Health clubs aren’t just for hard bodies anymore

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:40 pm

A couple of months ago, I made the decision to join a fitness club. I’ve had fitness memberships on and off over the years, but recently had been doing a routine on my own, involving biking, home gym equipment, yoga and Pilates tapes.

The past year became more difficult to stay motivated. So, when a state-of-the-art club opened only three miles from my home and offered discounted rates for charter members, I took advantage of the opportunity and joined.

I hadn’t been in a club environment for years and was surprised at the change in members. As I looked down from my view on the second floor elliptical, it struck me how different people seemed from years past. The training area was filled with men and women ranging in degrees of shape, size and age, in ordinary T-shirts, shorts, and sweats, working out at varying pace and fitness levels. It appeared that the Lycra clad, hard-body profile of club members had changed.

Apparently, the change is widespread. Interviews with a number of health and fitness centers confirmed not only the changing profile of members but the dramatic increase in membership numbers. Ben Quist, founder and co-owner (with his wife, Gretchen) of Form & Fitness (F&F) in Grafton, says a large part of their membership includes people who had never been in a health club before.

“Many of our members are de-conditioned and come here for help with getting in shape. We’ve tried to create an environment where people don’t feel that they have to be in shape before they can come to the club. Walking in and immediately seeing 20 treadmills can be intimidating,” says Quist.  “How people feel when they first walk in is a big part of the draw. We’ve tried to create a more personal, welcoming atmosphere where people are immediately comfortable. Our members enter through a lounge area that includes a juice and coffee bar, relaxed seating and a fireplace.  There is an immediate sense of comfort and socialization. We offer a large variety of classes at different levels of fitness, so that even the exercise novice can feel comfortable and see progress.”

F&F’s attention to detail has paid off. Upon opening their doors in October, membership exceeded their expectations with more than 1,200 new members. Not only has membership changed, but so has the way clubs market their services.

In the past, clubs were primarily sales driven, says Quist, locking people into long-term memberships with little focus on getting them to use the facilities. Now, clubs put a lot emphasis on getting members integrated into their services.

About 15 percent of the population now belong to a fitness club, according to Quist. He attributes this, in part, to the increasing interest of baby boomers. “They want to live longer with a higher quality of life, and they know a big part of that is being fit. The efforts of employers to improve lifestyles among employees have also had an impact on membership numbers. We have a lot of members who ask for receipts to submit to their employer for reimbursement, or for payment through a health savings account or health reimbursement account. To accommodate employers we

offer a corporate rate,” he says.

What influences a person’s choice in a health clubω Quist reports that the largest factor is convenience.

If any organization has overcome intimidation about joining a health club it is “Curves for Women.” Curves is the largest fitness franchise in the world with 10,000 locations in more than 42 countries and growing. There are over 200 Curves franchises in Wisconsin.

Gary Heavin, founder and owner, started Curves in 1992 in Harlington, Texas, to take the fear out of starting an exercise and weight loss program. Heavin created a 30-minute workout routine in an environment where women with limited time who have never really exercised before or who

Patty Baldwin, Health & Fitness director of the Schroeder YMCA, a branch of the Metro Milwaukee YMCA, says that the “Y” has always been a place for people who are not constant exercisers.

“We have a lot of people who have never been on a treadmill. We call them ‘health seekers.’ If you are a health seeker, we welcome you at the door and set you up with a staff member who will ask you about your interests, the type of activity you enjoy, your goals, and then will design a program that appeals to you; it can be lifting weights, yoga, swimming, basketball, or a combination of any. We don’t push people to fit into a model exercise program. We try to turn the belief that exercise is difficult and uncomfortable into a fun, appealing experience for the whole family,” Baldwin says.

Like other clubs, the YMCA is seeing an increase in employer-sponsored memberships. Vicki Mickschl, who works in Corporate Wellness for Metro Milwaukee YMCA, reports an increase from 2,000 corporate memberships in 2002 to over 5,000 today.

“The strategy is to get employees linked to the Y for full membership,” says Mickschl. “This ends up to be a win-win for everyone.”

Connie Roethel, RN, MSH, is a wellness expert and president of Core Health Group in Mequon.  She can be reached at (262) 241-9947 or

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