(Editors' Note: This sponsored article by Eleiko is part of Club Industry's report, "Fitness Trends: Spotlight on 2020.")
Weightlifting has been part of human culture for thousands of years, and it remains part of it in 2020. In fact, history often repeats itself, and this repeating trend rings true with weightlifting.
Looking back into the recent history of sport, health and fitness, we can see that the advent of the barbell in the 1860s and then adjustable-weight barbell in the early 1900s, propelled weightlifting to new heights. Strength historian David P. Willoughby called the invention of the barbell “the single greatest impetus ever given to weightlifting in this country.”
In the early to mid-1900s, weightlifting was used as the mainstay for increasing strength, power and aesthetics to benefit health and performance. This was achieved primarily with barbell exercises and aided by dumbbell exercises.
Moving into the 1970s and through the 21st century, a dramatic increase occurred in health clubs aimed at promoting exercise to the general population. With this cultural change, the barbell and free weights took a back seat to the use of weight machines. These machines were thought to be easier and safer on a mass scale and to simplify lifting by decreasing the skill and balance required to perform exercises as well as allowing patrons to more easily adjust weights.
Some recent data suggests we may be returning to our barbell/free weight roots. In late 2017 the Wall Street Journal reported that many traditional health clubs were beginning to scale back on exercise machines to make space for more free weights. IHRSA also produced a report in 2017 stating that although men and women have traditionally desired different gym experiences (men preferring free weights and solo workouts; women preferring group exercise and choreographed classes) this appears to be changing.
Men and women now have nearly the same participation levels in fitness-only and/or personal/small group training studios. This trend is likely to continue because millennials and Generation Z tend to prefer these types of workouts. More importantly, nearly half of all health club members are 18-44 years old.
Cross Fit, too, has had an impact on preferred types of training and equipment. No longer are barbells and free weights reserved for athletes or elite lifters. They are now acceptable, and arguably preferred, implements for achieving health and fitness results.
Despite this return to more barbell and free weight training, many facility owners and operators still harbor concerns about safety and skill requirements. Although any exercise carries an inherent risk, research shows the percent of injuries from tripping/falling on a treadmill is higher than injury from falling/dropped free weights.
That said, it is imperative to have the right equipment, proper space allocation, education and training. Below are three areas to consider as you adapt to this trend.
1. Equipment concerns
When considering equipment needs, quality is vital. If possible, purchase certified equipment (by IWF, IPF or WPPO) from a reputable company. This ensures the equipment meets a high standard of performance and resiliency. Improperly constructed bars and plates pose a safety risk as they can deform, function poorly and break when used for prolonged periods of lifting.
2. Space allocation
Space allocation is essential for safe and enjoyable lifting. Make sure your club has adequate ceiling height free of fans and light fixtures. Because the use of lifting platforms is recommended for lifter safety and floor protection, ensure enough room is provided around the platforms for lifters to load and unload equipment as well as rest without being in the way.
3. Education and training
Having the right equipment and space for weightlifting is a great start. Getting the proper education and training brings it all to life. Seek education from a reputable organization that provides step-by-step instruction aimed at the general population. The training should be practical, hands-on and able break down each lift into simple parts that can be easily assimilated with programming.
The return of weightlifting into mainstream health and fitness will infuse excitement, energy and motivation into patrons and facilities everywhere. By taking a few steps to be better prepared for this growing trend, you will provide a safe, enjoyable, challenging and results-oriented environment. This is the type of atmosphere people want to train in.
Eleiko offers complete strength solutions and helps club operators capitalize on the opportunities presented by the growing demand for strength and performance training.