The nation's recliners, lounge chairs and overstuffed sofas are full of them - the lumpy, the lethargic, the barely mobile. The inactive, the unfit, the workout-opposed, the yo-yo dieter, the anti-exerciser.
So ubiquitous, and yet so difficult to catch (they aren't fast, but they can be slippery) and even harder to keep. Sure, a beginning yoga or Pilates class might lure them in, but how to get them to come back for more? That's the question that frustrates fitness professionals everywhere.
For the past 11 years, IDEA Health & Fitness Association, which represents more than 20,000 health and fitness pros worldwide, has surveyed its members on what's new and what works. The answers - from small and large health clubs, specialty studios, personal-training facilities, colleges, corporate fitness centers and community rec programs - reflect a world where kids are getting plumper as their parents get grayer.
Here's the bottom line: Personal training has taken over, mind-body classes rule and stability balls are everywhere.
“Eleven years ago, nobody knew what a stability ball was,” says Kathie Davis, IDEA's executive director. “Since 1998, the number of clubs offering ball classes has jumped by 27 percent. That's huge.”
Personal training has taken off, too, and it seems to be the thing that keeps people coming back. More than 80 percent of clubs offer one-on-one training, and nearly 70 percent also have the option to work with a trainer in small groups of two to five people. And as boomers age, the job of personal training gets more specialized and demanding all the time.
“When people meet with a personal trainer for the first time, they most likely will have some sort of injury, pre-existing condition or disease,” Davis says. “Trainers need to be better and better educated to deal with those.”
And what about the kids? The survey of 300 IDEA members found that there are plenty of fitness programs for under-18s, including one-on-one personal training - 60 percent of member facilities offer them. But here's the rub: Only 9 percent of health clubs say they actually have kid members.
“It has to be fun,” Davis says. “People sometimes lose sight of the fact that for kids and teens, that's the most important thing. It amazes me how many adults will continue with the treadmill or whatever, and it's really not fun. They're doing it because they have to do it, but kids aren't thinking about their health. They just want it to be fun.”
And the old folks just want it to be gentle, which explains the continued popularity of mind-body classes like Pilates and yoga, which emphasize slow, calm, controlled movement.
“An older marketplace doesn't need to jump up and down,” says Patricia Ryan, a fitness consultant who has conducted all 11 annual surveys for IDEA. “That isn't in the interest of a person who's trying to be strong and flexible.”
Here are some other things one can expect to see more or less of, according to the 2006 survey results: