18 Sep 2019 World leisure: news, training & property
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Health Club Management
2019 issue 3

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Leisure Management - Get ahead

Group exercise

Get ahead

‘Head of group exercise’ is an emerging job function, as more operators invest in this previously undervalued area of club operations. Kath Hudson reports

Kath Hudson
Third Space has invested heavily in group exercise PHOTO courtesy of THIRD SPACE

Third Space
Antony Stewart, Third Space

“Without a direct revenue line, group exercise has historically been a neglected part of the product offering, with only lip service paid to the huge role it plays in retention and profitability,” says Antony Stewart, head of group exercise at Third Space. “But, in recent years, the boutique market has really set the standard in terms of immersive experience, with nightclub sound systems, lighting, cool instructor style and service.

“With growing recognition of its importance, it’s a great time to be involved in group exercise.”

Third Space is one operator realising the benefits of investing in group exercise: both through the creation of immersive environments and the appointment of Stewart to provide leadership and innovation.

"My role is to make Third Space an amazing place to teach classes, so we retain the best instructors" Antony Stewart, Third Space

He compares the chain’s approach to creating a group exercise function as being at the same level as an efficient sales department – it has a team of five full-time master trainers, who each look after a category, develop signature products and constantly upskill instructors.

“My role is to make Third Space an amazing place to teach classes, so we retain and attract the best instructors in the UK,” says Stewart. “The commitment, professionalism, retention and happiness of our instructor team guarantees a great member experience, leading to higher attendance and more recommendations.”

As well as making sure the instructors are well trained and supported, another change Stewart has implemented is to develop an in-house signature programme – currently 15 different classes are offered – which helps keep the standard high, and makes the timetable less overwhelming for members.

“We believe fewer instructors delivering fewer programme types is key to getting more people doing group exercise,” he says. “We have almost halved the number of instructors we work with, while significantly increasing the number of classes taking place at every site. Our instructors teach between six and 20 classes per week, meaning our members see familiar faces, who are passionate about the club.”

In the last 12 months, group exercise penetration at Third Space has increased from 35 per cent to 40 per cent, along with improved NPS scores and reduced attrition. The new City site has a 50 per cent group exercise penetration rate.

Investment in group exercise spaces has also helped to increase numbers. The City club offers immersive HIIT and cycle studios, while an indoor basketball court at Canary Wharf has been converted to a space for signature cross training classes called Yard WOD and Yard Strong.

Third Space’s new City site has a 50 per cent group exercise penetration rate PHOTO courtesy of THIRD SPACE
Pure Gym
Dave Cross, Pure Gym

With group exercise an integral part of Pure Gym’s offering, Dave Cross was appointed as national group exercise manager, in order to keep track of trends and drive forward innovation.

“Group exercise is an area that is constantly evolving, so having someone at the forefront, tracking these trends and aiming to catch those waves is really important,” he says.

“We’re constantly innovating and thinking about our members. The next three to five years are going to be truly exciting.”

Cross is responsible for creating workout content, choreography, education and playlists for the teams to learn and teach, as well as making sure that training standards are maintained.

"We’re constantly innovating and thinking about our members. The next 3-5 years are going to be truly exciting" Dave Cross, Pure Gym

In a similar move to Third Space, Pure Gym has introduced standardised and choreographed workouts across the whole estate.

“Our club PTs receive coaching on these from our team of trainers, the group exercise champions who have completed additional training,” says Cross. “Cascading this education and content nationwide has proven to create a much stronger commitment to group exercise from our teams and has highlighted the incredible engagement that classes bring to our gyms.”

Pure Gym has introduced standardised, choreographed workouts PHOTO courtesy OF PURE GYM
Virgin Active
Israel Rivera, Virgin Active

Another chain to appoint a leader at the helm of group exercise is Virgin Active, which hired Israel Rivera into the role recently. Last year the operator added 24 more programming spaces across its estate, as well as a number of new group exercise programmes, including Reformer Pilates, hot yoga, barre and boxing. Its Mayfair club also debuted an immersive strength and conditioning studio for workouts called Row Strong and Shift Strong.

"The customer experience will be much more personalised by acknowledging and celebrating uniqueness" - Israel Rivera, Virgin Active

Rivera says his primary role is to influence change in areas that help engage, empower and excite Virgin’s fitness professionals and ensure there’s a career trajectory for his team. “I’m committed to helping our teams maximise the skills they bring to the table, so we create member experiences that actualise our mission to make exercise irresistible. I’ve inherited the legacy of the lone wolf – leading the industry through innovation.”

Rivera says Virgin Active will be continuing to focus on making its exercise experiences immersive, enjoyable and convivial, as well as extending the reach beyond the club and building communities. “The Virgin Active customer experience will be much more personalised, by acknowledging, respecting and celebrating uniqueness and individuality,” he says. “Our first Club Crawl helped us to interact and connect with members more meaningfully.”

Virgin wants to ‘engage, empower and excite’ its fitness professionals PHOTOS courtesy of VIRGIN

The future

Rivera says group exercise is no longer just about fitness, but about experience, with customers looking for authenticity and a place to belong. “We’re seeing more and more people looking to meet each other at a fitness class to socialise, rather than at a bar,” he says. “Additionally, the digital stratosphere is beginning to cause some major disruption – whether it’s via an app, pre-recorded or live streaming, the industry is expanding beyond the four walls.”

Cross agrees that technology will have a massive impact going forward, as it opens up new opportunities for group exercise, with live and digital workouts. He says there is also a growing desire among members for workout efficiency, meaning more HIIT and functional training elements will be introduced.

Stewart says the future of group exercise lies in making workouts fun, social and effective. “The group exercise I grew up with in the 90s was driven by the social elements of fun, musicality and the joy of meeting people,” he explains. “It will be the businesses that are able to combine the social element with the sexy spaces that will stay in the market. It’s not enough to build a great studio and then move on.”

Originally published in Health Club Management 2019 issue 3

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