Guest blog authors:
Mariann Murphy, Vice President, Medical Fitness Association
Cosmo Wollan, Senior Executive, Synergy Cubed
Approximately 45 million adults in the U.S. have a gym membership. Sounds like a lot, but the sad reality is that’s only 14 percent of the population (Source: Realbuzz). Baby boomers alone make up over 21 percent of the population. According to ACSM’s Worldwide Surveys of Fitness Trends for 2023, the number 4 top trend is: “Fitness Programs for Older Adults.” It’s no secret that people are living longer, working longer and, most important, wanting to stay active longer.
Tap into your client’s wellness goals
The Fitness Industry challenge is one of perception. At present, most people go to the gym to address their fitness goals (fitter, stronger, thinner, faster, etc.) Yet the 80 percent of the population we need to attract don’t have fitness goals. They have wellness goals. The people who have never been health club members frequently think of the gym as a place to “get in shape” and view themselves as “high risk” in that environment. All they really want (or need) to do is engage in some physical activity, begin to think about nutrition and health education, and/or manage or prevent a chronic medical condition.
How Medical Fitness creates a “soft landing” for deconditioned gym members
The answer to this perception challenge is medical fitness. Medical fitness, typically implemented in Commercial Health Clubs as medically directed programming, can attract a more mature, deconditioned, higher risk member. Often these members have never been a health club member, yet most have specific wellness and lifestyle goals. What they want is to manage (or avoid) hypertension, diabetes, obesity, slip and fall risk, even some cancers. What they are looking for is a safe, effective, non-intimidating, non-judgmental environment. The gym itself may not suit, but medically directed programs that address these specific issues can offer exactly what they need, with others in similar situations, and staff that understand both the conditions and the goals. It’s the soft landing in an otherwise harsh world. Think of it as the foam pit used by the novice gymnast to ensure soft, injury-free landings in the early stages of learning.
Medical fitness targets the 80% who don’t join gyms
This market segment represents the largest portion of most markets and creates an opportunity to significantly expand acquisition rates and business growth while mitigating traditional club competition. In other words, medical fitness programming allows you to tap into the 80-85 percent of non-gym-member Americans who feel traditional commercial clubs don’t meet their needs.
The marketing benefits are also significant. By adding medical fitness, you’ll automatically differentiate from your local competition by offering something of great health benefit that they are not. Properly implemented, medical fitness programming will also create, cultivate and leverage relationships with local healthcare professionals. When one primary care physician can have over 2,000 patients, developing strong and mutually beneficial relationships with local PCPs can potentially drive tremendous growth in both membership and program revenue. It is critical to remember, however, that physicians are not going to refer their patients to a gym. They will, however, refer them to a medically directed wellness program.
So, how would a fitness facility get started down the path of offering medical fitness?
Always start at the top with leadership philosophy. You absolutely need buy-in from upper-level leadership that you’re committed to serving a different market in at least a segment of the business. Medical fitness is a commitment and everyone needs to be in lockstep on that commitment if you’re going to do it right. Keep in mind that you’re not getting the fit fitter with medical fitness; you’re working with people who have, or wish to avoid, chronic diseases.
From there, the good news is some effective playbooks have already been written by groups like the Medical Fitness Association. They have a vast array of resources for members and offer many guidelines for implementing medical fitness at the highest levels. Always remember to hire highly qualified fitness professionals to work with populations who have a variety of comorbid conditions. The United States Registry of Exercise Professionals is a great place to start. Keep in mind, too, that Medical Fitness is not a one-size-fits-all solution. There are many different levels of medical fitness, from comprehensive, truly clinical solutions offered at MFA Certified Medical Fitness facilities to medically directed programming ideally suited to commercial gyms wishing to add population health solutions to their menu using existing equipment and staff, but are not yet ready to invest in the equipment, staff, and other resources typically necessary for true medical fitness applications.
From an operational perspective, don’t think memberships with the medical fitness population; think programs (i.e., an 8-week back health or hypertension program.) Cultivate relationships with local physicians or healthcare organizations. The commercial gym can serve as a wellness program access point, something that is a strategic priority for most health systems and physicians.
Are there programs that I could add to my gym?
Yes! You don’t necessarily have to reinvent the wheel. Here are just a few resources.
Rock Steady Boxing offers an Affiliate Training Camp Program to teach their Rock Steady Method to help those battling Parkinson’s disease. This is a non-contact, boxing-based fitness curriculum of exercise that may be neuro-protective. That is actually able to slow disease progression. According to Rock Steady Boxing, 60,000 people are diagnosed with Parkinson’s each year. You can find out more online at https://rocksteadyboxing.org/.
Cooper Wellness Strategies offers a Cooper® Tracks with tracks for Cardiovascular, Arthritis, Diabetes, Cancer, Immunity and Reconditioning and Well-Being. These programs are 8-weeks in length and include exercise, education, and health assessments, among others. Similar to Rock Steady Boxing, Cooper Wellness Strategies offers training, forms and materials, and processes and protocols. You can learn more online at https://www.cooperaerobics.com/Cooper-Wellness-Strategies/Services/Cooper-Tracks.
Health One offers a weight management program that includes operations support, a tailorable curriculum, meal replacements and medical protocols. Their dedicated team of health professionals provide ongoing support and training to help facilities offer a successful program. You can learn more online at https://hnthealth.com/
If these do not suit, or you simply prefer to explore developing your own programming, companies like Fitness Is Medicine specialize in bringing medically directed fitness programming to commercial health clubs and fitness studios. Learn more about them at https://fitnessismedicine.info/
How can I learn more about medical fitness?
Glad you asked! The US Registry of Exercise Professionals is offering a webinar on Monday, March 27, entitled, “Top 5 Ways to Use Medical Fitness to Expand Your Business” with speakers from the American Council on Exercise, the Medical Fitness Association, American College of Sports Medicine and the owner of Applied Fitness Solutions gym.
This panel discussion will cover: Understanding the market opportunity; Leveraging the framework provided by the Medical Fitness Association; Hiring highly qualified exercise professionals; Building trust with healthcare providers; and Developing programs rather than selling membership. Click here to register:
You can learn more about the Medical Fitness Association at: https://www.medicalfitness.org/
Thank you Ms. Murphy for producing this amazing blog for our readers. It is a great starting point for any gym owner interested in expanding his or her membership base to include a medically-fragile population. Our readers, by the way, are primarily made up of gym owners who use our gym management software to run their health clubs. They appreciate our cost-effective approach to providing the best gym software on the market. With software tools that make sales sign-up simple and quick, digital keytags entry systems to free-up owner time, and comprehensive member management and scheduling software designed in-house, we provide a wining solution for any growing health club. Call us at 855-FOR-GYMS and ask for either Anthony or Natalia, our awesome sales managers. Or, as well, take a look at our podcast, the Gym Owners Podcast for an insider’s take on what makes us amazing, too.