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How to Select a Prepackaged Group Fitness Program

By Rob Bishop and Barry Klein
August 2010

     Comments (9)
Photo of a group fitness class
GREATER REACH
Name-brand programming may attract new class participants.

Group fitness is a huge investment for any club and a significant differentiator when it is done well. This is especially important in a world in which many express, 24-hour and low-priced clubs are not including group fitness. A well-executed group program builds relationships between staff and members, and — more important — between members themselves. Many people simply hate to exercise alone, and, especially among women, there is no greater draw than a group program. But how do you do it well?

Prepackaged group fitness classes can be part of the answer. We have investigated prepackaged programming for more than a year, and we believe that exploring options and understanding what's available is extremely important. We also believe that if you decide to implement a prepackaged program, you owe it to yourself to commit to your vendor and jump in with both feet.

The biggest players in the world of prepackaged group fitness are Les Mills and Body Training Systems. We will neither discuss specifics of what each offers nor compare or contrast them, but there are common themes and issues that are helpful to understand.

Unlike single-activity programs that have simple license requirements and low monthly fees, such as Zumba or Flirty Girl, these larger prepackaged programs require a significant investment. There could be equipment to purchase for specific classes (such as Les Mills' Body Pump™), and there can be monthly per-class and/or per-facility licensing fees. There are also costs associated with training, certification and continuing education, which the club may absorb or pass on to the instructors. These programs require a major financial commitment all the way around.

That doesn't mean they don't provide appropriate value. New classes and music are provided regularly, and marketing materials and expertise are provided to drive excitement, participation and even memberships. Having a staff of similarly trained instructors who deliver (what is hoped to be) a fundamentally consistent experience could be just what a club needs.

Photo of a group fitness class lifting weights
GROUP DYNAMIC
Certain prepackaged classes will require the purchase of additional equipment.

Many clubs have turned over their entire group fitness programs to these third parties, and they will tell you it was, and continues to be, the best investment they ever made. There are also plenty of clubs that have implemented perhaps one or just a handful of prepackaged classes, adding them to a mix that includes original classes and/or other licensed classes.

We have been intrigued by these prepackaged programs because "traditional" group fitness instructors seem to be becoming an endangered species. We are blessed with a director and several instructors who for years have stayed on the cutting edge of group fitness, learning and excelling at the latest trends. They prepare, rehearse, take each other's classes, and obsess about music. But, as group fitness has evolved to welcome more people with less choreography and more types of exercise (strength, stretching, mind/body and so on), we have seen fewer and fewer of these "generalists" who can seemingly teach anything. Prepackaged classes could allow us to increase our number of available instructors and have more flexibility with our schedule. Also, the growing brand recognition of these programs might drive more people to participate in classes. On the other hand, we already have a successful program that would be the envy of many facilities, so would the investment in time and money make a significant difference to us? We are continuing to study it.

Could a prepackaged solution be right for you and your club? Certainly, it will not be a panacea. A boring instructor who is disinterested in his or her students will not likely draw any better in a Les Mills or Body Training Systems class than in any other class. Managing and coordinating the program still falls to the club. When new classes are rolled out, some members will surely complain about the changes. And while both of these vendors offer outstanding marketing, promotion kits and advice, the cost and effort to execute those promotions still falls to you. In short, Body Training Systems and Les Mills are tools, and the success or failure of their programs rests with a club's leadership and staff.

If you do investigate one of the prepackaged programs, be sure to understand and take advantage of everything it offers. We are shocked at the number of clubs we see with group schedules that simply include one or two of these programs side-by-side with their other classes. It seems as though they are not taking advantage of any of the marketing or promotion that goes with them. If you are going to offer Body Pump or Body Training Systems' Group Power®, shout about it on your website, on the walls of your clubs, and with the publicity tools that these vendors will hand to you. Roll out the new music and the new classes the way they advise you to, and keep your instructors current.

Should you be doing that for your non-packaged classes, too? Of course. There's nothing these programs do that you couldn't do yourself with the proper investment in time, money, talent and staff. But, are you? Can you? If you are not getting everything out of your group fitness program that you can, then do yourself a favor and explore your options. And if you go with a prepackaged program, make sure you are committed to it. We can't imagine spending the fees associated with these programs and then stuffing them away on the group schedule with no special focus. If you're going to pay for someone else's program, do it right.



Les Mills    Body Training Systems    group exercise    group fitness    Body Pump™    Group Power®   

Rob Bishop and Barry Klein are owners of Elevations Health Club in Scotrun, Pa.
 

Comments:

I currently have Bodypump at my studio and it costs $300 a mo. Just putting it out there for you because I like to see prices when researching.. The program is outstanding. I have been doing it at my studio for 4 1/2 years and the cost is very high for my area. Pop. 7,000. We have 4 other fitness facilities much bigger than my 800 sq. ft. So they already have a large pool of members to pull from. I am independent and specialize in MMA and personal training. Bodypump pays for itself every single month. Even horrible Dec. when a lot of clients and customers disappear, it still pays for itself and even with a small $200 profit for Dec. I do have to consider doing the programs on my own just because I can use the $300 a month and I could easily do my own. ( The time cost would be awful). We are not membership based. So far though, I am staying and loving what Bodypump has done for my ladies. They all look awesome-Seriously.

Jeanine Jordon  owner Jordon Studio  1/10/2013 3:13:16 PM

I’m writing from Les Mills to help answer questions around our pricing. We offer one, low monthly cost that covers programming, customized consulting and access to $1M+ of marketing materials. We charge per program offered (i.e. BODYPUMP®, BODYCOMBAT®, BODYFLOW®, CXWORX®, SH’BAM®, RPM™ BODYJAM®, BODYSTEP®, BODYATTACK® and BODYVIVE®). The monthly costs are typically covered by 5-6 new memberships sold. Our eye is always on your bottom line, as we prove our value every month. There are no contracts with Les Mills---we work on month-to-month agreements. If you want to email me, I can answer any specific questions you might have. Together, we can look at your situation, to see if Les Mills would be the right match for you. Erin K. Kelly Executive Vice President, Les Mills East Coast erin.kelly@lesmills.com

Erin Kelly  EVP, Les Mills East Coast  5/17/2012 7:15:22 AM

Thanks for this interesting article. I'm trying to figure out how much it actually costs to have a Les Mills program at my facility - not just the program part, but also some of the other features that they offer such as studio design consulting, their software, and their marketing materials. Anyone know?

Ann Chan  Fitness Facility Owner  4/23/2012 4:30:14 PM

My biggest issue with thees 'group fitness in a can' program is the quality of the instructor. I would rather have an instructor who can create a class that is based on the unique needs of the individual class participants on any given day. Many, and I do emphasize that not all fall into this category, can not think independently enough to lead a class that strays for the subscribed 'workout of the day'. Never mind, that they often lack the background and education to make other general fitness and health recommendations to participants.

Kelli Martin  owner Pinnacle Fitness Solutions and Kelli Martin Fitness  5/15/2011 4:26:55 PM

I found your article interesting, but a little misdirected. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to experience the value in having a pre-choreographed group fitness program with Les Mills while running a well known fitness company in South America. The value of these types of programs can be shown in ROI in several areas. New member acquisition, retention, increased class participation and more over, world class programming. I have been in our wonderful industry for almost 24 years and I would imagine that the majority of management would agree that group fitness is something they have a hard time managing. Our industry breeds a lot of divas, and far too long the fitness classes have been about the instructor and their creativity rather than the needs and benefits of the member. With pre-choreographed programming, "it" can be all about the member now and the instructor can focus on instructing, entertaining and making sure the member is satisfied rather than creating choreography, finding music to fit the moves, etc. When I say misdirected, I am referring to the cost. You mention that there is a major investment, and based on what I have seen here in the U.S., the cost to get involved with Les Mills is very reasonable and affordable. I have no idea what Body Training Systems costs, but I would imagine they are competitive. Another "eye opener" is that if most group fitness director/managers were honest with themselves, they would agree that the majority of their group fitness schedule is built around the availability of the instructor and not the member's needs. With a program like Les Mills, there are no issues with substitutions, and the members know what to expect...the instructors are trained the same way, they have the choreography with music and there are no surprises. What else would you want for your members? I know that Les Mills has their programming in over 14,000 locations and something like 80,000 current instructors, I can't imagine someone producing "cutting edge" classes on little or no budget as mentioned in your comments.

Anonymous  VP of Operations  3/28/2011 11:02:03 PM

Hello Mr. Klein and Mr. Bishop, I found the article you wrote to be very informative. My name is Sam Alexander. I am the founder of a Group Fitness Program called Skate-O-Robics. In our classed we initially teach five basic choreographed routines. Each routine consists of a combination of steps and moves that are designed to improved the individual's overall skating skills while giving them a workout at the same time.( I have video footage from the media). The program was originally formed in Atlanta, Georgia in the late 90's. After taking the program off the market for several years, I am interested in launching it in Los Angeles in the Spring of 2011. The program can be implemented at roller rinks, health clubs and parks and recreations. I am presently looking for sponsorship and or investors to pilot the program here in L.A in hopes of rolling it out nationally and perhaps internationally in the future. If you are aware of any companies or organizations that may be interested in such a venture please contact me and let me know. This program is a diamond in the rough. Thanks in advance ! Sam Alexander 310.401.3045

Sam Alexander  Skate-O-Robics Instructor  1/9/2011 1:08:44 AM

I would like to one become a director of a facility.

Tameka Taylor  Assistant Recreation Center Supervisor  8/12/2010 3:27:37 PM

I also found your article interesting . I work for a YMCA and have been approached by the foks with Les Mills and I simply cannot afford to run any of their programs. We are blessed to have dozens of instructors that are talented and dedicated to their craft. I believe that our members appreciate the diversity in our programming as well as the variety of experiences that they have with the different instructors. We do offer Zumba at our branches and have great attendance. With the right staff and management support, you do not need to spend money on these pre-packaged programs. I am very aware of my responsibility to our members to spend their dollars wisely!

Lynne Istad  Senior Director of Health and Wellmess  8/12/2010 11:43:14 AM

I found your article on packed group fitness interesting. I am one of those "traditional" fitness instructors. I have taught group fitness for 23 years, and have seen fitness trends come and go. Working in the not-for-profit sector has many challenges when it comes to fitness. I have a limited buget, and I did look into Les Mills a couple years ago. It sounded interesting, but ultimately, the cost of the programs was too high. Our YWCA is located in a small rural area, so the branded classes don't mean as much to our participants. I enjoy creating my class format and choreography, so I am not sure I would having it done for me. I consider my group exercise program to be on the cutting edge, more so than other clubs in our area, so I am very happy to stay the way we are.

Laurie Greene  Fitness Director YWCA of Cortland  8/11/2010 11:36:24 AM

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