Group Hustle

By | April 18th, 2017

The Country Club at Mirasol, Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

A thoughtfully planned schedule, charismatic trainers, and on-trend classes can help club and resort properties make group fitness a priority.

Like many clubs throughout the country, the Harbor Club on Lake Oconee in Greensboro, Ga., is seeing a demographic shift, and its fitness center has a front seat to the changes.

“I’m going on my third year here, and when I first came, group fitness-class attendees were mainly retirement-age ladies,” says Fitness Instructor Maureen Brower. “This past year, though, we’ve been going through a transition of seeing younger families. So now we’re getting younger moms coming in who are trying to lose that baby weight.”

Summing It Up
• Offering a variety of group fitness classes helps target specific demographics, such as barre for younger members and mobility- and wellness-focused classes for older members.
• Coordinating group fitness class schedules with all club departments helps to maximize facility utilization.
• Especially when the weather is nice, think outside the fitness studio by taking classes on lawns, pool decks, or any other attractive spot on the property.

The primary effect of that transition, Brower says, has been on the fitness facilities themselves. The club moved its fitness center from the lower level of the clubhouse to The Grove, a busier but more accessible part of the campus with more overall activity from two dog parks, a community garden, and a hiking trail.

The overall footprint of the facility expanded from a few hundred square feet to 2,000 sq. ft., says Membership Director Mika Mills.

The large group fitness room takes up about one-third of the fitness facility, Brower says. The space features mirrored walls and a vinyl dance floor.

“My group-fitness attendance numbers when I first started here were quite low, and took a little while to catch on,” says Brower. “Since the facility has been updated and upgraded, I would say my numbers have doubled.”

Changing It Up
At The Country Club at Mirasol in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., a variety of classes are offered for members of all demographics.

Rosa Barksdale, Group Fitness Coordinator, The Country Club at Mirasol

“We range from classes for the ‘young and fit’ at 6 a.m. to stretching in the afternoons, a kids class on the weekend, and targeting people with illnesses, like osteoporosis,” says Rosa Barksdale, Group Fitness Coordinator.

For older populations, Mirasol offers training classes for dementia and Parkinson’s disease. Run by a kickboxing instructor who specializes in that type of personal training, the classes include shadowboxing for eye-hand coordination, and incorporate leg-pattern movements that keep the disease from progressing.

“It keeps our clients at a certain level,” Barksdale says. “Sometimes when members come back from the north from the off-season and they haven’t been training, they have to start again from scratch.

“We hope to offer more of that, as a more specialized focus for our members,” she adds.

Jeremy Barker, Mirasol’s Director of Sports, estimates that the club offers from 100 to 115 classes per week, with about 200 different members taking advantage of them (each often taking more than one class).

In its functional fitness room, The CC at Mirasol installed a Queenax modular training system that can be used in multiple classes, while keeping floor space open.

The class with the highest average attendance is Booty Barre, which the club began offering three years ago, with 28 to 30 attendees in each class. Other popular offerings include spin, sports stretch, tabata, body sculpt, low-impact cardio with weights and stretching, and the ever-popular Zumba.

The Club at Mediterra in Naples, Fla., has also seen barre classes take off in popularity, mixed with high-intensity interval training that “appeases the younger demographic that wants a more focused, efficient workout that’s less time-consuming,” according to Tony Falanagas, Director of Sports Club Operations.
Mediterra offers 25 to 29 different group-fitness classes per week, ranging from sports-specific classes to yoga on the lawn to “ageless strength” classes that focus on senior fitness.

Of the property’s 700 golf and/or sports and beach members, General Manager Carmen Mauceri estimates that 60% frequent group fitness classes. The property recently doubled the size of its sports complex and has seen a 32% increase in use of the fitness center in the past year, with a 152% increase over the past five years.

Jeremy Barker, Director of Sports, The Country Club at Mirasol

A 1,000-sq. ft. group-fitness studio serves almost all classes, featuring a hardwood floor and small equipment that’s made available as needed, says Falanagas. The property also offers functional fitness classes on the lawn, a multipurpose room used for pilates and yoga that also acts as a women’s and men’s card room or event space, and a continuous circle through the community that measures 3.6 miles for runs, jogs and walks.

“The key is to entice members to be in a different atmosphere and to keep them entertained with new and fresh ways to live a healthier life,” says Falanagas.

One fresh way Mediterra appeals to tech-savvy members who “have a thirst for stats,” Falanagas says, is through MyZone Heart Rate Monitoring Challenges. Members wear a heart-rate monitor that measures their activity level and shows what “zone” they’re in as they exercise—whether it’s cardio- or endurance-level, or fat burning, says Director of Fitness Alissa Wagener.

“So in spin classes, when we’re climbing a hill, they should be pushing toward their goal heart rate,” Wagener says. Members purchase the monitors and use them outside of the facility as well, but Wagener reports that the most common use is in a fitness fusion class, to compare calories burned from different exercises.

The Club at Mediterra offers 25 to 29 different group fitness classes per week, with the 1,000-sq. ft. group fitness studio as the setting for most (other than yoga on the lawn, pictured).

“I think what that audience is looking for is measurable goals, so we’re happy to create that excitement for them,” says Falanagas.

Like Mirasol and Mediterra, the Harbor Club is also seeing barre classes take off. “Right now, barre and toning seems to be the most popular for all ages,” Brower says. “That’s the greatest thing about it—it’s really brought in our younger members. And barre sounded mysterious, so it brought people in.

“We also take demographics into consideration,” Brower says. “For my Zumba class, I make sure I work parts of the body that are tailored to our older demographic, while barre is tailored to our younger demographic.”

Brower also offers a “butts and guts” class that has proved to be more popular than she expected. The class includes 45 minutes of ab work, including planks, sit-ups, twists and more, then shifts focus to the thigh and hip areas.

Finding the Time
At Mirasol, classes start as early as 6 a.m., but mid-morning classes, from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m., are the most popular. The property used to have just one studio, so “everything was stacked consecutively in the old studio,” Barker says. Now with four studios—for group pilates with four reformers, group movement with room for 32 students, functional training with a 15-person capacity, and a spin studio with room for 19—four classes can be going at once during prime time, increasing the facility’s utilization.

The Club at Mediterra, Naples, Fla.

The updated facility opened in November 2016, so “this season is a test case in scheduling,” Barker says. “We’re still playing with it.”

In the functional fitness room, Mirasol installed a Queenax Bridge, a modular functional training system that spans most of the room and has a myriad of uses, while also preserving open floor space for the classes that require it.

“A lot of people were putting girders in the ceiling, and in our old facility, we used a wall-mounted TRX, but the engineering cost was so high,” Barker says. “We went to a trade show and saw the Queenax and installed it. It offers a lot of variety.”

The cost of group-fitness classes at Mirasol is built into the cost of overall club membership—except in the case of pilates, which has a limit of four attendees and costs $30 for members. Special programs and bonus classes, such as a ballroom dance program that extends for five weeks, a two-hour women’s self-defense class, and an eight-week krav maga program for men and women, are fee-based.

The Country Club at Mirasol, Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

Mediterra and the Harbor Club both have fee-based structures for their fitness classes, with Mediterra charging $12 per class and Harbor charging $5 a class for members and $10 for guests (members bring guests to fitness classes a couple times per month, Brower says).

To ensure a spot, Mirasol encourages members to sign up for classes in advance on its website, especially for popular classes like spinning, pilates and TRX. An especially in-demand 90-minute spin class on Saturday mornings has members signing up for the next week immediately after that class is over. “But members can’t sign up more than a week in advance, to make it fair,” Barker notes.

Of course, the schedule for some classes is set in stone. “We can’t change the time of a Zumba class that’s been held at the same time for 10 years,” Barker says.

Mediterra also encourages advance sign-ups, so staff and trainers have a starting point to work with. “But a lot of the regulars who have been coming daily don’t always sign up,” notes Wagener. “They don’t have to, though; we allow walk-ins.”

The Club at Mediterra, Naples, Fla.

Picking and Choosing
At Mirasol, suggestions from members on which group-fitness classes to offer “are big,” Barker says. “A lot of our members travel and are members of clubs in other locations, so they have ideas about what we should offer.”

To avoid falling prey to every whim or trend, the staff at Mirasol weighs each suggestion against a few criteria: It must be a valid exercise utilized with safe protocol that suits the membership, and the club must have a trainer who is certified or has knowledge of the specialty to teach it.

Mirasol also tracks its class attendance numbers to determine what’s worth offering and what isn’t. “If a class only has two or three people repeatedly, we have to determine if it’s the time of the class or the content, or if the teacher isn’t right,” Barker says.

In Mirasol’s previous facility, because there was only one group fitness studio, “our schedule was so hardened—we were really boxed in,” says Barker. But having a more expansive program presents its own challenges for members who enjoy other scheduled activities at the club.

“Ladies will come to us and say, ‘I play golf every Tuesday morning,’ so we try to know the schedules for tennis, golf and cards,” says Barker. “But we can’t make every class available to every member based on their schedule. We almost have to offer the popular classes every day to accommodate everyone.

“It’s a mammoth schedule,” Barker adds. “It’s like a spider web—if you pull one thing, it affects everything else. It’s well-crafted, but there are always disappointments for certain members.”

During the summer, each department at Mediterra gets together to go over the master schedule and calendar, to identify areas where different departments have more traffic than others.

“It’s crucial because we don’t find success in offering competing activities,” Falanagas says. “Participation by all parts of the team helps make these schedules work so well.”

Mediterra also places a premium on member feedback, to cultivate a group-fitness schedule that has enough variety to keep members engaged. Trainers and staff check out classes outside the property to keep up with the latest trends and to determine if they’ll work at the Mediterra facility. But as with everything else at the club, the member experience is always front-of-mind.

“The key to any successful program is the absolute highest level of hospitality from the moment members step into the facility: bright smile, clean facility, and educated and certified professionals who are promoting services,” says Falanagas. “It’s a testament to what Alissa [Wagener] has done in the fitness center—we now have better class participation, and happier members living a healthier lifestyle.

“Our staff presence on the floor separates our professionals and our facility from other gyms,” Falanagas adds. “When our members come to the gym, they want to talk and communicate.”

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