Trends In Fitness Classes

In adding a new fitness class to your facility’s schedule, you know that picking the right one can mean the difference between making a direct hit that draws a capacity crowd every time, and choosing a miss that is poorly attended and a waste of resources. So what are some of the hottest new fitness classes at facilities nationwide?

Experts offer a range of options for classes that spark the imagination and interest of patrons. But whether the classes use equipment or not, whether they target strength or cardio, or whether they attract younger or older patrons or a mix, one element remains consistent--classes offer a much-desired social aspect in which participants anticipate exercising with pleasure. Three of the top trends in fitness classes are:

Anyone Can Enjoy Dance-Based Exercise

Turn on the television any time of day and you are likely to find a program dedicated to dance. Dancing with the Stars and So You Think You Can Dance are just two shows at the tip of the dance reality-show iceberg that includes all dance styles and levels of training and expertise.

Many people are inspired by this phenomenon, which is why dance-based exercise classes are becoming more popular. According to the International Health, Racquet, and Sportsclub Association, classes that allow participants to indulge their inner dancer include Zumba and pole dancing.

But the most successful dance-based exercise classes go beyond a driving beat and an elevated heart-rate to become an opportunity to teach real dance skills that participants can use in other contexts. Larry Saldivar, the Dayton, Ohio-based owner of C’mon Let’s Dance, has been a professional dance instructor for over three decades. He offers his Latin dance-flavored Dance & Tone class at both fitness facilities and dance studios, combining the crowd that wants a demanding cardio workout with the folks who want to improve their moves in dances like the cha-cha, merengue, bachata and samba.

People like dance-based classes, Saldivar says, because they are accessible for a wide variety of participants. “You don’t have to be a great dancer; you don’t have to have a partner. It’s not about doing it perfectly or what size you are. … You can be 200 pounds and toned,” he says.

Patrons return, however, because they learn to dance while getting in a good workout, combating the usual exercise boredom. “It is exercise, but it’s not exercise,” says Saldivar. “If you are on the elliptical machine, you have TV and music to distract you,” he says, but the need for distraction is not there in his classes. “You can do a 45-minute workout, and you are energized.”

Not only do most participants leave Saldivar’s high-enthusiasm classes energized, but many take their new skills to the dance floors at the local ballroom and Latin and swing dance venues, where they continue the relationship-building they began in class. “That’s the energy that flows out to other people,” Saldivar says.

Seniors Sweat And Socialize

Channeling people’s energy is also one of the secrets to success for Aida Diaz, a certified personal trainer and SilverSneakers instructor at the South Dade Family YMCA in Miami, Fla. As the growing senior population frequents her facility, she finds that the opportunity to socialize is what keeps the participants on the mat and in the gym.

The SilverSneakers program has a variety of classes targeting muscle strength, range of motion, cardiovascular conditioning and flexibility--all important for participants dealing with at least one chronic health problem, including hypertension, diabetes and arthritis.

But dealing with health issues doesn’t seem to slow this population down. “They are there every day. We have at least three classes a day, and many [participants] come for two,” Diaz says. She adds that after the SilverSneakers classes, many stay to use the facility’s exercise equipment or participate in a dance class with younger patrons. “The energy level [in these combined classes] is so high, it’s awesome,” she says.

One reason that the seniors view Diaz’s YMCA as a destination rather than an obligation is that she is careful to include a variety of social programs that encourage participants to mingle. Pot-lucks and give-aways are just two of the techniques she uses to keep programming fun. “They love being social,” she says.

But as much as her senior participants love the social aspect, they also want to learn about the effects of their workouts. “The key is information; they like to hear it,” she says, explaining that she includes instruction on which muscles are being worked by a particular exercise and tips for improving balance. She also encourages the use of the facility’s exercise equipment and weight room to keep participants seeing progress from their efforts. However, Diaz’s most important piece of advice remains, “Keep them together, keep them happy, keep them laughing.”

Harnessing The Power Of Fusion

For Becky Franklin, director of group exercise at The Houstonian Hotel, Club & Spa in Houston, Texas, information is the key to making an exercise class popular. Over the past 16 years, she has seen her facility’s population change from older consumers to those in their 40s, and these time-crunched participants want to get their strength training, cardio and flexibility work, and then move on to the next commitment.

One of Franklin’s most popular classes is Gyrokinesis, described as “a workout that uses a series of physical, rhythmic movements and breaths that can help shift one into a new physical, mental and spiritual place.” Gyrokinesis is the stool- and mat-based version of a series of exercises first developed on a machine known as a Gyrotonic. What the Reformer is to Pilates, the Gyrotonic is to Gyrokinesis. The comparison is apt because participants find that there are many Pilates-like benefits to the class. Franklin likens it to a mixture of “dance, tai chi, yoga and gymnastics all in one.” She predicts that Gyrokinesis “will take the market by storm like Pilates. By the next year or so, everyone will know about it.”

Franklin also finds that all types of fusion classes are well-attended, including favorites like Drill Max and Cardioga, which allow participants to address two or more training goals at once. “People are wanting to be smarter with their time,” she says, explaining that teachers who plan fusion classes need to be sure every minute is filled with an activity that addresses strength, cardiovascular fitness, flexibility or some other goal. “If you’re meeting your goal, you’re going to come back,” she says.

She has seen a great demand for programs that draw on all of the facility’s services to help participants train with their peers for personal goals, like triathlons. Even the youngest set is getting involved, with a TriKids class piloted to help them train for a mini-triathlon, and a “kid yoga” class under way for more than a year.

Franklin sees this as an important development, especially in a country plagued by rising childhood obesity rates. She believes exercise and recreation facilities will rise to address this problem. “Within ten years, I predict that most facilities will have a studio just for youth,” she says. And if the programs help the participants form positive relationships with exercise and each other, it is likely they will be exercising for decades to come.

Jennifer Patterson Lorenzetti is a writer, editor, speaker and owner of Hilltop Communications based in Centerville, Ohio. She can be reached via e-mail at