26 Jun 2022 HCM Handbook
 

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Health Club Management Handbook - Out the Box

Industry insights

Out the Box


Outdoor gyms, yoga on the beach, marquees in car parks... In order to keep delivering to members, operators have been creative in using the great outdoors. Is this trend here to stay? Kath Hudson investigates

In the past year, Cardio Plein Air has seen demand rise by 40 per cent Photo: Groupe JFP communications visuelles
Exercising outdoors is the ideal antidote to working at a desk under artificial light Photo: John Watson Allison StreetGym
StreetGym uses urban furniture to create a fun workout Photo: John Watson Allison StreetGym

Although the move to outdoor exercise was made through necessity rather than choice, there are some solid reasons to make it a permanent offering. For those who enjoy being outside – and many members will have got used to exercising al fresco – it reduces the drop-off in visits during spring and summer. Sunshine gives a shot of vitamin D and the mood-boosting hormone, serotonin. When the days shorten, outdoor exercise can also help to ward off Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Going forward, The American Council on Exercise believes offering exercise in local parks and community spaces could broaden the reach of physical activity and reduce health inequalities. To this end, ACE launched the #MovingTogetherOutside campaign in April 2021, calling on local and state governments to reduce restrictions on exercising in community spaces such as parks and schools, when they’re not in other use.

Hamilton in New Zealand, is ahead of the curve in this respect. The city council has already launched a Play Strategy to encourage more residents to get physically active by regarding the outdoors as a place to play – investment will be channelled into creating more opportunities for outdoor exercise, such as walkways and cycle routes, as well as allowing community access into schools out of hours.

Urban adventures
A number of fitness providers have been operating outside for a long time. BMF has been training people in parks since 1999, modifying workouts to use whatever environment and equipment is available, whether that be park benches, bodyweight or a partner’s bodyweight.

StreetGym is another company which provides urban circuit training. Army veteran, John Watson Allison, is the founder and says exercising outdoors is beneficial for mental health: “If you work in an office under artificial light all day it’s highly beneficial to get outdoors in natural light. It’s also about stimulating the mind: we take you on an urban adventure, running, jumping, crawling and weaving your way around the back streets.

“We typically identify a circular route of between 1.5 and two miles. Along the way we’ll stop to perform exercises at various iconic cool places before running on to the next spot. The senses are bombarded with welcome distractions which take you away from any stress you may have and it puts you in the now.”

Quebec, Canada
Cardio Plein Air, which runs outdoor training sessions in 160 parks in Quebec, has seen demand increase by more than 40 per cent during the pandemic so far.

”We say there’s no bad weather, just bad clothes,” says director of operations, Thibault Gonnet. “We find the connection with nature – in addition to the effect of training in a small group – overcomes the lowest temperatures in Quebec.”

Gonnet predicts outdoor exercise will be the main trend for the next few years. His advice on running classes outside is to use minimal equipment and cut the music: “Appreciate the sound of the wind or your footsteps in the grass,” he says.

Boutique spaces
If you’re planning to run outdoor sessions in public spaces, check out there isn’t a charge to pay or a permit to get first. Wyre Council in Lancashire, UK, announced plans to charge PTs and fitness instructors to use council land for exercise sessions. Free for 2021, but costing £25 next year, the council says the charge is being implemented in order for it to check instructors are properly trained and insured to keep participants safe.

Rather than go off-site, some operators have set up permanent outdoor gyms, which offer unforgettable experiences in their own right.

Always at the cutting edge, Equinox+ has rustled up a boutique outdoor gym concept called In the Wild. The LA and New York gyms include a tented cardio area, a covered outdoor class studio area, a regeneration zone, strength floor area and heaters to make workouts possible in the winter.

Equipment supplier, Escape Fitness, has noticed an increased interest in outdoor gym design during the last six months and has been involved with more than a dozen projects. “People have realised outdoor training is actually a great experience regardless of the time of year and outdoor training spaces are a complement to the gym itself as opposed to an either/or option” says co-founder, Matthew Januszek.

“These environments will continue to be part of the offering. More operators will see it as an investment to be incorporated into the model. We’ve seen an increase in people searching for sites with the capacity to build an outdoor space – an indication outdoor training is here to stay.”

How did operators get creative outdoors?
DLL’s outdoor classes on tennis courts will remain a regular feature due to their popularity / Photo: Press Association
Using the grounds

Thanks to its tennis courts and green spaces, David Lloyd Leisure was able to erect marquees at 90 of its 99 clubs in March 2020, offering a broad range of classes as soon as outdoor exercise was permitted.

Having launched an outdoor group training concept called Battlebox, in 2019, DLL wasn’t a stranger to fresh air group exercise, however, the pandemic has taken things to another level.

According to Michelle Dand, head of fitness products and programming, 130 marquees from 17 different suppliers across 80 locations were hired, providing a logistical challenge to set up. Added to this it can take the teams two hours every day to set up and take down equipment.

It has been worth it though. “The feedback has been excellent, with a 95 per cent satisfaction score,” says Dand. “Members have told us how much they enjoy the classes. Even in chillier weather they find working out in fresh air invigorating.”

Going forward, DLL will continue to expand Battlebox, as well as offering outdoor classes. “The pandemic has accelerated the trend for outdoor exercise and the closure of our indoor clubs has driven us to develop and adapt our programme to operate outdoors at pace,” says Dand. “We plan to continue to offer an outdoor timetable in the future, particularly in warmer weather. It will also allow us to offer more choice and availability, as well as support social distancing in our clubs.

DLL is also responding to the running zeitgeist by launching running and walking clubs at a number of sites. “During lockdown we built up a fantastic Facebook community of runners and walkers, and our members have loved the new running and walking clubs,” says Dand.

Working with partners

Third Space didn’t have grounds to use for group exercise at its Canary Wharf and Tower Bridge sites, but spoke to the landlords about using the adjacent outdoor space for pop-ups. The first two opened at Canary Wharf, with Tower Bridge launching one week later.

“When the government’s staged return announcement excluded a return to indoor instructor-led group exercise, we knew we’d have to be creative, as up to 50 per cent of our members love to attend our classes and wanted to return ASAP,” says Third Space CEO, Colin Waggett. “So we developed three outdoor group exercise venues with our partner landlords.”

Enclosed, with fully removable partition walls to fall within safety permissions under the guidance of UK Government and ukactive recommendations, the 200sq m venues were erected in the morning and taken down each night.

“There were multiple challenges,” says Third Space MD, John Penny. “Challenge number one was securing a design of quality which fits the Third Space brand – especially as outdoor marquees were in hot demand.

“They also had to be supported by a comprehensive wind safety management plan, which requires team training and lots of health and safety planning checks. This involved removing the correct side enclosures to meet the outdoor space rules and enforce safety based on wind direction. To recreate the experience also required us to overlay proper level gym rubber flooring inside.”

The master trainers had to adapt their programming to suit layout and machine availability and be aware of sound restrictions. In addition to traditional sound system measures, Third Space worked with a silent headphone partner.

Booking facilities had to be created on the app and tested for efficient functionality and capacity management. Finally, all COVID-19 safety measures had to be trained and delivered by the team.

Going to the beach

After pivoting to a Zoom programme last year, Cornwall-based, yoga studio, Oceanflow Yoga, was desperate to get outside and offer group sessions at the earliest opportunity. From 12 April 2021, when the sun was shining, outdoor yoga sessions on the clifftops overlooking Fistral Beach were offered.

However, the team was keen to get back to larger events as soon as possible and on Easter weekend ran the first Silent Disco Yoga. With capacity capped at 200 the event quickly sold out. Another date was added, which was also a sell out.

Being one of the first events in the country with a large gathering of people, Oceanflow was fastidious about following the rules and modifying the offering to ensure the event was COVID-secure. “A lot went into the pre-planning, including a thorough risk assessment and several walk throughs on the beach in the days leading up to the event,” says co-founder, Tom Harvey. “The beach is a perfect blank canvas in which we were easily able to rake out 2m spacing in the sand for the arrival queue all the way through the journey to the spacing of the yoga mats. “But one thing we hadn’t anticipated was the changing sandbanks! We’d pre-planned everything from the location on the beach to the queuing system, only to have to change it all two days before, due to the tide depositing pebbles all over the area we had earmarked for the event. The beauty was that it created an even better sandy area at the same time, so our luck was in!”

Oceanflow Yoga co-founder, Jen Harvey, says it was a powerful experience for people to be able to practise yoga in a group again: “It’s hard to describe the energy surrounding the event. To have a large group of people meeting in a COVID-secure way was very emotional. Some people had just taken up yoga during lockdown, so had only ever practised in front of a screen. This experience on the beach with so many others blew their minds.”

Yogis were buzzing after being able to practise together on Fistral Beach, Newquay / Photo: Silent Disco Yoga
Les Mills’ advice on going outside:

• Any outdoor space can be converted: the car park or poolside

• Do a test run – sound carries differently outside so make sure your instructors have the equipment they need

• Make sure the outdoor sessions have a permanent place on the class timetable and that this is communicated to members

• Draw in new class participants by highlighting which classes complement outdoor sports or training events.

• Entice your members back with a motivating challenge or competition to build up their confidence and camaraderie as a group

• Remind members to stay hydrated and to wear sunscreen


Originally published in HCM handbook 2021 edition

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