Programming PIZZAZ

Boredom is the bane of any club owner. Once members lose interest in their workout or the classes on the schedule, retention rates are almost sure to suffer. But what can you do, especially when you consider that most people are pressed for time and have pretty much tried everything from Pilates to Spinning?

Well, you can try Fusion Fitness, a melding of different programs into a new hybrid workout. The trend marries everything from traditional cardio and weight programs to punk-rock with yoga, and swimming pools with high intensity Spinning classes. The class names often are jazzy. Check out HydroRide, an in-pool Spinning class, and Liquid Strength, which sounds like a new super hero but is billed as “meditation with movement that challenges the body while soothing the mind.”

“With fusion you can get a lot done in a little bit of time,” says Donna Cyrus, national group fitness director for Crunch, who found HydroRide at a conference in Italy four years ago. “It's complete conditioning in an hour. In our urban market our people are time constrained, so they want the maximum amount in the least amount of time.”

Nevertheless, trainers generally agree that fusion fitness works on several levels, first and foremost as a good workout.

“It is great cross training that benefits the whole body,” says Sabrena Newton, a group fitness instructor in Kansas City, KS. “If you do the same thing day in and day out, your joints get more wear. It is actually better for your body.”

Just as important, however, is that Fusion Fitness relieves boredom while encouraging people to try things they might not otherwise. And, if you are a club owner looking at the bottom line, it is great for retention.

“Our people are always looking for the newest thing, and we are trying to give them that,” Cyrus says. “It is continually turning the wheel. Just when the body gets use to one thing, you shake it up and try something new.”

Creating a fusion class requires awareness of the basic principles of exercise. For instance, you don't want a fusion class that fuses kickboxing and yoga because you don't want to go from a high-intensity cardio workout to lying on a mat.

“You know certain modalities,” Cyrus says. “You don't throw a cardio in with yoga. You make sure the modalities match, so it flows.”

In Kimberlee Jensen's case, it's not so much fusing physiology as it is philosophy. The creator of Punk Rock Yoga and Flow Yoga, Jensen started her program because she wanted to reach young people who felt uncomfortable in a gym setting.

“I wanted to introduce yoga to people who otherwise might not try it and have success with it,” says Jensen, who is ACE certified. “I also think yoga is a very beautiful art form.”

Jensen moved her class from a health club to a night club, while changing the approach to yoga. The foundation of Punk Rock Yoga is that anyone — regardless of size, shape, gender or age — can do yoga.

“The ethic of the class is very punk in that it is very much a rejection of a lot of the commercialism we see in yoga and a lot of the real strict hierarchy we see in yoga,” she says. “One of the negative aspects of yoga as it has gained popularity is that yoga is only for the super skinny and people who look really good and are flexible to begin with.”

Punk Rock Yoga gives people alternatives to difficult movements. So, if someone can't reach the more difficult, ultimate pose, other options are presented so that people aren't just sitting back watching. Jensen also makes it a point of not doing extreme poses. She stops at a point where everyone can participate.

“I want to make it realistic to people,” she says. “I want them to push themselves, but I don't want them to feel I must suck because I can't put my head on my knee.”

Classes are held on stage at a community theater in Seattle. Students sit in a circle rather than in the typical rows, and the club is dark enough so people focus on themselves. There is usually live music softly playing. The musicians have to watch what is being done and feed off it.

“What makes it punk is the raw energy from the musicians,” she says. “The energy from live music is immense. The musicians are literally playing as they go. There is a lot of give and take with what we're doing and what they are doing.”

But make no mistake, Punk Rock Yoga is real yoga. The class focuses on a balance of strength and flexibility. Students often remark at how much stronger they have become while practicing yoga.

“We are absolutely doing 100 percent yoga,” she says. “What we're not doing is telling people they have to buy all this stuff and that they have to be flexible and strong to do yoga.”

Nor does she mind if other yoga instructors demean the program or its name. It simply doesn't matter to her.

“If someone calls it a gimmick, that's up to them, and that's fine,” she says. “If it helps people who otherwise don't do something, then fine, it works.”

Cyrus is also always looking for ways to get people moving. That's why when Cyrus saw HydroRide at a fitness festival in Italy a few years ago, she immediately knew it would be a hit back home.

“I thought, this is great,” says Cyrus. “It allows the participants to use their own body weight as a resistance, and at the same time it is not hard on the joints.”

HydroRide moves special titanium bikes from the Spinning room into the swimming pool. It starts with a 15-minute warm up. From there, it is pretty much a Spinning class with water resistance.

“Spinning is mainly cardiovascular,” Cyrus says. “It is more of a combination when you move it to the water. The reaction is great. It brings another added dimension to water programming, which people think is for older people.”

Cyrus introduced the program four years ago at Crunch's 42nd Street club in Manhattan. The program has now moved to Crunch clubs in Chicago and Atlanta.

“Our members tend to love something when it's new, but then, [they ask] what else?” Cyrus says.

The “what else” at Crunch will be a return to dance-based classes that will be strength and movement, Cyrus says. The club will also be offering a new Action Sports program in 2005 designed for people from 20 on up.

“The action-sports people are urban and empty nesters who want to get back to the things they liked doing before they had kids,” she says.

Those action sports folks may want to try a Liquid Strength class to get them ready. The cardio workout incorporates everything from weights to Pilates, karate blocks, Tai Chi to baseball throws and speed skating movements. But it relies heavily on a vivid imagination — opening and closing steel doors — and slow, deliberate movement.

“The grunts that come out of the room are incredible,” says E. Story Maley, developer and owner of Liquid Strength and a Crunch fitness trainer. “It's amazingly hard, and you fight the resistance that is your own body. At some point they use their imagination for making their body pull a raft down the river or going to battle wielding a 75-pound broad sword.”

Maley created Liquid Strength shortly after having twins. She was under a lot of stress and wanted to work out, but time was a problem. She didn't have enough to go running or hit the gym for weight training or yoga.

“I don't have three hours a day to do that,” she says.

As a martial arts and yoga student, and a gymnast and skater, Maley knew that muscles wrap around the human body. Consequently, the best way to strengthen them was to design similar movements. She began studying human motion, trying to figure out what muscles engaged when gardening, dancing or lifting twins out of a playpen. From there she experimented with exercises that crossed different planes of the body, following them through the full range of motion. The result was Liquid Strength.

“Liquid Strength is being aware of what muscles you are using,” she says. “You are trying to feel and isolate muscles. At what pivot point do I feel gravity hit me the most? It doesn't look nearly as hard as it feels.”

Unlike some workouts where you can free your mind, Liquid Strength requires the focus and concentration of being in the moment.

“There is such peace because this is mindful exercise,” Maley says. “It is very calming, very relaxing and very focused. When you leave class, you feel a euphoria. You know that you did in one hour all you possibly could in every possible way.”

Perhaps more importantly, Liquid Strength is about as low impact and injury free as a workout can be. Since starting Liquid Strength, Maley is sore after a workout but hasn't had an injury. She has lost a good deal of weight without dieting, and she says she is in the best condition of her life.

“What it gives you visually is a totally different body,” she says. “My actual muscle fibers look different and feel different. My body feels great. I feel like a teenager. Liquid Strength just changed the world for me.”

And that's what club owners hope to hear from members when they introduce new programs.

Fusion Fitness can increase retention rates, increase group exercise attendance and participants' satisfaction, and encourage new members to try your facility. After ensuring a program's safety, there's only one thing left to do: Just make sure to keep those new classes coming.

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