Recently I went to Filex in Melbourne to work, here I was introduced to new concepts in fitness including Zuu (more on that later). On my last day we visited a new Fitness First Club  which has adopted a floor space is more philosophy for it’s gym users.  I had a discussion with my work colleagues about everything I had seen on my trip and as a result  it got me questioning the fitness industry once more. Because whilst the industry continues to grow unfortunately the obesity crisis outstrips this growth. Consider this general piece of knowledge, 25% of us are considered obese and with current trends this could become 50% by 2050. Soon obesity will be the norm! So with such staggering statistics you would imagine the fitness industry would be booming that gyms everywhere would be full to capacity. Unfortunately this isn’t the case. The industry has grown and memberships have gone over 8 million for the first time but that still means only 13% of the population are members of gyms.

The introduction of budget gyms has surely led to a swell in membership numbers but deep down their business model is simple. Pack them in cheap, they are providing a space for people to train in and that is it, and if you have seen some of the budget gyms they are very special spaces indeed. The budget gyms aren’t that worried about people not using their spaces, most people don’t notice £12.99 coming out of their account every month, so it happily keeps going into their accounts. Unlike the higher end brands who should be offering better service because people do notice £60 – £120 coming out a month. especially if you don’t go. Hence why the gym is always the number one target of financial advisors who try and save you money. If you looked at the photo gallery of Lifestyle Fitness the big question now is what differentiates a club like Virgin Active/ David LLoyd and a budget gym? A swimming pool, tennis courts, a membership team, a receptionist? How long can they continue to justify their membership prices at some clubs? With the service chink in their armor boutique studios have opened and managed to get a foothold into the industry where perhaps there shouldn’t been one, and right now they are flourishing as much as budget gyms especially in cities where rent is high.

Perhaps the slow growth of the fitness industry has something to do with the programming and audience it targets. Perhaps the fitness industry big boys have an ego problem. Currently it seems to me that if someone high up in an organisation is doing triathlons or functional training that they will purchase equipment which will help them get fitter and their fellow athletes and not the people who really need it. Hence why you’ll get things in gyms which are trendy and fashionable rather than catering for an audience which is looking for direction and help with the fundamentals of moving. Isn’t that who we should be targeting because there are millions of obese adults and kids in the UK not using gyms!

So we need new ideas, innovations to interact with this audience right?! Cool let me start by introducing Zuu.  Zuu is a bodyweight only program which the designer Nathan develop from animal movements. For an understanding watch this video for a 3 min warm-up and if you fancy it try and do it? Did you manage it? Well I didn’t. I struggled on the kickies. Don’t get me wrong I love this program and I am all for body weight exercises, as with Lebert Fitness. But when I asked Nathan how long one of these classes were, he calmly replied 45 minutes! Well you will be glad to know that Zuu already launched by Virgin Active will take the UK by storm this summer! However it is funny I saw on one of Virgins tweets a member reply by asking a very simple question. What about Zumba or Zumba Step? They obviously thought these programs were being neglected. Let me give you some idea of the programming coming from Virgin Active this year. So far they have launched, Fierce a tribal dance program, 360 a movement training program getting us moving in all 3 dimensions, 24 a High Intensity Program working you out in 24 minutes, Zumba Step was launched, and sure enough ZUU will be along, as well as a new take on yoga and pilates called NOVA! Wow that is a lot of programming, innovation, thought and cost gone into that. Has it worked? Well only they will tell you. However I feel perhaps they should just be focusing on what they have already but just do it well.

For example my friends at GoodVibes studios run Powerplate classes. At Virgin Active a few years ago every VA had powerplates, some even had designated studios. Now in most VA the powerplates lay redundant on the gym floor, whilst at Goodvibes her classes are packed. Why? Because of programming, updating the program, education, maintenance etc.

Also this week after 6 months of battling with a VA site about the music system in the cycle studio I have left. Because they don’t want to spend the necessary funds to make it work. The following morning I was in a boutique studio with awesome sound, working microphone, bikes, air-con and lights, and people are wondering what they are paying for? You pay the extra for that! Someone who invests in the basics and gets it right and then some. I know if a boutique studio equipment breaks it will fixed as a matter of urgency.

The major chains still provide the hugely popular Les Mills classes, but instead of updating the equipment, making sure the studios are top grade etc they are happy to waste huge amounts on marketing on new products which no-one knows the name of and are probably no better than what is currently out there. The UK can only dream of their studios being equipped with the Les Mills Smart Bar, but don’t worry Escape Fitness TIYR seem to be trendy, lets put them into our gyms.

As for HIIT ( High Intenisty Interval Training), yes the reports say that it is better at burning off fat than any other form of exercise but the warnings are obvious, place a deconditioned person into a HIIT class sooner or later there will be dire consequences. ( Perhaps not, no deconditioned person will enter a HIIT class.) So when someone deconditioned enters a gym what is there on offer for them? A lot of intimidating equipment which in a budget gym no-one will show you how to use, so after a month of trying to move you’ll quickly leave, as you won’t get the results you were after. In the main gyms someone will show you and then try and push Personal Training down your throat. The industry has veered violently away from when me and my fitness buddies would work tirelessly writing out 6/7 program or reprograms a day. If you wandered over to look at the group exercise program what is there for newbies to exercise? HIIT, GRIT, Tabata, Group Cycle, BodyPump, Attack, Combat oh phew glad we have Zumba. We know that all of them can be attended by beginners to exercise and with good instruction can be navigated safely, yet we have to get them through the door.

Yet why don’t we see classes called ‘Here’s a starter for 10!’ 10 minutes of mobility and cardio, easy movements in all 3 dimensions. Then perhaps 10 squats, focusing on technique rather than 6 minutes of Squats, where technique is obliterated, then change the exercise. 10 reps of each.  Stretch them out and job done – a 20/30 minutes class. Oh that sounds uncool and boring. It’s not a Shockwave class where we are asking people to power away on a rower whilst their partner does intense floor exercises. It’s not a ZUU class where most people won’t have the core strength to perform a large number of the moves with good technique. (neither will some of the trainers!) Which is another problem with some of these classes. Zuu looks amazing when Nathan and his team perform it, but if I was to lead a class it wouldn’t quite have the same affect, especially as there would be no kickies, crocodiles and many more moves I can’t do in it.

So I believe the entire fitness industry needs to take a step back. Most people get into the industry because they are passionate about fitness and helping people get results, but obesity is on the rise, and whilst I know the industry is a business, perhaps if the business looked at the fitness of the nation rather than the fitness of their DD run things would be better.  There needs to be less HIIT in the industry, less ego, less what is cool, what will be tweeted ‘as the hardest class ever it almost killed me’ because no HIIT class is going to beat 1 in 11 people dying in the UK due to having excess fat. Obesity will soon become the leading cause of death over smoking! The fitness industry needs to focus on deconditioned people, gyms need to become more user friendly. Fitness First have made a bold move of course and they needed to, but is having huge functional spaces the right move? Does that engage with enough people, because if the programming of that space is not spot on, it may be only a matter of time before that space is filled once more with cardio equipment, because asking people to pay for empty spaces with equipment nicely packaged on shelves won’t cut it. The alternative is that the empty space may become permanently empty and obesity will have claimed another victim!

As always your views and thoughts are welcome.