By supplementing fitness amenities with personal training programs that focus on the individual, clubs are emphasizing health, vitality and lifestyle changes over just dropping unwanted pounds.
By Brandi Shaffer, Associate Editor
The American Council on Exercise estimated in September 2012 that there were 29,365 health and fitness clubs across the country, tucked into strip malls, filling out enormous open spaces at universities, and popping up in droves under corporate monikers.
Most of these gyms and fitness clubs emphasize convenience and a reasonable price, leaving gym-goers to their own devices. Responding to the impersonal nature of this fitness-from-a-distance approach, clubs have seized the opportunity to develop a promising niche, by offering extensive personal-training programs for members of all ages that seek to exercise not just their bodies, but also their minds and souls.
Club properties, where the membership is tightly knit and comfortable with staff, are proving to be ideal settings for these enhanced programs. With club fitness professionals tailoring daily exercise regimens to individual members’ needs and limitations, training has never been so personal.
SUMMING IT UP
- Atmosphere and community set clubs’ personal training programs apart from standard gyms, instilling a sense of accountability among the membership.
- Incorporating other health-oriented amenities with a fitness program, such as healthy dining and a rejuvenating spa, can add value to wellness benefits offered to club members.
- Personal-training clients can become a base for new small-group fitness offerings, such as training for a 5k run.
Tapping Pent-Up Demand
When Andy Pfefferkorn joined Dominion Valley Country Club in Haymarket, Va., as Fitness Director two years ago, the personal training element was virtually non-existent. He knew he had his work cut out for him, so he jumped in with a two-part plan: 1) meet the members and take each of them through a personalized workout to see the benefits, and 2) offer a complimentary workout during his first six months at the club.
“Right away we had a steady weekly flow of these sessions,” Pfefferkorn says. “Through my interactions with the members, I found there was a definite demand for professional training services.”
From a paltry two to three sessions per week, the Toll Golf property jumped to averaging 30 to 35 sessions a week, with 15% of the membership taking part in paid personal training services. Incentives such as rewarding long-term, consistent members with discounts and a complimentary session for client referrals keep members coming back.
“In the fitness industry right now, ‘niche’ training is making a comeback,” Pfefferkorn says. “We are seeing more and more small personal training studios, Crossfit gyms and yoga centers. The one-on-one attention we give to our clients is seldom interrupted or disturbed, like it would be in those large fitness clubs. ”
Making sure members are held accountable for their own health progress is another advantage of working out in a community where everyone knows your name.
“We see our clients at the pool, over at the clubhouse, at special events, etc.,” Pfefferkorn says. “We have more ‘face time’ with our clients beyond their actual sessions each week, and that really helps from an accountability standpoint.
“What’s also nice about personal training at a country club rather than a gym is that it’s much more convenient,” he adds. “For example, they say you should eat right after a workout, because you are still burning fat. Members can finish a workout and get a bite to eat a lot quicker here than driving out of the parking lot and ten minutes down the road to a restaurant.”
From its base of personal training clients, Dominion Valley has branched out to offer specialized training for events such as triathlons and Tough Mudder, as well as paid boot camps. The staff takes member feedback and integrates health and wellness services into other departments as well, from healthy menu offerings at the clubhouse restaurant to wellness seminars that promote community education.
Dominion Valley incorporates a mix of employees and independent contractors for its fitness program, which includes five fitness professionals and a registered dietitian.
“We practice the ‘hire slow and grow’ mentality, as you really need to make sure you cast the right talent to join your team,” Pfefferkorn says. “I believe that person should have a minimum of 50% of their time focused on member relations and services. Poll your members and hire a mix of seasoned trainers and new trainers you can cultivate and lead. We look at our membership demographics and solicit feedback through surveys, and then implement member-suggested programming.”
The club is currently in the final stages of a renovation project that will bring a brand new cardio hall and mind-body complex with cardiovascular machines and top-of-the-line equipment. The Mind & Body Studio, full of serene colors, soft lighting, and ample room for yoga mats, will be an outlet for members to melt away stress.
“You can’t put a price on health, and every person at some point will come to realize that,” Pfefferkorn says.
The Young Crowd
Management at Midland (Mich.) Country Club knew in 2010 that members wanted a personal training program to go along with a new 5,000-sq. ft. fitness center and spa, simply because they asked: The membership received a survey about what services they would prefer to see, and one of the top requested services was personal training.
At Midland, personal training is offered at an additional cost in individual sessions or as a package of four. About 225 of 720 eligible members have taken advantage of the program, which follows the protocols set forth by the American College of Sports Medicine.
“There is also a dynamic with the country club environment where members are drawn to learn the science behind their program and thoroughly enjoy continuous change and/or challenges with their routines,” says Jeff Simmons, Midland’s Youth Fitness, Athletics and Health Promotion Coordinator.
Being aware of what your region offers in the way of competing gyms and fitness centers is valuable for determining what the membership needs, Simmons adds. One way Midland CC is fulfilling a need is through its formal youth training program, which acknowledges both the club’s growing family population and the serious issue of childhood obesity.
Youth personal training sessions help cultivate a healthy attitude toward overall fitness and daily exercise that goes beyond physical education classes in school. The club’s YouthFit Ranking system gives kids goals to work toward, similar to a karate belt system, to motivate young members and instill a sense of accomplishment as progress is made. Rankings start at Rookie and work up to Pro, All-Star, MVP and Legend.
To create a more balanced workout, Midland staff encourages members to take part in yoga or pilates classes, in addition to personal training, to help “achieve a mind-body connection.” A partnership with the Dietetics Department at MidMichigan Medical Center-Midland, the area hospital, gives the staff a place to refer members who are interested in nutritional counseling from a registered dietitian.
As of now, Midland’s personal training program services 30 appointments a week and is not yet at full capacity. The club is looking to add a 30-minute session option for members.
“Thirty-minute sessions are nice for those members who are on a time crunch, would like an intense workout but for whom more than 30 minutes would be too strenuous, or are new to exercise and need to ease into the lifestyle,” Simmons says.
Ditching the Cookie Cutter
The Houstonian Golf & Country Club in Richmond, Texas, has worked to create a personal training program that’s proved to be anything but ordinary since it was introduced in 2009.
“The only standard fitness offerings we offer are a basic ‘weight room orientation’ that we do for our new members if they’d like, and group exercise,” says Jennifer Ramsey, the club’s Fitness Coordinator whose duties also extend to tennis, aquatics and the Kids Clubhouse.
The Houstonian G&CC services about 80 personal training appointments a month, with varying rates depending on trainers, type of training, length of appointments and the number of people in small group training.
To acknowledge the importance of total health, the club’s fitness center and spa are linked. “The spa offers treatments that many of our fitness people use, and because we’re in the same building, many take advantage of both services,” Ramsey says. “We also have a trainer who specializes in Fascial Stretch Therapy, which improves flexibility, posture, functional ability and decreases pain in muscles and joints.”
Fitness space at The Houstonian, as for many clubs, can be a precious commodity (the club’s fitness center is 2,400 sq. ft.). And with seven trainers on staff, things can get a little crowded in the weight room.
“Our weight room is small, so [personal training] does affect space,” Ramsey says. “We have a small personal training space that a few of our trainers utilize just to stay out of the way of members who are working out. It works out fine, but sometimes we have three training sessions going on at a time and then we’re spread out and rotating around the fitness center.”
Since its inception, the personal training program at The Houstonian G&CC has experimented with various incentives and changes in the offerings. “Members like ‘free stuff,’ so the training specials that have been ‘buy X and get one free,’ or something like that, are good,” Ramsey says.
The program is marketed through seasonal specials and member referrals, but Ramsey adds that hiring trainers who will take the initiative is key to generating high interest.
“[You need trainers who are] not waiting for people to just ‘come along,’ ” she notes. “They need to offer types of training that are not available at every club. They need to have results-based training and have their clients change what they do—maybe it’s aesthetic, or it could be positive mental, emotional or internal health-related changes.”
To further set the Houstonian apart from typical gyms, Ramsey is working on a monthly curriculum in which members can come to the club and learn a new workout tool and incorporate it into their workout.
“It is two-fold,” Ramsey says. “1) Get them using more of the tools in our fitness center with confidence and 2) pique their interest to possibly begin a program with a trainer to get the most out of those tools and taking their workout to the next level.”