Don't be surprised if you start hearing the acronyms RMR or BMR thrown around in casual conversation at your facility. While terms such as resting metabolic rate (RMR) and basal metabolic rate (BMR) used to be privy to the medical field, exercise science academia and professional athletes, now more lay people are taking an interest in their own metabolic levels.

With new, easier-to-use and more cost-friendly options than traditional metabolic carts, large and small fitness facilities are starting to offer individualized metabolic testing.

“This will absolutely become an industry standard,” Jackie Ballinger, owner and president of Physically Focused Health and Fitness Professionals in Woodside, CA, says. “In the past I've always been a kind of front runner and innovative in my thinking. I know this is going to be good.”

Ballinger, the owner of an upscale, private health and fitness business that offers services such as personal training, private yoga lessons and one-on-one nutritional counseling, says the infamous 220-age for calculating a target heart rate is like being in the “dark ages,” and with the technology available now, the Harris-Benedict formula for calculating your BMR is completely “out the window.”

Ballinger was originally taught about metabolic assessment by her husband, a professional cyclist. She saw the benefit in assessment for not just athletes like him, but also for her clients who are very busy and prone to training harder than they should. She started offering metabolic assessments — including both RMR and VO2 peak testing — in July of last year and says that for her facility, it's a win-win situation with great profit margins.

Nation-wide chains have jumped on the metabolic assessment trend, too. Last month, Bally started offering RMR testing programs in every one of its more than 400 locations; in late June, 24 Hour Fitness announced that it would have testing in more than 300 of its U.S. fitness facilities; and WOW! Workout World just recently announced its facilities would be using the technology as well.

“People are curious about their RMR. It's a new vital sign,” says Jim Rowley, vice president of fitness at 24 Hour Fitness. “It's like knowing your blood pressure or cholesterol. People want to know.”

At 24 Hour Fitness, testing comes standard with personal training packages, and the cost for a member is $49 for a walk-up test. Personal trainers test their client's RMR every six weeks to monitor progress and to help keep goals targeted. Rowley says trainers use the technology daily in clubs.

Bally was the first national health club to bring the technology out to the main market, according to Sara Matheu, spokesperson for Bally Total Fitness. Bally starting testing RMR in January 2003 with its Weight Management Program. Fitness consultants would measure a person's metabolic rate and then create a personalized nutrition and exercise program based on the reading.

“In the past, people had to go to the hospital or a special weight loss clinic,” Matheu says. “That process was expensive and cumbersome, but now it's something you just blow into. It's very easy, very efficient and quite popular.”

Both Bally and 24 Hour Fitness use a small, portable handheld device that a client breathes into via a mouthpiece to measure an individual's RMR. The device determines the body's exchange of carbon dioxide and oxygen while at rest and calculates the total number of calories an individual's body burns in a day by just carrying out necessary functions, such as breathing and pumping blood. RMR makes up about 75 percent of a person's metabolism.

The handheld device sells by the measurement. One measurement equals one person being tested. According to Allison Snyder, marketing coordinator for Healthe Tech, 20 measurements cost $450. Each measurement includes a mouthpiece for each person. When a facility has used all its measurements, it sends them back to the company and receives new ones. She says that smaller gyms typically go for the 20-packs while larger facilities order 100 at a time. Previously, programs such as this cost $3,900 for an unlimited use. She says by selling smaller packs, the technology is much more cost effective.

Ballinger's facility goes one step further in its metabolic testing — clients can also have their VO2 fitness measured. With a simple treadmill or bike test, Ballinger says trainers can study exactly what fuel their client's body is using at different intensities. She has trainers pinpoint a client's anaerobic threshold and come up with three to five training zones for a particular person.

“We know what training zones they train in most and what zone they should train in,” Ballinger says of her clients. “It's superb for weight loss clients.”

The majority of Ballinger's clients are very busy, and she said she has many “type A personalities,” many of whom train extra hard in the gym — harder typically than they should for their goals, according to the testing.

“We need to teach them to train differently,” she says. “Everyone that comes in is pretty well educated, and they walk out listening to us saying that they need to train lower. They turn around and go, okay, and they go out and actually do the work. These are people that think they need to work harder.”

Physically Focused Health and Fitness Professionals uses the New Leaf metabolic assessment system. New Leaf previously made those metabolic carts that elite athletes and exercise science exclusively used, but in the past few years the company has been selling a more user-friendly moveable cart to fitness facilities and personal trainers, says Kristen Iacarella, spokesperson for New Leaf.

The New Leaf system takes eight to 12 minutes and users wear their own soft, pliable mask that comes in different sizes. Terry Kapsen, New Leaf vice president, wouldn't give exact pricing of the program, but he says the whole program, along with training, costs about the price of a treadmill. The initial investment is modest and the more participation the club can have with its members, the more accelerated the profit, he says.

Kapsen also touts that his company's assessment is much more scientific than others. He says, the test they offer is the same test used for heart patients at major medical centers, universities and clinics, and that, according to their research, baby boomers are most interested in the new technology. Kapsen says this demographic wants to know how to effectively exercise for their personal best.

No matter what type of testing a facility chooses, as with any new technology, problems are bound to arise.

“We faced some challenges at the beginning,” Ballinger says. “How to market and price this new information that looked so advanced for the general population, and how to get it out in our market when not many people knew what it really meant, and if so, thought it was only for an elite athlete.”

Ballinger overcame those questions by introducing the product in a simple language and by keeping contact with her manufacturer. She also made sure the manufacturer provided training to her staff. To encourage clients to get tested, Ballinger suggests partnering with businesses in the community, such as physicians, physical therapists, registered dieticians and sports teams. Her facility got the word out by testing friends in front of sports shops. Physically Focused Health and Fitness Professionals has never advertised the assessment, but instead relies on a solid referral base.

“It was strange and new to everyone, and still is, but when they see what it does, they are blown away,” she says. “We demonstrated the test with a LCD projector and a large screen during clinics and open houses. This captured people's attention and therefore got the word out.”

She suggests having a fluid system that explains the test in detail to the client from beginning to end and to make sure the client is comfortable. She recommends taking the time to interpret and teach your client about the science so that they can apply it to their goals. She says many times this can lead to a client using other services such as cycling coaching, personal training or nutrition.

“Our metabolic business trickled in at first,” she says. “Knowing that our company is creative, innovative and cutting edge, we would soon see the appointments start to increase making our clients thrilled with the information and bringing out more revenue to our business.”

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