What’s next for Group Ex?
A view from across the Pacific…

More HIIT, ballet-style conditioning and retro fun. Will these Canadian predictions also apply to you?

The Australian and Canadian fitness industries have long shared many similarities, both culturally and with regards fitness trends. In fact, in 2014 Australian Fitness Network’s FILEX convention  featured sessions presented by some of Canada’s leading industry figures, from Lisa Greenbaum and Nathalie Lacombe to David Patchell-Evans. Here at Network eNews we thought it would be interesting to find out what North America’s leading names in group ex predict for studio timetables in the months and years ahead. Maureen Hagan, director of education at canfitpro, shares her thoughts and findings…

What stood out clearly was that group exercise programs are growing in popularity and diversity like never before. As someone who has been working on the frontline of the fitness industry since 1983, I have never seen such variety in group exercise programs—from pre-choreographed to freestyle. I am confident that program directors will agree that there has never been this much interest and opportunity in group exercise as there is today.

Baby boomers in particular are increasingly interested in learning how they can improve and maintain their own health. As the largest group of the world population enter their 50s, 60s and beyond, they are recognising that appropriate exercise can reduce their risk of developing several chronic diseases, including obesity, diabetes, cancer, high blood pressure and heart disease. They are also concerned about their children’s health and want to set a good example for the younger generations. According to Colin Milner, CEO of International Council on Active Aging, ‘by 2017, 50 per cent of people who walk into a health club will be over the age 50, many of whom cannot be health club members, but will need fitness to be able to function, and programs like chair-aerobic classes, stretching classes and strength classes to help people get up and down off the ground, are going to grow as our population ages. Over the age of 80, 46 per cent of people have lost 50 per cent of their muscle mass and cannot lift even 10lbs. The need for programs that help people be stronger for better quality of living, not just longevity, will be in demand’.

The Canadian 2014 fitness predictions sited the following as growing fitness trends:

  • Workouts that increase your metabolism
  • Exercise to improve health
  • Simple, effective routines, personalised club experience
  • Diverse, time-sensitive workouts
  • Stay fit programs for better quality of living
  • Specialised personal training
  • Therapeutic yoga
  • Personalised nutrition
  • High Intensity Interval Training (obstacle course, adventure, extreme, competitive/games)
  • Childhood physical activity
  • Functional, versatile and expressive fitness wear and apparel.

Group exercise is here to stay and if we play it right and tap into what consumers  need and want (and I am not just referring to those who are already participating in fitness), we can all succeed at helping more people live fit, healthier lives. I am privileged to have the opportunity to work with leading fitness experts from all over the world, and together we have been able to influence the industry with many of the trends that are still going strong. We are building momentum and leading the way in group exercise today.

I am also seeing that as the fitness, health and wellness industries continue to grow and mature, experts within these fields are becoming more knowledgeable and experienced and that is allowing us to make more accurate recommendations about the most effective and cutting-edge ways to achieve our goals. This is of course putting more demand on the industry to provide continuing education, ongoing development and innovative courses by the certification companies to ensure fitness leaders are credible, certified and competent.

Express workouts and nutrition

Lisa Mastracchio, instructor trainer for Energie Cardio (Québec), Les Mills and FIS assessor, and canfitpro presenter has been teaching group exercise for 20 years. She believes that group fitness will follow two distinct paths moving forward – offering efficient workouts and providing sound nutritional knowledge.

‘Express workouts are the trend today and will continue to grow. Today, workouts such as HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training), Tabata, and CrossFit, along with signature brand express workouts including Jillian Michaels BODYSHRED™ and MYBootcamp and Power Cardio, are all top 'sellers' where time-pressed individuals train in less than 30 minutes and get results. Instructors need to keep this in mind and continue to develop workouts that cater to this clientele who crave quality over quantity.

The second trend is acquiring nutrition-based knowledge and offering this valuable and accurate information to clients and participants. Proper nutrition is the 'game changer' and as fitness professionals we need to step up our game and stay up-to-date with current research and trends. Simply put, learn more through books, reliable websites, certifications and courses. Gain the required knowledge and set yourself apart as an elite instructor with skills and knowledge to coach your members to succeed throughout their fitness journey!’

HIIT and ballet-type conditioning classes

Sherri McMillan, award winning program director and owner of Northwest Personal Training in Vancouver (one just across the border in the US, not Canada) is another 20-year veteran of the fitness industry. According to McMillan: ‘all types of HIIT programs are on the rise and are giving personal trainers some stiff competition. Unlike other group programs these almost ‘cult-like’ programs (including CrossFit and P90X) are drawing people together, and away from the traditional training environment, for the fun, competitive and measureable results that are found in these programs. Unlike other trends, where clients may have temporarily left the facility to go and try a new program, these HIIT communities who train and compete together, are staying together’.

McMillan and her team saw the opportunity to bring this competitive ‘games’ culture into their facility so that their clients would be able to experience this trend without the need to leave their supervised training environment. She is proud of the fact that Northwest Personal Training has been able to offer this ‘CrossFit-inspired’ trend in a safe and effective training environment where their trainers are able to supervise and complement their clients’ HIIT training workouts with other programs that help to balance their training.

McMillan also suggests that ‘Barre’ or ballet-type conditioning classes, although dramatically different from the HIIT workouts, are also rising in popularity. At this end of the demographic spectrum there are people seeking exercise to help support a lean, sculpted, fit body but in a ‘friendlier’, more gentle way. These types of classes incorporate ballet and bar work, dynamic flexibility, toning to help create lean and strong physiques and they are meeting the growing needs of many different groups, including dancers, women and yoga participants. Although McMillan states that while she is not a fan of Bikram yoga (for its restrictive nature and extreme temperatures), she believes that hot yoga is here to stay and is happy to see a growing variety of hot yoga philosophies practiced in less hot environments where a wider variety of the population can experience and benefit from the workout.

McMillan highlights – to both members and staff – the importance of participating in a wide variety of exercise classes and small group training programs in order to approach their fitness goals in a balanced way. This approach to training, she believes, will in turn improve client adherence.

Like many industry veterans, McMillan is trying to hold on to the good old traditional group fitness class concepts like step because she still believes in the benefits of vertical impact training. Although traditional step training was once upon a time a fitness industry phenomenon, today many instructors, especially new ones, are shying away from the more complex learning curves of such choreography-based classes – and as such, these types of class are in decline. McMillan continues to teach step and incorporate step into her classes, but keeps choreography simple to follow.

She feels, as do many other leaders in the industry, that Zumba’s popularity will continue to thrive, because so many people love to dance and it doesn’t feel like you’re working out; you’re not beating up your body. Zumba exploded onto the mainstream fitness scene in 2009 and grew into a global phenomenon. Today 15 million people participate weekly across 180 countries. Most recently Zumba launched Zumba Step in North America—a balance of old school fitness, dance and step aerobics in a 60-minute interval-training format.

Simplified choreography combined with high intensity and retro fun

Helen Vanderburg is no stranger to the fitness industry. She has had her finger on the pulse and her foot in practically every group exercise trend that has surfaced in the last 35 years. She is known for group exercise and has been a successful business owner of Heavens Fitness in Calgary, Alberta. She has expanded her fitness club and yoga studio business into the corporate fitness world throughout Calgary and the province bringing group exercise to corporate professionals.

Helen believes that: ‘simplified choreography combined with high intensity delivered in an interval format is where it’s at. There is a resurgence of indoor cycling brought about by an increased focus on entertainment and higher energy. What was old is new again. Jane Fonda’s 1980 workouts with light weights directed at isolating body parts for toning is growing steadily and Barre-based and bodyweight-based classes, cardio classes and indoor cycling are leading the way.’

Group exercise is here to stay as long as people desire socialisation and group interaction.

What do you think? Do these predictions for the Canadian industry also apply to your Australian or New Zealand group exercise operation?


Maureen (Mo) Hagan, BScPT, BAPE is director of education for canfitpro, a Vice President at GoodLife Fitness as well as an international award-winning group fitness instructor and program director. She is a certified fitness professional and the author of GoodLife Fitness—6 Weeks to a New Body, Newbody Workout for Women and FIT-iology –The Study of Fitness in Action, Volumes I, II, and III.