Gen-X has wellness movements like Goop. Millennial-targeting boutique fitness brands like SoulCycle and Barry’s Bootcamp cater to the "wellness generation" … and even Gen-Z. So it can be easy for fitness professionals to overlook a significant population with specific needs: baby boomers.
And senior fitness is trending. “Fitness programs for older adults” is the number four worldwide fitness trend for 2023, according to the American College of Sports Medicine’s survey of more than 4,500 health and fitness professionals. In Australia, it’s the number one trend.
With 70 million boomers in the US alone, this demographic makes up 20 percent of the American population. As an aging population, mainstream fitness trends and offerings don’t necessarily target their needs, and they may not be as accessible to these individuals as they are to younger folks.
Insider reports that “boomers have above-average incomes [...] a greater share of household wealth, Social Security allowances, an unmatched level of mortgage-free homeownership, and a detachment from a rocky job market — with many of them retired.”
What this means for you: it’s an affluent population with the ability to invest in their health, particularly as they come face-to-face with more significant age-related health changes.
Now that they’re between 60 and 80 years old, their focus on fitness has evolved. Goals surrounding mobility and longevity may be at the forefront, while bone density, waning strength, injury risk, and stamina challenges all need to be taken into consideration when programming for these individuals. Gentler activities like tai chi, yoga, and aquatic fitness could take center stage. There could also be an emphasis on social fitness, as loneliness could become more prominent (a health risk in and of itself) — especially post-retirement, without the socialization from office hours.
There are tens of millions of potential clients in this demographic, and they have specific needs, which require specialized support. This is an area in which trainers and clubs can stand out — via staff, programming, and club design.
Catering to this market includes the physical design of the club, as well as the business design and membership offerings. Keeping accessibility in mind is always important (architecturally speaking), but you could also find that recovery zones (which we talked about last month) may continue to rise in popularity while also providing space for the baby boomer group to focus on healthy performance and injury prevention.
Looking at boomer-dense communities in Arizona and Florida, we can see examples of fitness and wellness trends focused on better serving this group, even when it comes to membership offerings. “Hybrid gym memberships” have been on the rise, according to the Palm Beach Post (a community with a high density of baby boomers). This format offers a mix of in-person and virtual, at-home experiences. Seniors may be coming to their health club a few days a week, and walking or hiking outside the rest of the days, or perhaps using home equipment they purchased during the pandemic.
Speaking of memberships, certain gyms are exclusively available to this older crowd. 55 Fitness is a club in Alpharetta, GA (set to open half a dozen new clubs in the southeast US and Scottsdale, AZ) which has been entirely optimized for clients 55-and-up, in order to create a “truly un-intimidating environment surrounded by a supportive community of peers.”
We can also look to Scottsdale (whose population is 35 percent baby boomer) to see some less obvious (but very telling) trends. This area recently saw the opening of a Life Time club known as a “Luxury Athletic Country Club.” Far from a run-of-the-mill gym, it’s clear they’re targeting a more affluent (possibly aging) population with the “50,000-square-foot health and wellness retreat,” which incorporates pools and aquatic fitness areas, outdoor recreation spaces, and social hubs (like cafés and lounges), which may create a more inviting environment for the senior clientele.
You don’t have to completely renovate your club to better cater to older adults, but there are some tweaks you can consider to make it friendlier to their needs. In response to Inspire360's VP of Partnerships, Ravi Sharma's, LinkedIn question about baby boomers, Marvin Burton, International CX & Training Specialist at Life Fitness in the UK suggests a “displayed plan” of the gym layout to help navigation, larger displays on equipment (making them easier and safer to use), and numbers on machines.
With a fitness emphasis on personal training (and “highly personalized sessions”), in addition to low-impact classes like barre, cycling, Pilates, and yoga, Scottsdale’s Life Time is a leading example of how low-impact, personalized fitness can better serve an aging demographic (who’s willing to pay top dollar for it).
Consider the classes available at your club — do they have an aging population in mind? Do they take their needs and challenges into account?
Perhaps the addition of senior-specific programming is called for. Recovery and mobility ‘classes’ and offerings can serve any population, but when designed for this particular group, could help emphasize balance and fall prevention. “Active aging programs and group classes” have been successful, Burton says.
Jason Stella at Life Time in Chandler, AZ, has had “amazing” results by bringing a four-step program to active aging members: “1. Power Plate, 2. Isometric exercise (not holding breath), 3. 3D Movements (Gary Gray 3D Maps), 4. 3D Movements with ViPR Pro.”
California’s Bay Club delivers a unique combination of health club, country club, and community programming to cater to several groups, from which seniors in particular could benefit. Pickleball “challenge clinics” offer beginner-friendly training, socialization, and a fun-centered approach to movement that touches on many of the needs of a senior individual. And some of their clubs even have a senior membership tier.
Burton adds that programming in “community groups, meetups, committees, club champions, [and] engagement events away from the gym,” can foster this sense of social connection. Beyond the walls of the gym, you can keep the connection alive with digital communications, he posits, like “Newsletters, recipes of the week, and coaching tip video links,” as well as “Reward incentives such as gym-currency for participants or contributing to the gym community. This can be redeemed on drinks or services.”
Mindfulness is another area in which health clubs can better serve this group. Because baby boomers were raised with cultural stigmas attached to mental health, they tend to have a more skeptical view when it comes to therapy than Millennials and Gen-Z (one study found that only 8% of boomers would be willing to see a therapist). Offering meditation and mindfulness programming at a health club can provide necessary mental and emotional support in a format that might feel more approachable for some.
There are several available credentials that clubs can offer their existing trainers (or clubs can look to hire staff who have been specializing in aging populations already), like NASM-SFS, ISSA senior fitness instructor credential, or ACE’s senior fitness specialist program.
Specialized staff can help older adults overcome their reluctance to exercise (in addition to other fears, like injury risk), thus lowering the barrier to entry for a significant portion of the population.
Even if you don’t yet have a senior specialty, there are ways you can train your staff or tailor your training to better connect with these clients. “I've always found it to be particularly useful to clearly define how the exercises we were going to do would directly impact day to day life,” says Clifton Harski, pain-free performance specialist from the greater Saint Louis area. He gives clients examples of exercises like box squats, which translate to getting in and out of a chair in day-to-day life… Or low step-downs for taking the stairs, or deadlifts for carrying an item safely.
“Too often we fail to explain how what we're doing will positively impact our clients lives and goals, expecting them to make the connection when they just don't,” he adds. “For seniors, they tend to have been in contact with old school medical establishments and unfortunately seem to have fear that they'll get hurt in exercise, instead of exercise increasing their abilities in life!”
Consider adding or assigning a “customer success manager who frequently contacts members, takes feedback, offers support,” suggests Burton. This can go well beyond the baby boomer group. But for those in this older category, “Recurring coaching appointments to review goals are needed every 30 days,” he says, “Along with a more detailed onboarding journey for this age range.” He also suggests creating a defined time period each day, with a set meeting location, “where a coach is able to assist with setting up equipment, giving advice, available for assistance specifically for older members.” This time slot can be after the young-professional morning rush hour and before lunchtime.
You needn’t overthink these suggestions; so many of these strategies can be implemented simply, without overhauling your club’s entire approach (or physical layout). Through the mindful curation of programming, a few adjustments to membership design and club layout, and some potential additions to staff’s credentialed expertise, you can revolutionize the way you approach a significant market… thus providing the service of health, support, and even happiness to millions of individuals entering the latter chapter of their lives.
This newsletter was brought to you by Kathie Davis, Peter Davis, Ravi Sharma, Dominique Astorino, and the Inspire360 team.
The industry is changing rapidly and we are here to help you sift through all the noise and get to the good stuff. Every month, we'll bring you trending topics and the inside scoop that we believe is paramount for fitness professionals to know.
Peter & Kathie Davis