Offering a wide variety of group fitness classes in a chock-full schedule has become the norm for many club properties, as they strive to make the fitness center a place for every member.
Group fitness classes add a much-needed social component to an exercise regimen, encouraging attendees to feed off one another’s energy and enthusiasm, often leading to a more productive workout.
But these classes also yield benefits to the clubs and resorts that host them, providing a boost in fitness-center participation numbers by creating an environment where members can invite their friends to join in. For those with little background in fitness and for whom the weight machines and cardio equipment may be too daunting, group fitness classes offer an avenue into the fitness facility among friends and smiling faces.
“Our philosophy is to offer something for everyone,” says Ginger Alfano, Director of Fitness of St. Andrews Country Club in Boca Raton, Fla. “We offer so many classes now that every member here could be benefitting from it.”
Alfano and her staff work to target all demographic groups with their programs (which total up to 45 classes per week), and this effort to reach all members is how the Balanced Bodies & Brains class came along, as a way to reach older members. While it is available to all ages, Alfano notes that many “youngsters” only need to take a class or two to see improvements, while older members need to stick with it longer to see the benefits.
St. Andrews also offers different styles of its ever-popular yoga classes: de-stress, gentle, classic, and the 4 p.m. “happy hour” yoga (no alcohol is actually involved, Alfano explains, but “we try to come up with names that are appealing—so people are like, ‘What’s that? We have to go.’”).
St. Andrews sees about 900 members taking fitness classes during high season, Alfano estimates, and the club also accommodates guests who visit on holidays. One large, 1,500-sq. ft. group aerobic room has a dividing wall that allows two separate classes and a dedicated pilates room, as well as a spinning room that was created from an underutilized outdoor patio two years ago.
When plans for a new spa in a separate building come to fruition, the fitness center will have more breathing room, and the club is planning to move the spinning studio into the pilates room and build stadium seating, so riders can easily see the teacher.
Lake Austin Spa Resort in Austin, Texas has the distinct advantage of time when it comes to mapping out fitness-class schedules. Fitness & Activities Director Cindy Present estimates that up to 85% of overnight guests take advantage of group fitness classes, especially courses like meditation and yoga that emphasize a mind-body connection.
During each week, Lake Austin offers 70 fitness group classes, and with mind-body discussion programs and culinary classes added in, that comes to about 90 each week. “It does vary,” Present says. “It depends on the individual group dynamics. Some weeks are packed with very intense cardio, and sometimes it’s mind-body.”
The resort posts a class schedule online a month in advance. Guests also receive a booklet upon arrival with the up-to-date schedule and class descriptions, and additional information is available in guest rooms.
“I schedule seasonally, based on how we can utilize the outdoors most strategically,” Present says, referring to the property’s lake access, outdoor grass area for boot camps and cross-training, track area, yoga dock, and pool center. Indoor facilities include a training center, while mind-body and dance classes are held in a separate building called the treehouse.
“Guests here have the gift of time, so we slow them down a little bit and let them use the time well on a daily basis to make it a holistic experience,” Present explains. “We warm up in the morning, then move onto mobility and flexibility before going into working hard with strength and cardio. In the afternoon, we let them play and have lake time—we want to replace caffeine with movement. Then we bring their bodies back down, with an opportunity for mobility and flexibility before rest and relaxation.
“There is such an epidemic of sleep deprivation, so we hone in on time to rest, to teach the body how to come down,” Present adds.
At St. Andrews, the most popular time period for fitness classes is 9 a.m., Monday-Friday, which is typically the best time to introduce new classes.
“My challenge is figuring out what to put where,” Alfano explains. “We don’t want to bring in a hot new thing at 11 a.m., because no one will come.” The club’s classic yoga class has held the 8:30 a.m. time slot on Sundays for 18 years, and Alfano says it “still draws 20 people. There are wall-to-wall yogis in there.”
Growth for All
Forsyth Country Club in Winston-Salem, N.C., completed a $5.2 million, 18,000-sq. ft. wellness and fitness center in September 2015, which Fitness Director Jenifer Johnson saw as an opportunity to also expand the club’s fitness appeal.
“As we saw the facility expand, we wanted to put into place something that’s accessible to everybody—not just those who are already active, but also beginners and seniors,” Johnson says.
The facilities include three studios on the lower level:
• a 600-sq. ft. indoor cycle room with 20 Keiser bikes, featuring a well-lit stage for the instructor with blue streaming lights throughout the otherwise dark room, and surround sound so riders, Johnson says, can “feel the beat as they ride”;
• a 700-sq. ft. yoga room with a hardwood floor, white wall sconces and fans, a view of the golf course and what Johnson calls an “overall zen quality”;
• the 1,200-sq. ft. general group exercise room, with “loud” blue Mondo flooring (see photo, opposite page) to withstand heavy kettlebells and boot-camp exercises.
Forsyth CC offers 66 classes a week, beginning with early AM Power classes that Johnson says are for “the very fit, late 30s to early 40s working moms and professionals.” Then the demographics shift for the club’s Silver and Fit classes, which are restorative and appeal to seniors and those recovering from health issues. The bulk of the club’s classes, Johnson notes, are attended by members from 55 to their early 60s, with yoga prevailing as the most popular.
“We try to get members to sign up in advance for classes and we still ask, but they can just drop in,” Johnson says. “In the beginning, there was a flood to get in.”
To get members involved when the fitness center launched its cardio pop class, Johnson hosted a dancing and drinks event with a bar set up after the class. The club’s “bend and brew“ event includes a yoga class with beer afterward.
“When I offer alcohol, classes tend to be more attended,” she notes.
Successes and Failures
Members aren’t the only ones who benefit from classes at St. Andrews. Employees can take advantage of piloxing (a core-based, cardio-focused combination of pilates and boxing) as well as an after-work mindfulness class that teaches how to take deep breaths and focus.
Next season, St. Andrews plans to offer more HIIT (high-intensity interval training) classes, as members continue to come around to the idea of shorter, more intense exercise.
“Members don’t believe it’s a thing until they read it in The New York Times,” Alfano says. “I don’t go to an hour-long class any more—they’re no more than 40 minutes, in and out.”
Similarly, Present says she’s relieved that people are beginning to understand the benefit of quick workouts. “There’s so much science behind the benefit—the more-is-not-better philosophy is starting to settle in. We’re all time-deprived, and shorter, more concise workouts are great physically.”
Typically, classes need to have at least five to six attendees to stay on the schedule at St. Andrews. “The ones that are solid stay where they are and we don’t change them,” Alfano says. “Others that come in and out of fashion get traded out a bit more.”
The most popular classes at St. Andrews are aqua-based. The club renovated its pool more than a year ago, and the teachers who used it for their classes went on leave while it was closed for seven months. When it reopened, the club only brought back the teachers that members had rated most highly.
Outside the pool, the balance class, body power, and spinning are all popular choices at St. Andrews, tai chi is growing in popularity, and the stretch-and-strengthen class necessitates two back-to-back sessions, to handle everyone who wants to attend.
But not every class ends up a hit. Two years ago, Alfano hired an energetic trainer to teach a kickboxing class, but three weeks in, members decided they didn’t like it. “It would probably do better now, because our median age has dropped,” Alfano notes.
A similar situation played out at Forsyth CC, where Johnson got an instructor certified in a Tae-Bo, body-attack-style class that didn’t catch on.
“I thought it would be huge,” Johnson says. “I don’t know if the choreography was too hard, or you had to learn too many steps, but we brought it here for a two-month trial period and nobody came, so we had to pull it. Some of that could be our age demographic.”
Given the setting, it’s no surprise that lake-based classes rank among the most popular at Lake Austin, such as the Hydro-Bike HIIT, which Present describes as a spin interval training class on water, and KIPS, or kayak interval paddle sets. Meditation classes are also held on mats floating in the property’s warm pool.
“There’s no better place to work out than our lake gym,” Present says.
The Cost of Business
At St. Andrews, all fitness classes are complimentary and drop-in-friendly, save for the occasional workshop, such as a recently introduced self-care ball therapy class that costs $25 and teaches members to work out cramps and alleviate sore muscles.
“I think there’s a benefit to having complimentary classes,” Alfano says. “If you’re a brand new club opening up, you might change things, but I’ve been here for 20 years and if we started changing at this point, it wouldn’t be a good idea.”
Forsyth CC offers two pricing options for members: $45 a month for unlimited classes, or $6 for each regular class and $10 for barre and yoga classes.
All classes at Lake Austin are included in the cost of each guest’s stay, and additional costs are incurred only if guests want private classes, which have a la carte pricing.
“People don’t let the dollar get in the way of what their mind and body are led to do,” Present says. “We invite them to just unleash and follow what their personal needs are—it allows for spontaneity, so they can follow their heart and passion.”