Pilates’ Popularity Leads to Club Renovations

It didn't take long for Pilates to play a big role in programming at the Rockwell Collins Recreation Center in Cedar Rapids, IA. Seven years ago, Michael Duffy, director of the facility, purchased six reformers for the center and started reformer classes with mat classes soon following. The Pilates classes proved so popular that the center soon ran out of space and had to build a second Pilates studio. Now, the center has two Pilates studios with a total of 16 reformers.

“Our Pilates program continues to grow. In fact, we have 11 instructors getting their last of three levels of certifications completed in April. At completion, they will be increasing the number of classes to over the 50 classes per week they are already doing,” he says. “We do not plan to add another studio. However, we may need to expand the current facility to accommodate the number of new hires at Rockwell Collins.”

The growth of Pilates at Rockwell Collins Rec Center isn't unusual. Pilates is arguably one of the fastest growing forms of exercise in the world. Developed 50 years ago, Pilates has seen a 500 percent increase in participants in the last six years, growing from 1.7 million participants in 2000 to 10.6 million in 2006.

Many of those Pilates devotees take their classes at fitness facilities around the country. Finding space for Pilates classes isn't always easy for club owners. To fit Pilates into their facilities, some club owners are purchasing smaller equipment, building or expanding locations for dedicated Pilates spaces, or maximizing unused real estate.

Several clubs and recreation centers recognized the popularity of Pilates early and built dedicated Pilates studios. Six years ago, The San Francisco Bay Club (a part of the Western Athletic Clubs) opened an 11,000-square-foot mind/ body center. Sports Club LA followed a few years later with dedicated Pilates spaces in multiple clubs. Recently, Midtown Athletic Club Weston (FL) completed the first phase of a multimillion dollar upgrade that includes a new Pilates reformer studio and expansion of its mind/body studios that will host Pilates mat classes.

“It's now considered standard when building a club to include space for a dedicated Pilates studio,” says Elizabeth Larkam, director of the Pilates and Beyond program at Western Athletic Clubs. “But clubs are also finding ways to incorporate Pilates in spaces that already exist.”

Where o' Where?

Despite the popularity of Pilates, space constraints are one of the main issues club owners face when considering investing in a Pilates studio.

“We were talking to one of the architecture firms that works with health clubs, and they specifically asked us to give them a heads up about spaces, dimensions and basic layout stuff,” says Nora St. John, co-owner of Turning Point Studios in Walnut Creek, CA, and education program director for a Pilates equipment and certification company. “They are having a lot of customers ask them to put in Pilates studios, but they don't know what that means in terms of space and shape.”

When space is not readily available, club owners are using inventive ways to find space. At Rockwell Collins Recreation Center, the second Pilates studio is located in the outside perimeter of its indoor track. Almaden Valley Athletic Club in San Jose, CA, created a mezzanine over its free weight fitness center to house its Pilates studio.

“We created a new floor and enclosed it with glass, so it would be quiet,” says Deb Buglewicz, fitness and Pilates director at the club. “A year or two prior we created a mezzanine for functional instruction and decided we could do the same thing on the other end of the fitness floor for Pilates.”

The owners of the Denver Athletic Club and Flatiron Club in Boulder, CO, converted racquetball courts into Pilates studios, something that Larkam says is increasingly popular because Pilates classes generate revenue.

Gillespie says it would cost about $2,000 to convert a squash court into a Pilates studio. All a club owner would have to do is tint the glass, put some carpet on the floor and change out the lights.

No Space of Their Own

Not all club owners are interested in creating or building dedicated Pilates spaces. And those who either can't afford to put in a new studio or don't have the room are improving their Pilates programs by purchasing smaller equipment, such as floor-based reformers, that can be stacked on top of each other.

“We, at VIDA Fitness, were going to build a dedicated space, but we decided that it would be more financially acceptable if we didn't dedicate that space, that we had the ability to stack the reformers and move them out of the way,” says Adriane Morgan, a Pilates specialist at VIDA Fitness, Washington, DC.

Most reformers are designed to stack on top of each other and come with legs, so you can lift them off the ground a little, Gillespie says. They are very mobile, even with the legs in place, and can be moved by one person.

However, Buglewicz isn't convinced this is the best way to go.

“We actually had the stackable reformers about five years ago, and they were such an inconvenience that we sold them, and we created our own separate Pilates space,” she says.

Although the evolution of smaller equipment has been ongoing since Pilates started, it recently heated up, Larkam says. To diversify and increase the number of people they were reaching, certain Pilates equipment manufacturers recognized that they needed to make the equipment smaller, more accessible and easily configured for a variety of body types. These Pilates manufacturers are interested in capturing the group exercise and personal fitness training markets in addition to the Pilates niche, St. John says.

Morgan says, “I think [the smaller equipment] was created for home use, but the gyms were able to use that equipment because it's just as sturdy, just as usable. They haven't modified the equipment where you can't do the exercises the way they are supposed to be performed; they've just modified how much space it takes by making the equipment lighter and thinner and, in some cases, foldable.”

The purchasing of this smaller equipment will continue to grow because the equipment provides an athletic workout in a small footprint for about a third of the cost of the reformer and about a third of the space, St. John says.

But St. John says it's too early to tell how the purchasing trend of smaller equipment compares to the purchasing trends of larger pieces of Pilates equipment.

“It's not that the market is saturated with the Pilates reformers, but those pieces of equipment are well known now and are considered standard,” Larkam says. “Now, the manufacturers are looking to grow their stable of small equipment options.”

Storage space is the main objection to purchasing smaller equipment for nondedicated Pilates spaces. That is an area of concern for Terry Clark, wellness services director and Pilates instructor at HealthWorks Fitness Center in El Dorado, AR.

“Group exercise studios are just busting at the seams,” Clark says. “We have designated a special closet for apparatus and Pilates mats and are quickly running out of room.”

Is a Pilates program at a club really complete with just mat classes or the addition of smaller pieces of equipment? Or does a club need the reformer and other larger pieces of Pilates equipment for a full program?

Buglewicz says clubs must have all of the equipment. The reformer adds an additional 500 exercises over the mat and caters to a wide variety of people, she says.

However, Larkam says that although 10 years ago mat classes were enough and today clubs should offer more, it's still not necessary to have a full Pilates studio to provide quality instruction and a quality experience to members.

“The value that Pilates instruction brings lies not in how many square feet of real estate and how many pieces of equipment [a club has] but in the interaction between the instructor and the member. For that, you don't need a four cluster table with six sets of springs,” Larkam says.

Cost of It All

Expansion of current Pilates spaces or creation of new Pilates spaces doesn't come cheaply, although costs vary depending on the part of the country in which the facility is located.

“It all depends on how you do it. Retrofitting and remodeling can be more expensive than building from the ground up,” says Ian Gillespie, vice president of operations at Oregon Athletic Clubs in Portland, OR. “We have built all of our clubs from the ground up or do total remodels, which has allowed us to create Pilates studios.”

According to Rhonda Sayers, group exercise coordinator at HealthWorks Fitness Center, the cost is $115 per square foot in south Arkansas, but in most places it's probably more expensive.

The cost to create Rockwell Collins Recreation Center's Pilates studios was approximately $60,000, but Duffy says that's because the need to offer a first-rate program to the Rockwell Collins employees outweighed the cost.

The cost to create a space for Pilates can be recouped by charging for classes. Few facilities offer equipment-based Pilates classes for free, but most clubs make the mistake of not charging enough for the classes, Gillespie says. He considers the equipment Pilates classes as personal training and charges the same for them as he does for personal training.

Buglewicz says, “The more room you have, the more classes you offer and the more revenue you are generating. If you are getting $30 to $35 a reformer and take four at a time and hold more of those through the day, it can generate a lot more revenue than trying to squeeze it into your group fitness.”

In addition to the financial aspect, Buglewicz finds that having a dedicated Pilates space allows club owners to have a lot more offerings and more personalized service.

“We offer about 30 classes a week, and we make our classes small and intimate. Some clubs will offer the mat classes for free, but when you have your separate space, people don't mind paying for the mat classes because it's almost like getting private instruction,” says Buglewicz. “That really helps to offset the cost because you are generating revenue from your mat classes as well as your equipment.”

Overall, Morgan says that club owners should research their market and look at their club's population to determine if creating a dedicated Pilates space is something their membership will be interested in.

“If you have the market and space, go after the bigger equipment. People like doing Pilates in an environment that is just for Pilates. If you don't have the space and want to have diverse Pilates programs, then do it in the space you have,” she says.

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