Seniors Create a Loyal Membership Base for Pilates Studios

Seniors citizens may not be the first demographic that Pilates programming directors target, but many Pilates studio owners have found this market to be a valuable part of their programming. Older members tend to be loyal, have a higher disposable income and have more time to devote to exercise.

Maria Forrest, owner of Forrest Pilates in Miami, says that about 30 percent to 40 percent of her clientele are senior citizens. They often see results more quickly than younger clients, even if they have physical limitations. By the end of the first or second session, they already are starting to feel more flexible, she says.

For many seniors, increased flexibility is the core reason for sticking with Pilates, says Risa Sheppard, the owner and Pilates master at Sheppard Method Pilates in Los Angeles.

“My older clients aren’t trying to get into a bikini or on the cover of Cosmo,” Sheppard says. “What seniors really want is to have flexibility. Because they haven’t used certain muscles, they feel stiff, and they want to be able to keep moving.”

Sheppard, who has owned her studio for 35 years, estimates that about half of her clientele is over the age of 65. Many of her clients are now in their late 80s and early 90s and still visit her 700-square-foot studio twice per week.

“These clients have stayed with me all this time because I respect their experience, get them results and treat them like a human being rather than an elderly person,” says Sheppard, who just released a workout DVD titled “Pilates! A Gentle Formula for a Strong Body.”

To put her older clientele at ease, Sheppard is offering a specialized mat class for seniors this fall.

Laureen DuBeau says this is a beneficial approach. DuBeau is the communications director, education, for Stott Pilates, Toronto, and is a Stott Pilates master instructor trainer.

“Having specialized classes may take away some of the intimidation or self-confidence issues that may go along with a senior attending classes at a club or fitness facility,” DuBeau says. “If individuals know that the class is going to be geared toward them, they may be more inclined to sign up, which is good for everyone concerned.”

Not all Pilates studio owners, however, believe in segregating members by age. Mary Gardner Stewart, owner of PilatesWV in Charleston, WV, tried to offer a mat class for seniors, but she discontinued it because the participants had such diverse needs. Like Forrest of Forrest Pilates, Stewart now mixes ages within her mat classes, but she tries to keep her class sizes small to ensure individualized attention.

Even with limiting her class sizes, Stewart has found that private and group apparatus classes are much more effective than mat training for older clientele. For the last two years, she has been helping seniors improve their flexibility, strength and coordination using her studio’s full range of Pilates equipment. When working out on the machines, the seniors do not have to worry about getting up and down off the floor.

This is especially beneficial for clients who have had joint replacements, surgery or osteoporosis. Traditional mat classes often are not suited for clients with osteoporosis due to the flexion, says Nora St. John, education/program director for Balanced Body, Sacramento, CA. Specific Pilates programs, such as TheraPilates, Pilates for Buff Bones and OsteoPilates, specialize in training clients with osteoporosis, and they often educate other Pilates studio owners and instructors nationwide through workshops.

By becoming educated about how to work with specialized populations, owners of Pilates studios can open their doors to higher revenue and retention. Mercury Fitness in San Francisco offers a robust class schedule appealing to a younger demographic, but owner Lara Hale says she has seen the benefits of Pilates for seniors first-hand.

“Seniors really benefit from Pilates, as the exercise form is highly adaptable to people of varied ages and strength levels,” says Hale, who adds that about 30 percent of her clientele over age 55 work privately with her studio’s instructors.

Through Pilates, seniors can achieve better strength, flexibility, balance and coordination, Hale says. For these reasons, St. John has found that seniors who try a Pilates class often turn into longtime members. She estimates that the majority of Pilates clients are already 45 and older, but by going after an even more mature clientele, studio owners can build a loyal membership base.

“Seniors are often settled in the community, they’re focused on wellness, their kids are gone and they want to take care of themselves,” St. John says. “They are solid clients who will come twice a week for years.”

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