Factory in New York, August 16, 2011.   REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

Students sit in hammocks as they take part in an ''antigravity'' yoga class at the Om Factory in New York, August 16, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Shannon Stapleton

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - Whether it is Zumba, bootcamp, yoga or kickboxing, whatever your workout pleasure is, there's nothing like a great fitness class to get you to the gym and keep you coming back for more.

That's why major fitness chains keep eyes peeled and ears pricked for the next big thing.

"The single biggest benefit is community," said Tim Keightley, who oversees group fitness at Gold's Gym, which has more than 600 locations around the world. "You meet a community of people so it's a lot harder not to come back next week."

Not only do group exercisers visit the gym more often, they are more likely to renew their memberships, according to Keightley, who said industry figures show that group exercisers use the gym about three times a week to the average gym member who goes 1.7 times.

"You throw on the music, you let someone decide the exercise for you," he said. "It really allows people to escape, which you can't do when you're on a treadmill."

Keightley said his teams put out a new schedule every month. "And two weeks into it they're already evaluating to see what stays and what goes," he said.

Thirty-minute workouts, military-style bootcamps, circuit training, and Zumba, the Latin-inspired dance fitness class, are currently what stays, according to Keightley, because they appeal to the 28-to-44-year-old professionals who are Gold's core clientele.

Keightley said short, hardcore workouts are in.

"People want results. They spend less time in the gym and want more for their money. They get in, they get the workout, they move on."

Ingrid Owen, who oversees the group fitness program at 24 Hour Fitness, a national chain, looks for classes with broad appeal.

"There was a time when it was about how creative you can be," she said. "But members really like some repetition too, because the more they come, the more improvement they see."

Owen said the old divisions of beginner, intermediate and advanced have dissolved at 24 Hour Fitness. Now any client can take any class and work at their own level.

"If you're advanced, I'll give you clues how to push yourself," she said, "but I'm gearing to the beginning/intermediate practitioner, versus the advanced one."

Carol Espel, the national director of group fitness at Equinox, said some new classes at the luxury chain reflect an industry shift toward wellness and longevity.

"Our members are interested in getting results, whether it's fitness or mindfulness," she said. "They want the same feeling, even if their bodies are not 18 anymore."

So along with vigorous bootcamps and circuit training, Equinox is rolling out LEELA yoga, a mind-body workout inspired by a video game developed by spiritual and alternative medicine superstar Dr. Deepak Chopra.

"Participants can be 23 or 60 and still get something out of it," she said. "It's the instructor's job to provide a leveling opportunity."

Whether a new class will mature into a classic workout or fall by the wayside is impossible to predict, but simplicity may be one key to success.

Keightley said aerobics, with its basic moves and motivating music, is one concept that, with variations, seems to have stood the test of time.

"Another really strong one is (indoor) cycling," he said. "You don't need coordination to take that class. You just need a smile and a willing mind."

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