The first market intelligence report of its kind, Is It Better Outside? – produced by Leisure-net Solutions – examined the outdoor fitness group exercise market in detail. “As one of the most vibrant growth areas within the industry, we felt the time was right to find out more about the burgeoning business opportunity that is the outdoor fitness market,” explains Mike Hill, managing director of Leisure-net Solutions. The aim was to provide an insight into the prevalence and perceptions of outdoor exercise, as well as the benefits to consumers and the sector.
“We know from other Leisure-net research carried out in 2012 that 51 per cent of consumers want to exercise more, yet as an industry we’re still struggling to diversify and break through the 10–15 per cent participation barrier,” says Hill. “This is where an outdoor fitness offering can play a crucial role, giving customers the chance to engage with us in previously untried ways.”
The report revealed that close to half of consumers (44 per cent) now say they prefer to exercise outdoors. The opportunity for operators lies in the fact that outdoor and indoor exercise can complement each other; one need not take precedence. “In the last 12 months, operators have begun to realise that an outdoor offering isn’t just an added value retention tool for existing members. It can bring new members in and become a revenue generator in its own right,” says Hill. “It offers the diversity that consumers are indicating they would like – gyms that aren’t one-size-fits-all.”
Over half (55 per cent) of operators currently offer outdoor fitness classes – either directly (80 per cent) or via third-party operators (20 per cent) – and more than three-quarters (80 per cent) feel an outdoor environment is an important part of the class timetable. With 100 per cent of operators questioned keen to have an outdoor fitness offering, we caught up with six to examine their outdoor classes and how they’re affecting business.
A not-for-profit leisure trust, Freedom Leisure introduced running clubs at 10 of its centres in the last year, with plans to set up more during 2013. All are registered with Run England, the official England Athletics recreational running project.
“Some clubs started from scratch while others ‘adopted’ local running clubs,” says Holly Sutcliffe, community sports development officer for Freedom Leisure. “Sessions vary from instructor-led outdoor runs that start and finish at the centre to interval sessions located outdoors but on-site. The leaders are all qualified running coaches: some Freedom employees, others brought in from outside.”
Freedom’s running clubs required very little investment, as costs are offset by the payment from participants – around £2 for a member and £3 for non-members. “The running clubs add a very social dimension to our offering and are an important tool for introducing outdoor fitness to our members,” says Sutcliffe. “We also have a number of non-members who now use our facilities having initially come to us for a running club. We encourage interested centres to tailor the running club to suit the demands of the members.”
DC Leisure plans to launch outdoor bootcamp sessions, either at its centres or in nearby council-maintained parks, throughout 2013. “Bootcamps will be high-intensity, fun and results-based sessions run by our fitness team,” explains group fitness manager Sarah Leonie. “Aimed at both new and existing users, in some cases they will be available as part of membership on the group exercise timetable. At other sites, people will be able to either pay casually or purchase a block of sessions.”
DC Leisure’s aim in introducing outdoor classes is to retain existing users by helping them achieve their health goals, as well as attracting new members who may not be lured by the current offering. “Centres introducing bootcamps will need to invest in equipment and staff training, but there are no other associated costs,” continues Leonie. “We also have plans for further in-house designed outdoor courses to keep our offering fresh, as well as working with partners such as Les Mills and Escape to keep up-to-date and on-trend.”
NB leisure trust
This month, NB Leisure Trust is set to offer its members at Pingles and Bedworth Leisure Centres all-weather, extreme outdoor training for the first time. The explosive outdoor workout sessions will use functional training kit including hammers, tyres and sandbags – all equipment already in use at the centres, which keeps start-up investment to a minimum.
“We want to offer something more for members who are perhaps training for a sport-specific challenge, wanting to test their limits or just looking to improve their fitness in inspiring surroundings,” says business development manager Jason Field. “Our instructors will lead the sessions in park areas around our sites. Every participant will take part in a ‘fit test’ and set a personal goal, which we’ll review after a month of sessions.”
Alongside this, the outdoor classes will include a free Body Stat measurement service every two to three months to motivate those looking to improve their lean muscle mass percentage. The outdoor sessions will be free to health and fitness members, or £4.30 pay-as-you-go. “If these initial sessions prove to be popular, we will certainly look at making more available,” says Field.
Live Active Leisure
Perth & Kinross-based leisure trust Live Active Leisure (LAL) has for many years been hosting weekly running clubs, Jog Scotland, Stride for Life walking clubs, annual 10k races and triathlons.
Based on the success of its current outdoor offering, last year the trust implemented The WOW (Women-Only Walkers) Group – a weekly walk led by trained volunteers from the South Asian women’s community in Perth, supported by staff from the Stride for Life team. “The WOW Walks take part in the local park, which provides a flat and scenic route on the doorstep,” says Gill McShea, programming, health and inclusion manager. “Staff and volunteer time were the main investments. Funding was provided by Paths for All to train local people to lead walks.”
WOW is free of charge and open to all women, but targeted specifically at South Asian and other ethnic minorities. “LAL has promoted other activities to the group, whose members now regularly book badminton courts,” adds McShea. “WOW is self-sustaining and Stride for Life aims to roll out the approach in 2013 for other minority groups, particularly in rural areas.”
For an initial investment of just £100, Impulse Leisure introduced weekly outdoor bootcamp sessions to members at three of its centres in March last year. “We wanted a broad spectrum outdoor class that would appeal to all fitness levels and ages, encouraging members to try something new while offering something to attract new users to our centres,” says Charlotte Gardner, group exercise co-ordinator at Impulse.
At £6.25 for non-members, £5.25 for standard members and free to platinum members, the sessions offer bespoke training – instructors modify the content to ensure all participants feel included whatever their fitness level.
“We’ve been thrilled with the success of the bootcamp sessions and plan to invest in new equipment later this year, to keep the classes fresh and attract new users, as we enter the run-up to people’s summer holidays,” says Gardner.
The Tandridge Trust Running Club was set up in the summer of 2012 with funding from Sport England. The classes are aimed at beginner runners looking to improve overall fitness as part of a group, using the great outdoors instead of treadmills.
The sessions – which cost £3 for members and £3.50 for non-members – are led by running fitness leader Chris Osborn, from de Stafford Sports Centre in Caterham, Surrey. They have so far attracted more than 25 runners, averaging around six to eight a session. Osborn set up the club after completing a one-day Leadership in Running Fitness course with Run England.
“The only investment was some high-visibility vests and armbands for evening runs,” says Osborn. “Already all our runners have progressed from only being able to run for one to five minutes before resting to covering at least 5.5km a session. We will continue to grow the club and increase our running numbers, and possibly introduce beginner and intermediate runs in 2013.”