Theoretically, a one-size-fits-all approach to fitness would be convenient, wouldn’t it? But when it comes to the biochemistry of the body, we are far removed from this ever being the case. And that’s a good thing.
Although some fitness club operators remain tethered to generalized fitness regimens for both men and women, the future of fitness lies in the functional aspect of tuning the unique biochemistry of the body requiring sound nutrition, hormone balance, gut health and emotional wellness. When the body receives the right cues to strike endocrine balance, the efforts paid to physical fitness will breed tangible traction.
As a functional dietitian working predominantly in women’s wellness, I see far too often the frustration and overwhelm that ensues as women enter into different hormonal cycles of their life, most obviously perimenopause and menopause. What they used to do and the fitness options gyms offer them no longer work to help them lose weight or keep it off. It becomes the definition of insanity as intentional women, committed to their wellness, dedicate hours to their prescribed fitness regimen with seemingly nothing to show for it.
This is where the “art” of functional fitness comes in. I’m referring to “functional fitness” as the attention paid to the peripheral and comprehensive elements of fitness, including consistent nutrition patterns, hormone balance, gut health, inflammation and emotional wellness. Focusing on functional fitness is a trend on the horizon as health club operators fight to rise above their competitors. When these more comprehensive elements are considered integral to the fitness regimen (especially for women, whose biochemistry is more heavily hinged upon hormonal cycles), the cogs align and click into place on a deep biochemical level, and tangible transformation ensues. Women no longer feel defeated by their efforts. Instead, they feel as though they are on the same team as their bodies, and they become more committed than ever to their newfound, process-driven fitness regimen.
They also become more committed and loyal to the source of the functional fitness resources—and that source could be your club or studio. Women are the drivers of 70 to 80 percent of purchasing decisions on consumer goods, according to Forbes. In addition, 85 percent of women say they are loyal to brands that they like.
Women’s buying power may convince the most reticent health club owners to consider weaving in even the most basic elements of functional fitness catered to the more unique needs of women. While an emergence of classes catering to women is already on the rise (namely Pilates and barre), leveraging other areas of functional wellness will only augment the earning potential of a club by capturing more engagement that secures varying levels of financial commitment.
Outlined below are the most impactful ways in which functional fitness can be approached:
- Rehabilitating adrenal function: Few things in our modern society negatively impact the body the way stress does. The adrenal glands are at the helm of helping our bodies adapt to this stress. However, when stress is left unchecked, the adrenal glands can fall prey to dysfunction, which often manifests itself as overproduction or underproduction of cortisol. Both scenarios negatively impact our body’s ability to lose fat and use fuel for energy.
- Healing the gut: A healthy, functioning GI system (including the microbiome) is critical for the extraction of nutrients from food, decreasing inflammation, protecting the body against invasion, creating hormones and eliminating toxins. Without a properly functioning GI, there is no chance the liver can utilize the fuel we consume most efficiently to fuel workouts and heal the body.
- Nourishing the thyroid: The thyroid is the metronome of the body. When thyroid function is altered, even just slightly, every tissue in the body falls prey to stagnation. If sub-optimal thyroid function is overlooked, each workout will feel as though you are trying to produce energy from a pile of embers instead of a roaring fire.
- Recalibrating hormonal harmony: Balanced hormones play one of the largest roles in a woman’s ability to gain or lose weight. Chronically elevated or suppressed estrogen, progesterone or testosterone spurs inflammation, creates strong cravings for food, increases the propensity to store fuel around the waistline and leads to overall malaise. Balancing hormones brings women back to life, quite literally.
- Mastering mindset: When people pursue new habits (especially pertaining to wellness), they must also understand their own patterns and why they self-sabotage. It is even more important to understand how to self-correct along the way to experience meaningful and permanent change. Catering to the psychological aspect of fitness will provide emotional resilience to weather the ups and downs of new habit formation.
Access to information, resources and protocols in each of these areas of peripheral wellness is not the issue. In fact, information continues to flood in. Instead, the next horizon in the world of fitness for women is to decrease the “noise” and increase clear messaging around functional fitness.
The most successful fitness clubs will be the ones that cater to the boutique experience where pampered care in these more functional aspects of fitness are accessible in one place. One way to offer this would be to include access to a reputable wellness expert either in the club or on a digital platform who can offer courses, classes and tangible engagement at whatever level they feel most comfortable.
When women can gather science-driven resources tailored to their various wellness needs in the safety of an environment and community they already trust, they will feel empowered to make decisions about their wellness, invest in themselves and unlock their truest potentials.
Nostalgic people might get teary-eyed bidding farewell to the day and age when three step classes per week was enough to get and remain healthy. But that’s not the age we live in anymore. This age of functional fitness is a frontier worth exploring as a health club operator because it has the capacity to unlock the highest potential for your members and your business.
Ellie Kempton, MSN, RDN, is a functional dietitian dedicated to the art of lifestyle architecture for women. With the onslaught of resources available to this demographic, Simply Nourished is the “Narwhal of them all” as it offers women a safe space to find answers to their most pressing wellness questions, especially relating to hormone imbalance and menopause. Simply Nourished has disrupted the sterility of traditional dietetics by creating a category of its own, one that solves the most pressing pain points and desires of women seeking functional nutrition for balanced living. Kempton’s online membership The Table addresses the most pressing nutrition questions women have pertaining to metabolism, adrenal health, hormone balance and gut health in a systematic way tailored to breed permanent results. Learn more about The Table here.