Group Fitness: What’s Hot?
People love exercising to music and sharing endorphins. Fitness facility members are thriving on creative class options, demanding more varied opportunities and driving the industry forward. What can you, as a group fitness professional, do to meet the needs of a growing market? What programs, equipment and trends are making people of all ages and abilities jump, stretch, lift and smile?
We interviewed and surveyed 15 high-profile group fitness experts who have vast insider knowledge of programming, budgets, marketing, equipment, creative class design, education, skill sets, music and more to find out where the industry “hot spots” are right now.
Read on to find out how their insights will support and strengthen your group fitness experiences.
Top Group Fitness Programs
Group fitness programming—which includes class design, instruction and sound exercise science—is the “magic sauce” for any thriving health club. According to our informal survey, the average membership demographic is approximately 25–60 years old, with some locational variances. Program directors reported that they schedule an average of 65 classes per week. Attendance varies widely based on season, attrition rates and other factors.
While lineups and schedules differ depending on locale and demographics, we found some common threads in program and class popularity, detailed below (in alphabetical order, not in order of popularity). Here are just a few.
- Core-themed classes. Programs that focus on strengthening the core continue to be a big draw, thanks to the fitness industry’s education on this topic over the past decade in particular. The rise of Pilates, which shares the message of injury prevention through strengthening the powerhouse, has also fueled this growth.
- High-intensity interval training. Members are still demanding intensity-oriented options, whether they’re Tabata™, boot camps, circuits or strict high-intensity interval training. These classes are popular partly because of claims they offer better metabolic conditioning and fat loss and partly because they take less time to complete than traditional classes. Abbie Appel, group fitness manager for Equinox, says HIIT is “hugely popular,” and cites “positive physiological results, including improved fitness level at every level . . . and the fast changes in body composition” as contributing factors.
Fred Hoffman, MEd, owner of Fitness Resources Consulting Services, agrees that HIIT is popular but says it’s not for everyone. “This type of training is most likely not appealing to the majority of the population who are not working out and who have difficulty even getting started.”
- Strength training–specific classes. Sustained cardio classes have been getting a bit of a bad rap from fitness professionals who promote “pure” metabolic exercise. Strength training classes have benefited from the fallout. This is in stark contrast to 10–15 years ago, when instructors had to strongly encourage attendees to get the recommended dose of resistance training each week. The strength training category includes much more than programs that incorporate the standby dumbbells. Participants are also using kettlebells, sandbags/sand bells, barbells, suspension exercise systems and, of course, body weight.
- Yoga and barre. The programs and classes mentioned above represent a “yang”—or more outward, assertive—approach to fitness, while yoga and barre represent a more “yin,” or inward, approach. Celebrity trainer Alex Isaly says he’s seen a “huge increase in member participation in mind-body classes,” which include yoga. “I believe more people are seeing the benefits of these types of classes from increased strength, flexibility and recovery,” he says.
“Yoga has become a staple on all group fitness schedules,” says Amy Dixon, national group fitness creative director for Equinox.
Shannon Fable, director of exercise programming for Anytime Fitness Corporate, says participants enjoy barre because “it’s new and different and employs unique movements. It’s also a natural extension of the mind-body, yoga and Pilates movements. Also, a lot of people did ballet when they were young, so much of what happens in a typical barre class is familiar.”
In addition, here are the most popular classes over the past 3 years,
according to 15 group fitness industry veterans (in alphabetical order):
- athletic conditioning
- barre fitness classes
- body weight training
- circuit training
- core-themed classes
- high-intensity interval training
- indoor cycling
- strength-training focused workouts
- virtual classes
- yoga and other mind-body classes
- Zumba® and dance-inspired workouts