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ePublication of Australian Fitness Network

Boutique clubs don’t have to have the monopoly on innovative group exercise experiences, with many niche classes ripe for transferring to the gym environment.

As a barre instructor, I can attest that it took a lot of convincing, a couple of pie charts, and promises to offer short-term trials and free classes to snag a regular spot on a YMCA timetable. Years later, several studios and boutiques popped up and now it seems there’s a barre studio on every major street in every Australian city.

What’s the take away? That boutique, studio classes that attract a niche market are ripe for transferring to the gym environment. Not always, certainly, but on the whole fitness participants are much savvier now. Gym managers and group fitness managers in particular will ignore the 24-hour, international connectedness of their patrons at their peril.

Thanks to Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook, everyone and their grandmother knows what actors, models, yoga celebrities and fitness magazine cover stars are doing to stay lean, agile, flexible and fit. It just isn’t good enough to give the excuse that a class or training method isn’t popular yet and therefore isn’t the right fit for your facility. Be bold and lead the pack rather than straggling behind. Prove to your members and participants, current and prospective, that you have the energy, enthusiasm and savvy communication skills to trial new classes and methods and to give them enough time to either rate or be confined to the bin.

With some clever marketing, word-of-mouth, free passes, demonstrations and a set budget and time devoted to trialling new and different classes, you’ll stand out from the vanilla, dime-a-dozen gyms that surround yours.

Naturally, cost considerations and time/facility constraints will be front of your mind. That said, if you commit to trying a boutique-style class, it doesn’t commit you for life. It may become your signature class, but it may also draw two curious locals and never make it past Go. No truly successful individual or business comes without stories of failure and trying again.

TRX training, HIIT, hot yoga (not Bikram), meditation classes and boxing are already working their way into the mainstream, if they haven’t done so already. Similarly, the rise in everyday, non-professionals taking part in marathons, triathlons and adventure fitness events has seen more clubs offering event-specific training. So, what else is happening in studios that could make the short leap to the gym environment?

Here are some classes and training methods happening in studios internationally that could be the next barre, hot yoga, or HIIT cult class at your club.


LIT (Low Impact Training) is an LA-based class that uses a WaterRower and elastic resistance bands for a 50-minute workout designed to sculpt, strengthen and raise cardio fitness without the jumping, joint-jarring potential of CrossFit, HIIT or boxing. Pitched as ‘safe, functional and effective’, this will attract Pilates and first-time class attendees looking for something challenging but accessible to the beginner.

Treadmill classes

Granted, at Speedplay LA the treadmills are a fancy curved shape, but nonetheless, the class strategy and design is definitely adoptable for most clubs with treadmills. Using various running methods, this class involves coaching a small group through sprints and uphill treadmill workouts with rowing intervals and lifting. Using gym equipment, an experienced running coach could definitely devise a program leading up to events such as a fun run or stair climb competition. The key is to have a knowledgeable running coach who can advise on technique, breathing, posture and mental endurance exercises.

Because treadmills are one of the most popular pieces of gym equipment, this class would need to be scheduled for a time when either the demand for cardio machines is low (daytime periods) or when the membership who normally use the treadmills for a certain period of time are happy to take part in a scheduled class rather than doing their own cardio training. Whether you market and promote this as a class or a small group training session will depend on the nature of your timetable and services. Smaller gyms that tend to focus more on personal training over classes would more likely take treadmill sessions as small group training. In larger facilities with an established group fitness timetable, it could either be a small group session or a class depending on demand. It might be hard to know which to promote it and run it as until you’ve given it a trial, but don’t let that hold you back!

Sandbox Fitness

Bonus points for the novelty factor. This is exactly what it says – a giant sandpit is the setting for runs, balance, strength training and core work. The idea is that this is the ideal low-impact but quality resistance environment for training as if you were on the beach, when you can’t be. If LA fitness types are flocking to it, surely beach loving Australians will also see the appeal. College football players in Michigan use sand pit training as their primary strength and speed workout environment. Their strength and conditioning coach runs through plyometric exercises, sprints and balance work in an enormous, fenced-off sandpit. What’s the cost? Prohibitive, naturally. But with this in mind, if your gym is located near a beach or you have access to outdoor areas with unique environments for training, use your imagination to incorporate these elements into your classes and small group training options. Even an outdoor playground is ripe for plyometrics, climbing, circuits and stretching.

Circus training

Yoga studios, circus schools and dance schools have been gradually introducing ‘silks’ where students can practice yoga, barre, dance and balance poses while suspended from silk panels hanging from the roof. Hula hooping is also attracting a niche audience and is a growing attraction among the yoga and performance crowd. While circus schools and niche studios are set up with silks, trampolines and equipment specific to this style of training, there are certainly elements that gym classes can borrow. Hula hooping, juggling, trampolining and callisthenics are all circus and performance-based fitness methods that are transferrable. Again, like all classes, finding skilled and passionate instructors who can make specialised skills accessible is the key to making this work.

Cat Woods founded her Melbourne-based Ballet Sculpt as a barre class that doesn’t require a barre. A yoga instructor and personal trainer, she is also a writer and blogger with a passion for arts, health, beauty and design. @catty_tweeter and

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