Health Clubs and the Rise in Recovery

ENRGi inversion
Recovery classes are an important part of ENRGi Ftiness, a group fitness studio in Chicago, including gravity yoga classes.(Photo courtesy ENRGi.)

High-intensity interval training (HIIT) has emerged as a top fitness trend over the past several years, despite concerns from industry professionals that this intense type of training can bring potentially high injury rates.

Although it doesn’t appear that HIIT is going away anytime soon (it claimed the top spot in this year’s American College of Sports Medicine’s annual Worldwide Survey of Fitness Trends), there’s been an increased interest in counterbalancing those intense workouts with recovery-focused classes and services.

Pete McCall, an American Council on Exercise-certified personal trainer and host of the All About Fitness podcast said recovery has become trendy for a few reasons. For one, fitness instructors and students alike are realizing they’re getting worn down by their high intensity workouts.

“Instructors are learning more about recovery, and they’re sharing that with their students when they teach classes,” McCall said.

Second, many older athletes such as Tom Brady and Eli Manning have revealed that their recovery strategies play a major role in their athletic performance, allowing them to continue playing at a high level long after many of their colleagues have retired. Amateur and recreational athletes naturally follow their lead.

“If I see a runner in my age group crushing it in the times, and I find out he or she is wearing compression tights or doing cryotherapy, I’m going to do the same thing,” McCall said.

The number of people booking restorative classes grew by 16 percent in 2017, making recovery the fastest-growing fitness trend of the year, according to membership service platform ClassPass. And judging by the number of recovery-focused studios, classes and services that keep popping up across the country (such as HM Sports Performance and Recovery in Santa Monica, California, and LYMBR personalized stretching studios in various locations), this is a trend that will only continue to grow.

Recovery in Action

Many club and studio operators not only recognize the importance of recovery but also have integrated recovery in a way that best fit their members’ needs and interests.

New York running studio Mile High Run Club (MHRC), for example, opened a dedicated recovery room in its Nomad location in October 2017.

The addition of a recovery room was the result of member input, said MHRC coach Rich Velazquez. During peak studio times, MHRC instructors have only 15 minutes to transition the room and prepare for the next class, which leaves members little time and space to foam roll or stretch.

“We were telling people, ‘Make sure you stretch and cool down,’ but we weren’t giving them a place to do it,” Velazquez said. “We had some people who were brave enough to stretch in the reception area, but that’s not comfortable.”

MHRC’s primary recovery offering right now is the Air Relax compression sleeves ($15 for 15 minutes), which claim to promote blood flow to the limbs in particular. Members can simply sit in a chair and slide the sleeves over their clothing without taking off their running shoes.

The recovery room also includes foam rollers, yoga mats, quiet music and soft lighting. There’s no cell service in the recovery room, and the Wi-Fi password is only given out when members ask for it.

“We were trying to keep the environment quiet and relaxed so that people can actually recover,” Velazquez said. “The feedback has been very positive.”

Future recovery room additions may include assisted stretching, massage and/or reflexology.

At ENRGi Fitness, a group fitness studio in Chicago, recovery is a key component of training. To ensure members prioritize post-workout recovery, varying degrees and methods are included in the format of every ENRGi class.

“If we tell people, “Don’t forget to stretch,” that’s really the main thing that they forget to do,” owner Dylan Hoffman said.

A 30-minute high-intensity class, for example, will include one to two minutes at the end of the workout of recovery, while a 45-minute class will include five to seven minutes. Often, recovery includes stretching or foam rolling (or both).

“[Recovery’s] not something that people have necessarily asked for, but when we do it, we get lots of people saying, ‘We love that you do that,’” Hoffman said.

Students can also take recovery-focused classes such as Ashtanga and gravity yoga, and those with unlimited memberships can use the studio’s NormaTec PULSE dynamic compression therapy machines at no extra cost. (According to the NormaTec website, the cost of the PULSE recovery system packages start at $1,495.) Soon, the studio will also offer recovery-focused circuit classes.

Tone House, an athletic-based group fitness studio in New York City, aims to provide general exercisers with the same training and recovery tools that professional athletes receive. Offerings include recovery workshops, NormaTec PULSE compression therapy boots, cold tub therapy, foam rollers and recovery sessions with an in-house chiropractor. Some of the recovery services are offered at an extra cost, but the studio also offers complimentary mini recovery sessions to those participating in classes at select times.

“We try to make [recovery] as convenient as possible for people,” said Tone House founder Alonzo Wilson, a former collegiate and professional athlete.

Some business owners are skipping fitness altogether and opening facilities that focus solely on recovery. Newly opened ReCOVER in New York City, for example, offers a wide variety of futuristic equipment and technology to help athletes and busy CEOs alike recover from daily stressors.

One of its most popular services is NuCalm, a four-part system that pulls you into the restorative sleep phases. According to ReCOVER co-founder Aaron Drogoszewski, people feel awake and refreshed after wearing the special headphones for just 30 minutes.

Another popular treatment is the pressurized pod known as CVAC, which claims to flush toxins and metabolic waste, improve sleep and brain function, and boost exercise performance via rapid changes in air pressure. For the best results, Drogoszewski advises clients to sit in the pod three times per week for 40 minutes.

Though their doors just opened this past March, ReCOVER has already turned a profit.

“Our [business] model is excelling,” Drogoszewski said. “People seem to be receptive to the notion of recovery.”

As recovery becomes an even bigger focus in the fitness industry, more and more health clubs will start incorporating recovery tools like NuCalm and CVAC into their facilities, Drogoszewski said.

“We’re already seeing that trend with compression [boots],” he said.

Integrating Recovery into Your Club

Experts agree: Recovery is no longer optional for health clubs.

“If you’re going to have high-intensity classes on the schedule, you have to balance that out with a couple of other classes that don’t have the same high-stress load,” McCall said.

Not only is this balance between exercise and recovery the ideal formula for keeping members healthy, but consumers are seeking clubs that offer this balance.

“As the health club consumer has become more educated on the importance of recovery and mobility, so has their desire to utilize new technology and services,” said Jim Huether, CEO of recovery technology company Hyperice.

Hyperice counts clubs such as Equinox, Crunch and UFC Gym among its current roster of clients, with more clubs jumping on-board every day. In fact, health club business has quadrupled over the past 24 months, he said.

Many clubs—both large and small—use Hyperice technology as warm-up and recovery tools. Crunch, for example, recently launched a 50-minute HIIT class featuring the Hyperice Vyper vibrating roller and Hypersphere vibrating massage ball to help exercisers roll out and activate specific muscle groups. 

Hyperice offers certifications for personal trainers and massage therapists who may be interested in using Hyperice technology with clients. Club owners can also monetize the integration by selling Hyperice products in-club, Huether said.

Some health clubs—such as Newtown Athletic Club in Newtown, Pennsylvania, and Drive495 in New York City—have integrated cryotherapy (also known as cold therapy), a recovery treatment that involves the application of extreme cold to the body.

Club owners may worry about the cost of cryotherapy, as cryotherapy chambers entail a bigger investment than other forms of recovery technology (the CryoUSA Cryosense model, for example, is approximately $59,000, while the Hyperice ice compression wrap for the back is $110). It’s up to each club owner to consider whether cryotherapy technology is a good fit for its clients, space and staff size. And if cost is the primary concern, first evaluate how much you’ll get in return, both in terms of revenue and member experience.  

“Cost is what you pay; value is what you get,” said Mark Murdock, managing partner of CryoUSA. “By spending money on recovery, gyms actually increase the lifetime value of their clients and see more profit.”

Health club operators who invest in cryotherapy technology must ensure staff is properly trained to use the equipment for the safety of the client and to ensure the client will get the best outcomes. CryoUSA specializes in designing the recovery room, coordinating the modalities, and teaching the protocols for how the equipment should be used for optimal results, Murdock said.

Beyond basic equipment training, Wilson recommends getting your coaches certified in whichever recovery modality you choose to incorporate.

“Before we even got started on our recovery program, I got all [my coaches] certified through TriggerPoint,” he said. “Get your coaches certified on some type of modality and use that as your tool and go from there, but definitely get some knowledge about it before you put it out there.”

It’s also a good idea to seek member feedback before implementing any recovery services or investing in expensive equipment. When Hoffman was thinking of adding NormaTec technology to the offerings at ENRGi, he made sure to survey his members first.

“Even if we have an idea of the direction we’re moving in, we make sure that’s something that [members] are aligned with as well,” Hoffman said. “You want to make sure the changes that you’re making within your own studio are actually conducive to the type of members that you have.”  

That said, you may have to walk a fine line with member feedback, he said. For example, if your members have never had recovery incorporated into their classes, they may not know the benefits. Or they may not know what cryotherapy or vibrating foam rollers are, much less why they should bother with them.

“So, there’s two sides to it,” Hoffman said. “It’s important to always listen to your members, but the other part of that is recovery is important in fitness, so there has to be some level of that.”

It may take some trial-and-error to find the solution that’s right for your club. 

Offering education on any new recovery services or technology — or even recovery in general — will help get your members onboard. According to McCall, clubs such as Equinox and 24 Hour Fitness have blogs, newsletters and other online resources to inform members about new classes and the benefits they can expect.

“Education is the key in fitness,” Velazquez said. “There’s just so much out there on the internet that’s incorrect, so the more education you can put around [your service], the more special your service becomes.”

When MHRC first introduced the Air Relax compression sleeves to members, for example, one way they got member buy-in was to give members the opportunity to actually test the sleeves and ask questions.

“Give them a little taste, let them see what the product is and then explain the concept,” Velazquez said. “I always like to say, ‘I’m not selling anything. I’m just educating you, and you get to make that choice.’”

And although it’s important that clubs are able to earn a profit from their recovery services, it’s also important for members to feel cared for.

“You only really build that community of loyalty when you do have not just recovery incorporated, but when it’s coming from a place of genuine care for people’s overall wellbeing,” Hoffman said.

Wilson agreed: “Our members love the recovery due to the fact that they know it’s taken seriously. They realize that, ‘Hey, these guys are trying to help me for real. It’s not just about trying to turn this profit.’”

Suggested Articles:

The new horizon for health club operators involves smart club design, integrated technologies and mobile experience.

Leadership at the Bay Club Company discuss why and how they started their diversity and inclusion efforts, They offer advice and assistance to others.

Diane Best at East Bank Club, and Michaela Brown at VIDA Fitness talk about the diversity efforts at their companies.