Over the past 20 years, obesity rates have risen while health club membership interest has declined. Not only that, but even when New Year’s resolutions bring individuals into the gym with a verve for change and health habits, 67 percent of them never actually use their membership.
To address the issue, clubs are beginning to offer unconventional programs designed to get members fit and healthy. “Amid the growing rate of obesity in the U.S., health clubs are continually challenged to drive new memberships and inspire current members to visit their facilities for workouts with some regularity to get, and keep, them on a healthy track,” notes Kelli Calabrese, international fitness, nutrition and lifestyle specialist twice named “Personal Trainer of the Year.” “I applaud the health club community for integrating new, exciting and innovative ways to attract and engage members to keep their fitness lifestyle fresh, fun and frequent…and even profitable!”
Here are a few ways the traditional health club industry is evolving to meet shifting expectations and preferences while addressing a growing need:
1. Whole-Life Training. Health club facilities are now looking beyond just the exercise component of fostering a healthy lifestyle. In addition to personal training staff, today’s progressive health clubs are boasting on-site nutritionists and other allied healthcare professionals like physical therapists and even psychologists. These value-added services holistically address all areas of a member’s life that impact their overall well-being, health, and happiness. Engaging and assisting members in this comprehensive way maximizes member results, retention, and referrals.
2. Kicking Members Out. For outdoor fitness, that is. Some health clubs are utilizing their external real estate to promote fitness activities al fresco. Club owners are realizing that many people get bored with the indoor offerings—even depressed or deterred—so they are offering running and cycling clubs, parking lot boot camps and spin classes, and more.
3. Weight Loss Wagering. Diet contests and weight loss betting programs, like that offered by HealthyWage.com, are exploding in popularity as both individuals and employee groups from coast to coast “diet for dollars.” More than 4,500 health clubs nationwide now serve as “weigh in locations” for HealthyWage.com contest participants, with many opting to also purchase a club membership as they shed pounds with their eye on the $10,000 team prize. This financial weight loss incentive approach is so effective, Fortune 500 companies nationwide have integrated such programs into their corporate wellness initiatives to benefit both employee groups and their own bottom-line.
4. Clubs Go Retro. Nostalgia evokes emotion and emotion drives action. With this in mind, throwback 80’s fitness classes, in which participants dress in period-inspired spandex and leg warmers and do aerobics to music by Michael Jackson, George Michael, and the like, are bringing the neon headband sporting, leotard-wearing enthusiasts to health clubs in droves. Originating in hipster ‘hoods like LA and NYC, this 80’s fitness craze is sweeping the nation, proving to be a fun, creative and, like, totally awesome way to attract new members—and keep current members coming back for more.
5. Social Media Stimulation. From small boutique gyms to large national chains, health clubs are tapping the social mediasphere in innovative ways to stay connected with current and prospective members. Informative and engaging Facebook fan pages rife with workout strategies, success stories, and special product offers; up-to-the-minute Twitter announcements, training tips and topical tweet feeds; online virtual fitness coaching; un-lockable specials on Foursquare; VLOGs (video blogs); and a myriad of other social networking strategies are helping health club purveyors better connect with the marketplace—informing, motivating and helping them thwart those momentary chocolate cravings like never before.
6. Patriotism Personified. While military discounts are nothing new in the business landscape, full-scale, week-long national programs offering completely free benefits to any and all active, reserve, and retired military members, and their families, throughout the U.S. is wonderfully above and beyond the norm. This is exactly what one large national change is doing, for five consecutive years having provided complimentary week-long club access to America’s extensive number of active, inactive, and retired military personnel—and dependents—in observance of Veterans Day. This same sentiment-oriented national health club chain also celebrates “Active Aging Week” by offering free week-long workouts for older adults age 50 or above.
7. Club Crawl. In an effort to get members integrated to all areas of the health club and its services, at the time of registration, some clubs are giving new members a card with goals to complete for a prize. The goals can include trying fitness classes, completing a personal training session, meeting certain staff members, and using specific areas of the fitness center. This gives members the opportunity to experience all the club has to offer before getting pigeon-holed into only one or two areas like nautilus machines or heading right for the spin bike studio. The idea is that the more people the member meet and services they experience first-hand, the more connected they will feel to the club and more likely they will be to try—or at least tell friends about—all of the club’s offerings.
8. Gamers Press Play! Video gamers take note: one private gym in Mountain View, California, Overtime Fitness Inc., has tailored its offerings to teenagers in a novel approach to address childhood obesity. This facility boasts an arcade filled with physical video games that require dancing, boxing, and jumping. For example, riders race against each other on stationary bikes networked to a server! Teen fitness has never been so fun—or effective—at making health clubbing “cool.”
What we’re seeing now is proof that it’s time for fresh approaches, innovative thinking, and even risk-taking when it comes to the effort to trim America’s collective waistline. Novel health club programs are tactically and effectively addressing obesity in new and compelling ways right on the front line.
David Roddenberry is co-founder of HealthyWage, (www.HealthyWage.com), the only company that pays Americans cash to lose weight while offering social and expert-based support, tools and resources, and goal-setting and tracking technologies to address our nation’s obesity epidemic and improve America’s collective health.