Health Club Operators Pump Up Cardio Programming

Disc jockeys aren't your typical health club employees, but you'll find them spinning vinyl at Crunch every week — though Crunch is not your typical club chain. The management brings DJs into many of its 28 clubs to “mix up” the atmosphere and provide unique entertainment options.

“We're not only looking to provide the most up-to-date cardio equipment, we're also being innovative with our approach to entertainment,” says Keith Worts, chief operating officer at New York-based Crunch.

Club operators nationwide are coming up with new ways to distract and entertain cardio users, not only with live DJs and music, but also using big-screen TVs, MP3 connections, interactive cardio programming, people watching opportunities and secluded spaces like cardio cinemas that let members get away from it all.

By enhancing cardio areas with options to distract, soothe or entertain members, club operators can help set their clubs apart from the competition.

Ben Quist, who along with his wife, Gretchen, owns Form & Fitness, Grafton, WI, designed his club so members have a variety of entertainment options to enjoy when using cardio equipment.

“Our thoughts when we designed the club were, how can we make it more interesting for people to do cardio because, let's be honest, cardio is really boring,” Quist says. “At our club, people have a lot of different things to look at. We looked at how other clubs in our area did cardio, and most did it with rows of cardio equipment facing a wall, and I just can't think of anything more boring than staring at a wall.”

Bruce Carter, owner of design firm Optimal Fitness Design Systems International, Weston, FL, says the key to successful cardio workouts is promoting “disassociation” for members.

“It's important to disassociate people from the discomfort they feel when they are exercising,” Carter says. “The more we can keep their minds busy, the faster the time goes by.”

Often, the road to disassociation is driven by technology. While providing equipment with built-in TVs is popular, more club owners also are adding larger TVs to their cardio areas to allow members to feel like they're part of the action during sporting events, he says. For one club client, Carter installed a 70-inch TV, then placed a cluster of 12 to 15 pieces of cardio equipment around it in a half circle to create a focused cardio area.

For members who still want to be entertained but prefer more privacy, Carter says cardio cinemas are perfect.

“There's a trend clearly growing for cardio cinema, where a certain number of pieces of cardio go in a little movie room,” Carter says. “There's a dramatic disassociation there — a half-hour on cardio equipment just flies by. We're putting cardio cinemas in more and more clubs. People like it, and it sells well.”

Entertainment, of course, doesn't stop with TV and movie viewing. Many club owners, such as those at soon-to-open Stone Creek Club & Spa in Covington, LA, are adding MP3 docking stations to their equipment to make listening to music more convenient. Crunch also added Internet access to its machines so members can check their e-mail or surf the Web.

In addition, Crunch has interactive software on its cardio bikes that lets it hold contests so members across the country can compete in “races” against each other. The gaming software simulates a road race and tracks members' results on the Internet, Worts says.

“We had members of our club in San Francisco race against members in New York,” he says. “And last year in July, we did a ‘Tour de Crunch,’ at the same time they did the Tour de France.”

By keeping members excited about cardio competitions, Crunch keeps members engaged and coming back to its clubs, Worts says.

Person to Person

Despite the popularity of technological entertainment options, some people prefer to simply people watch or enjoy the view outside. That's why many club owners and designers face some cardio equipment away from TVs.

“When TVs on equipment first came out several years ago, we found that we had a 50/50 split between members who use it and those who don't,” Worts says. “There seems to be a little bit of a shift in how members react to the layout of equipment, and we're trying to be responsive with layout designs. More members today come to the gym and don't want to watch TV. They're turning and watching people work out or scanning the floor.”

Hervey Lavoie, president of Ohlson Lavoie Collaborative, Denver, says his firm often designs clubs with cardio overlooking the lobby, and that those machines frequently are the most popular.

“There's a trend away from focusing cardio on a huge bank of TVs to more diverse options,” he says. “Some cardio we've designed overlooks the gym floor, basketball court or even entry lobbies. People like to see people coming and going.”

Quist's Form & Fitness club has a second-floor cardio mezzanine that overlooks the club's strength equipment, plus an elevated cardio deck on the ground floor that lets members people watch.

In a university setting with limited funds for entertainment, thoughtful cardio equipment placement can make a big difference, says Gene Grzywna, director of campus recreation at Northeastern University in Boston.

“The layout of fitness equipment in our facility allows our users to people watch onto the street, into the atrium, into the basketball and volleyball courts,” says Grzywna. “Some people who work out in our facility want to be seen by others, while others would rather have some semblance of privacy. They can pick and choose where they want to work out.”

Back to Design

The Asian principle of feng shui can help club operators create a more unified atmosphere in their cardio areas, Carter says. Water plays a role in feng shui, so Carter often designs water walls in club lobbies, then places cardio machines behind the wall so people enjoy the soothing sound of running water.

Good feng shui design also means that when people walk into a space, they should not face people's backs or the backs of furniture, Carter says. He notes this is especially appealing for female members who dislike being watched from behind, whether by people entering a club or those on other equipment.

Quist agrees. “In doing our research, we found a lot of people didn't like other people looking at them from behind, so when we were doing our cardio, we avoided having double rows of equipment.”

It's important to consider the cardio area's placement in relation to the whole environment, which can help turn a necessary offering into a point of distinction.

“Cardio is kind of like an offering that every gym has to have,” says Quist. “But if you put a little thought into it, you don't have to offer cardio the same way everyone else is doing it.”

And that should help club owners retain members.

“Nobody can relax because of competition,” Lavoie says. “Everybody is looking for a competitive edge, and a lot of it depends on what differentiates [a club] from what else is in the area. Everyone can get the same equipment, but the environment you put it in makes the difference.”


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