The wellness rush is on. Baby boomers heading north of 50 prospect for ways to preserve their health.
And theyre discovering the landscape of mind-body fitness, thanks to the mainstream medias
interest in the subject.
Heavy publicity fuels public awareness of and demand for holistic programs across the age spectrum.
But todays older adults have a special affinity for mind-body approaches such as contemporary
pilates, and they increasingly stake their well-being on these practices, as the walls between conventional
and alternative medicine erode.
An aging demographic with disposable income and a liking for mind-body fitness adds up to a great
business opportunity for professionals who serve this growing market. If you own or manage a fitness/wellness
center, you can meet client needs and realize more profits by integrating pilates programming into your
facility. But before you dig in and stake your claim, here are some nuggets of advice to help you strike gold.
1. MEASURE AND ASSESS DEMAND
The typical pilates enthusiast tends to be an educated female, age 30-60 years-old, with an above average
income and a serious commitment to fitness. However, more men, rehab patients and mature adults are starting
to participate in pilates. Word is also spreading geographically. No longer just a big city movement, pilates
now pops up in smaller towns worldwide. But dont jump on the pilates bandwagon because its the
trend du jour. Do your homework.
Effective ways to measure and assess the demand for pilates in your area include surveys, focus groups,
market research and face-to-face communication. Talk to people. Determine whether your clients and community
are receptive to mind-body fitness. Find out what current and potential members want, need and can afford.
Use your front desk [or receptionist] as a barometer, advises Gayle Winnegar, owner of
The Sweat Shop in St. Paul, Minnesota. If youre getting several comments a day asking for
pilates, its time to take a serious look at starting a program.
2. EVALUATE THE OPPORTUNITY
Get some first-hand experience with the exercises before presenting pilates to your clients. Take a few
private or group classes. Watch some videos and attend workshops. Try the equipment at trade shows and network
with people who have established pilates profit centers in their facilities.
Assess whether you have the space to accommodate pilates equipment600 to 1,500 sq. ft. is ideal.
Some facilities have converted an underused apartment, back office or even a squash court into a pilates
studio. While a dedicated area allows you to maximize your equipment investment throughout the day, some
pilates equipment is portable enough to bring into a room for classes or personal training if space is a
problem. Or limit your program to matwork and small props, so you can easily share a multipurpose room.
You might consider another business model altogether: leasing space to an independent pilates program
Allan Lockhart, owner of the North Shore Athletic Club in Massachusetts, leases an 800 sq. ft. studio
to P.J. OClair, who oversees the clubs contemporary pilates program. This arrangement provides
members with added value and relieves Allans managerial and administrative burdens. The pilates
studio also draws new members to the club, making it a win-win proposition.
3. DETERMINE PROGRAMMING OPTIONS
Pilates provides an abundance of programming options. These range from introductory mat-based group
classes to challenging equipment-based personal training sessions. Adapt versatile workouts for a variety
of intensity levels and themes to appeal to the older exerciser. For example, promote functional fitness,
back care and independent living, or target golf or tennis training.
Hybrid programs that blend pilates with disciplines such as yoga or group cycling are also becoming
popular. Our Cycle-lates classes are always sold out, says Kris Kory of the Special Care
Holistic Wellness Connection in New Britain, Connecticut. People really enjoy the combination of
cardio followed by strength and flexibility trainingthey feel like they are getting it all in a
one-hour time slot.
Many facilities start by adding group matwork classes to their schedules. These classes allow
owners/managers to introduce pilates to members and gauge interest before investing in equipment.
If you decide to offer matwork classes, try to limit participants per instructor to a manageable ratio.
The precise pilates exercises require instructor supervision, especially when working with an older
population. Small, personal classes allow instructors to build relationships, customize routines and
guide clients safely toward optimal resultswhich keeps clients coming back for more.
4. EQUIP YOUR FACILITY
Most facilities are already equipped to start a basic pilates program: it takes only a small amount of space
and one mat per participant.
Matwork classes have a low barrier to entry and accommodate beginner to advanced participants.
Add resistance, support, challenge and variety to your programs for little upfront investment by introducing
small props, such as the Flex-Band, Fitness Circle, Arc Barrel or Stability Ball.
On the other hand, a progressive pilates program requires some specialized equipment. It pays to invest
in top-quality brands. Look for durable, adjustable, commercial-grade equipment, which is engineered for
safety and backed by service.
Because of pilates foundation in rehab, its special equipment is inherently age-friendly. Most
Reformers and Cadillacs are bed level, with comfortable padding and adjustable springs for incremental
increases in resistance. Stability Chairs and supportive barrels are easy to mount, with many exercises
performed in a seated position.
Ensure your room layout has adequate distance between each piece of equipment, so clients can get on
and off with ease. Some pilates manufacturers have modified their lines to take space restrictions into
consideration, offering Cadillac wall units, mat converters and rackable Reformers for greater efficiencies.
But if space permits, a dedicated studio can elevate the perceived value of your pilates program.
Our pilates studio has natural carpet, a gentle sound system and natural lightingno
florescents, says Cheryl Haselden of the Cape Fear Valley Health Systems Healthplex in North Carolina.
She adds, Many older clients prefer to workout behind closed doors.
Other facilities place their equipment in central locations, finding the visibility helps generate interest
in their pilates programs.
5. STAFF WELL-TRAINED INSTRUCTORS
The key to a successful pilates program is the certified trainers who conduct classes. The intricacies of
the exercises, the physiology behind them and the complexity of the specialty equipment require in-depth
knowledge. Be sure your pilates instructors hold credentials from a reputable institutionone that
requires class instruction, practice teaching, observation, examinations and continuing education as part of
its certification process.
When dealing with a mature client base, qualified staff becomes even more critical. Instructors need to
understand the effects of aging and the ways pilates can positively influence the aging process. To design a
safe program, they must know about disabilities, chronic conditions and medications that could impact safety,
as well as appropriate pacing, intensity, duration and movement progression. They must also know how to
modify exercises for age-related health issues and physical limitations.
Unfortunately, qualified pilates instructors are in short supply, but dont let the shortage tempt
you into lowering your educational standards. Theres a big difference between those who learned a
little choreography in a weekend workshop and those properly certified to serve diverse clients and develop
You cant train people in some fly-by-night course and expect your program to
succeed, says The Sweat Shops Gayle Winnegar. Our single most important investment
was spending money upfront to train great staff.
Several accredited institutions offer matwork, reformer and full certification programs, and permit
instructors to train and teach in stages. Courses can also take place at your facility for your convenience.
6. GENERATE REVENUE
A profitable pilates program should attract new members or residents, retain current ones and enhance
services in your facility. You can include pilates with the cost of membership/housing as a value-added
offering, or you can open it to clients and nonclients, if you choose, as a fee-for-service specialty program.
In October 2000, IDEA Fitness Manager reported that one-third of fitness facilities offer pilates, with
40% of these facilities charging an additional fee. Unfortunately, figures are not known for the senior
We justify the fee for our pilates program with the cost of equipment and instruction,
says John Boyd, program manager of the Chelsea Piers Sports Club in New York. Members understand that
supervision is a necessity for them to learn and execute the exercises safely and effectively.
Schedule classes and fees carefully. You may need to experiment a little to know what your market will
support. Some facilities offer a free introductory class to give members or residents a chance to experience
pilates, then roll out prepaid packages of five to ten sessions. This upfront commitment increases the potential
for positive results.
Our clients understand pilates is a progressively learned skill, so they commit to long-term
programs, says Bruce Stapleton, founder of the Ohio-based Lifegevity Institute. They perceive
its value and are willing to pay a premium for it.
You can launch a solid pilates program with group matwork classes, a Reformer for personal training sessions
and a certified instructor and grow the program from there. Group classes and one-on-one sessions tend to feed
each other. And you can expand your program as demand dictates. Having a wider range of equipment obviously adds
to your programming potential. With a fully equipped studio, you can offer personal training sessions,
semi-private classes, matwork classes, group Reformer sessions and more for a lucrative revenue stream. You may
also want to stock pilates videos, accessories and other items in your retail store for additional profit.
7. CREATIVE MARKETING
Although the mainstream media has made much ado about pilates in the past few years, you still need
marketing strategies to help drive your success.
Develop staff incentives and a client referral program to promote your program. Prepare flyers and signage
to display at reception, in locker rooms and around other high traffic areas. Advertise in community newsletters
and local papers. Post information on your company website. Consider hosting an open house and inviting the media
Position equipment in a visible area and conduct informative demonstrations. Tell clients about the benefits
of pilates and word-of-mouth will spread.
“We educated our members about pilates before we added matwork classes to our schedule,”
explains Michele Zamora, fitness director at the Adobe Spa and Fitness Center in Arizona, which is part of the
Sun City Grand/Del Webb Pulte adult community. “We put up flyers to describe the program and had a sign-up
sheet to make sure we’d have enough interested participants.” She also made sure she educated her
personal trainers, fitness instructors, massage therapists and other staff throughout the facility.
“Networking ensures crossover support for all our programs.”
POTENTIAL FOR PROFIT
A contemporary pilates program taps into societys growing interest in holistic health. It also
particularly benefits older adults, because the exercises blend fitness and rehabilitation principles. With
the population aging rapidly, you can hit the mother lode if you plan your program carefully, implement it
intelligently, let it evolve progressively and communicate about it effectively. Then your pilates program will
become a golden profit center for your facility.
IDEA Fitness Programs and Equipment Survey, 2001
Profiles of Success, IHRSA’s Industry Data Survey of the Health & Fitness Club Industry, 2001
IDEA Fitness Manager, October 2000
Medical Fitness Association Industry Guide, 2000
Milner, Colin. “Expanding Horizons,” Fitness Business Canada, November/December 2001
Lindsay Merrithew is president and CEO of STOTT PILATES and Merrithew Corporation.
For more information about STOTT PILATES, call 1-800-910-0001.