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Sky-High Exercise Download PDF

By Patricia Glynn as published in Club Business International, 2009


THE GOAL WAS TO MAKE FITNESS FUN AGAIN. IT'S WORKED. PEOPLE ARE REALLY HAVING A GOOD TIME — THEY'RE SMILING; THEY LOVE IT!

When it comes to training one's core, crunches still count; and, for balance, the BOSU Balance Trainer is still hard to beat. Over the years, countless exercises and a wide variety of tools have been devised to deal with core issues and add balance to club workouts, but the innovation is still going strong, and, if anything, seems to be accelerating.

Check out the studios at Equinox, the high-end, trendsetting chain that has more than 40 locations in seven major cities, and you'll find members soaring and spinning—literally—through the air. Take a peek inside the studios at Crunch, the quirky 20-unit club company based in New York City, and you’ll catch clients experimenting with an indoor waterless version of surfing.

And that’s not all: continue your tour of facilities and you'll also discover yoga classes that make use of hammocks, Pilates sessions replete with hula hoops, and, even, workouts conducted on a giant trampoline.

From a functional standpoint, these imaginative approaches are effective, but, more than that, they're also designed to make exercise fun, and, in fact, they succeed. Unique, entertaining, and uninhibited, they pique the interest of prospects and members, tempt them to participate, and, performing as promised, help drive membership sales, club utilization, and member retention

OUTSIDE THE BOX WORKOUTS

An excellent example of the creativity that’s recently been brought to bear is Equinox’s new program. Jukari Fit to Fly was developed for Reebok, the international sports products and programs provider, by Cirque du Soleil, the global producer of avant-garde theatrical performances, with a little help from Sara Haley, an Equinox instructor.

“The goal,” she says, “was to make fitness fun again.”

The name, Jukari, was derived from a Sicilian word meaning “to play,” and the program, Haley explains, is a high-flying act that sometimes has members “jumping for joy.” It makes use of the Fly Set, a modified trapeze that can hold up to 2,000 pounds, on which students can swing freely. They also do floor work with foot strap attachments. The 45-minute routine engages the core as people lift themselves and also challenges their balance.

Instructors undergo a rigorous training and evaluation process. “Ideally, they should have a strong dance, yoga, Pilates, or circus background,” suggests Haley, “and it helps if they've worked with core-stability and suspension training.”

Jukari, the first in a series of programs that Cirque du Soleil is developing for Reebok, debuted earlier this year in select clubs stretching from Los Angeles, to New York, to Seoul. “It’s worked,” reports Haley. “People are really have a good time — they're smiling; they love it!”

Having fun also seems to be the raison d'être of Crunch’s choice, Indo Boarding, which, depending on season or preference, can offer, among other things, a surfing, skateboarding, skiing, or snowboarding experience. “A program has to produce results,” says Marc Santa Maria, the regional director of group fitness for Crunch, but it also has to be interesting and fun. That's what sustains students through a 45-minute class.”

The Indo Boarding sessions utilize the Indo Board, an oval-shaped disk that costs approximately $99 each, which sits atop inflatable IndoFlo cushions, providing the uneven movements associated with a variety of outdoor activities. Santa Maria was inspired to create his class by the popularity of extreme sports. “It was about bringing the ocean and the mountains to urban areas,” he explains. “We're giving people experiences that they wouldn't have, otherwise.”

During the summer, members surf to the music of the Beach Boys, and avoid “wiping out” by focusing on balance and using their core. At other times of the year, Santa Maria employs four-pound BOSU fitness balls as beach balls or body bars as ski poles, with appropriate musical accompaniment.

“We’ve got 15 Indo Boards,” notes Santa Maria, “and they always fill up fast.”

SUPPLIER SOLUTIONS

As they design equipment and programs, companies, today, are focusing on both effectiveness and entertainment value. “BOSU training is all about results and fun because the skill progressions aren't like traditional exercise, where you count off each and every tedious rep,” points out Douglas Brooks, a programming director for BOSU by Fitness Quest, Inc., of Canton, Ohio. “Instead, they feel more like play and skill development, which keeps the process interesting, gratifying, and fun.”


The objective, however, remains quite serious. “Ultimately, the goal of integrated core and balance training is to help a person express strength and power from a standing position, which reflects what's required of us in real life and sports,” he says.

Ken Endelman, the founder and CEO of Balanced Body Pilates, the Sacramento, California–based provider, echoes Brooks' observation. “Pilates,” he reminds, “is all about creating a strong core and an even, well-balanced musculature… Most of us move incorrectly, using our spine and extremities, but we should be moving from the inside out—from our core to the extremities. The stronger the core, the more flexible and balanced you become, and the more fluidly you move. This enhances all of our daily activities, which becomes particularly important as we age.”

STOTT PILATES, based in Toronto, has taken special notice of the needs of older and other discrete populations with the recent introduction of its Injuries & Special Populations Support Material. “We created this book to help our students gain the knowledge, skill, and confidence to develop effective programs for a range of clients,” explains Lindsay G. Merrithew, the president and CEO of STOTT PILATES. “Programming for special populations, including the active-aging market, pre- and post-natal exercisers, and other physically limiting conditions (e.g., diabetes, osteoporosis, and breast cancer) is ever more in demand.”

Pilates practitioners have been joined in their pursuit of improved core and balance performance by innovative firms such as Fitness Anywhere, Inc., of San Francisco, which markets the TRX Suspension Trainer. This device consists of two nylon straps that, connected to any secure surface and employing one’s body weight as resistance, facilitate countless functional movements. “Your core is engaged the whole time, with every exercise, whether you're doing upper-body or lower-body exercises,” reports Allison Ross, the director of marketing for the company. “It helps with core strength, balance, and flexibility—for everyone, but, especially, older people.”

The central role that accessories play is demonstrated, too, by the creations of suppliers as far-flung as OPTP, of Minneapolis, Minnesota, and Alcan Airex AG, of Sins, Switzerland. OPTP offers a wide selection of inflatable items, exercise balls, foam rollers, and foam balance products. “Our newest thing is the SMARTROLLER, an innovative foam roller with two different sides,” notes Joey Hall, a spokesperson for OPTP. Alcan Airex, for its part, has recently introduced the Balance-pad Elite, an advanced version of its popular Balance Pad that not only complements its BeBalanced! Training programs, but also provides a foot massage in the process.

YET MORE PROGRAMS!

Another program that, like Jukari, takes the action aloft is Unnata Aerial Yoga, a combination of yoga and acrobatics created by Michelle Dortignac, who conducts classes at studios in the Brooklyn and Manhattan sections of New York City.

Unnata makes use of a 17' long sling, which allows students to perform yoga poses while suspended above the floor during the 90-minute sessions. “It lightens people’s mood,” she explains. “It’s playful, cool, and interesting. People get bored if they're always doing the same thing.”

Among the many other proliferating programs that strive to enliven the serious task of improving one's balance and increasing one’s core strength are:

  • Hoopilates, one version of a program that combines the joy of hula-hooping with the benefits of Pilates movements that was concocted by Jen Bleier, a trainer from Brooklyn, New York. Other takes on the idea have been developed at clubs worldwide.
  • Rebounderz Planet Jump, Inc., a unique facility in Orlando, Florida, that’s constructed around a huge 6,800-square-foot trampoline. “Mini-trampolines, limited in space, will bore you to death,” observes Mark Gurley, the business’ co-owner and CEO. “Here, you're able to run and move. It's way more fun.”
  • Roller Dance, a disco on roller skates offered by Esporta, the U.K.-based chain. The constant rolling and stopping, combined with moves such as lunges, challenges skaters’ equilibrium and demands a strong center to prevent spinouts.
  • Skinny Jeans, another imaginative exercise regimen from Equinox, tantalizes both in terms of content and title. “Skinny Jeans combines elements of yoga, Pilates, Nia, Alexander Technique, and the Feldenkrais Method,” explains Molly Fox, the company’s group fitness manager and the program's creator.

“Some say that exercise should be about health,” she continues, “but people want great butts, want to wear skinny jeans.”