State of the Fitness Industry

State of the Fitness Industry

“It’s the economy, stupid,” is a famous quote said by political consultant James Carville to then-candidate Bill Clinton in the election of 1992 when Clinton won his first term in office. While walking around the trade show at IHRSA and other fitness conventions this past spring I was struck by all of the hoopla surrounding what in essence is virtually the same equipment that has been pushed on club owners for the past decade.  Every year manufacturers bring out their new lines to highlight the “latest/greatest” features and gimmicks which makes me realize the tremendous waste of resources in terms of labor and expense to re-create the same products.

It seems to me that if club owners wanted a better ROI they should look to invest staff and not the latest equipment.  Which brings to mind the fact that if I were asked by a club operator how he or she could improve their business my quote would be: “it’s the programming, stupid.”


The fact is there are three basic economic inputs: land—the physical structure of a club, capital—the equipment inside the facility and labor—the individuals who work closely with the members and are the ones responsible for making the facility a fun place to visit.  The IHRSA show in particular featured all sorts of new capital equipment that operators can purchase but what club owners should really focus on is the labor component and look for ways to invest in their staff.


It is interesting to note that despite all of the fancy new interfaces that utilize memory sticks to remember a client’s details that no piece of equipment can replace the human interaction that is necessary for a client/member to make a personal connection to a facility.  A treadmill with a memory stick might remember a setting but can’t remember to ask how the business presentation went yesterday or about your kid’s birthday party last weekend.  It’s this personal interaction that can help members feel good about spending time in the gym.


In my humble opinion club owners and facility operators should look at investing in their staff with continuing education programs and not simply buying the latest piece of cardio equipment equipped with wi-fi so users can check their e-mail.  Think about that for a minute… The gym is the third place: not home and not work. Instead it should be a place where people can go, unplug and either focus on themselves for a bit or have a dynamic experience interacting with others in a challenging group workout.


The best new equipment I’ve seen in the past few years are “exercise cages” or adult jungle gyms that have a number of different stations which include pull-ups bars, Olympic weights, heavy ropes, suspension trainers. These cages can be used by numerous people at the same time either working independently or taking a group training class.


If you’re a club member, what keeps you coming back? Is it the equipment or is it the interactions with your friends at the gym, the staff or the simple love of exercise?