Making space for New Year’s resolutions creates a balancing act for fitness facilities
Every January at the gym, fitness pros balance a warm welcome for a fresh crop of New Year’s resolvers with meeting the expectations of long-term clientele.
“We communicate with our teachers that there are going to be new students in class and to make sure the classes are accessible to all levels,” said Sara Mingus, the co-owner of Southern Soul Yoga on the North Shore. “But it can be hard because you still want people who are experienced to have something to keep them coming back.”
About 11% of all health club members join their gyms in January, according to the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association. In the past, fitness facilities chased that trend and aggressively marketed January membership specials — but those days are largely over, said local fitness pros.
“One thing we do to alleviate the January traffic is most gyms run their best specials to get people in early,” said John Greff, the owner of five workout facilities, including the Workout Anytime gym on the North Shore. “On Black Friday to Cyber Monday in late November, we offered a month free and no enrollment fee.”
At the SportsBarn, a health and fitness club with locations downtown, in Hixson and in East Brainerd, there’s no attempt to court new visitors, said Club Director Don Bowman. Instead, the 45-year-old business relies on its members to bring in family and friends and help grow a culture that has developed over decades.
“We don’t push,” Bowman said. “We’re not a gym; we’re a club, and this is our members’ home away from home or their office away from the office.”
Top New Year’s resolutions
1. Financial (save money, buy a house, pay off debt) – 51%
2. Eat healthier (avoid fast food, fewer processed foods) – 51%
3. Work out and be more active – 50%
4. Lose weight – 42%
5. Mental wellness (stress reduction, mindfulness practice, self-esteem) – 38%
6. Social connections (spent more time with friends, family, improve relationships) – 30%
7. Skill development (learn a language, learn a musical instrument, take up a sport) – 22%
8. Be more environmentally friendly (recycle more, reduce wastes, volunteer for causes) – 22%
9. Other health related goals (quit smoking, decrease alcohol, more sleep) – 19%
Source: Ipsos public opinion survey of 2,011 Americans, 38% of whom plan to have New Year’s resolutions and 20% which plan multiple resolutions. The results reflect the share of those making resolutions who said they plan improvements in each area.
SportsBarn facilities offer 240 classes a week, and class sizes will temporarily increase 10% to 20% around the New Year, Bowman said. But the biggest boost in traffic actually comes in the spring as the prospect of bathing suit season looms, he added.
Greff also sees cycling fluctuations in visitors throughout the year, he said. “Traffic drops a lot in the fourth quarter over the holidays, but if you compare the first quarter to the third quarter, it’s actually not that different in terms of daily check-ins,” he said. Throughout the year, the priority is on helping people truly incorporate fitness habits into their lives, Greff said.
“When people exercise and take control of their life, they feel better about themselves,” he said.
At Southern Soul Yoga, Mingus encourages new members to start with the studio’s beginner series in February rather than diving straight into a 75-minute power session in January. The six-week series introduces the fundamentals of breathing, postures and meditation, and that foundation of knowledge increases the odds someone new to yoga will stick with the practice and realize its benefits instead of giving up, she said.
“People think they’ll jump into a power yoga class, they’ve never done yoga before, and they get there and realize it’s a lot harder than they thought,” she said. “A lot of people get frustrated because they feel lost and don’t want to go back.”
Attendance typically jumps about 20% at the studio in January, where there are normally 500 students a week, Mingus said. As the year kicks off, she encourages existing members to sign up for classes in advance, arrive early and — above all — be patient and welcoming to people who are learning the practice, Mingus said.
“It’s OK to not be good at it, it’s OK to fail, it’s OK to take breaks,” she said. “You don’t have to be good at it, but if you keep showing up, every time you show up it gets a little bit easier.”
Contact Mary Fortune at email@example.com or 423-757-6653. Follow her on Twitter at @maryfortune.