Can the downturn in popularity of kickboxing
fitness be reversed? Can cardio kick boxing classes become solid, consistent generators of cash? Can these programs serve as a source of new students in traditional martial arts classes and new members of the facility? Absolutely! But, for this to happen, school owners need to take a step back and think through some specific issues that will have a direct effect on the potential long-term success of this type of program!
Before identifying the components necessary for the development and implementation of a successful and profitable kick boxing fitness program, let's take a quick look at the possible reasons or root causes for the current decline in popularity.
In The Beginning
A few years ago, when this new type of fitness workout using martial arts movements first appeared, the demand was so great that every martial arts school owner and fitness facility program director rushed to offer these types of classes in order to take advantage of the enormous popularity and share in the resulting flood of cash. There was not a lot of thought put into program development for long-term success and growth. There was not a lot of thought put into ensuring the safety and effectiveness, based on exercise science, of this exciting new workout. There was not a lot of thought put into the long-term potential benefits of this new type of program - if developed and implemented properly.
"The decline in participation of kick boxing fitness classes may be one result of this "rush to riches".
The decline in participation of kick boxing fitness classes may be one result of this "rush to riches". Because specific issues were not addressed prior to implementation of classes, kick boxing fitness programs typically experienced short spikes of high-level popularity, soon followed by ever-decreasing numbers of class participants. Injuries occurred, class participants became frustrated, untrained instructors led classes, marketing scared some people - these are some of the many reasons being cited for the decline of kick boxing fitness classes.
Some of the issues that were not considered during that initial implementation of kick boxing fitness classes include identification of program goals, identification of the target market(s) for the classes, application of the principle of progression, qualified and comprehensive instructor training, and accurate program marketing development. Lack of proper planning and implementation is surely playing a role in the downturn of popularity. But, all that is needed to reverse this trend is to learn from the mistakes. We need to identify the root causes of the problem, develop and implement corrective and preventive action plans, evaluate the results of those plans and then reap the rewards!
Determine Program Goals
Fitness Center owners and managers should identify the reasons why they would want to implement kick boxing fitness programming. What do they hope to achieve? What benefits should be realized? One obvious answer would be to increase income or create an additional source of income. In the beginning, that happened - short term.
Now, managers and fitness directors need to make sure that programs are developed and implemented so these financial goals are consistently achievable for the long-term. To do this, other, more specific program goals should be identified.
Two potential specific and major goals could be to:
- Generate new members, and
- Provide new activities for current members.
Both would generate more income, as well as create new sources of income. But, that is not enough. We need to analyze it even more by asking more questions about each of those goals.
Generation of New Members
Who is being targeted as a potential new member? Is the goal to bring in more kids, adults, females, males, older adults, athletes, etc. The list of potential new members is almost limitless. Anyone who does not currently participate in existing programming can be a target. But this question needs to be addressed because the answer will influence the way the program is structured and classes are designed.
Kick boxing fitness classes can be taught in many different formats. Different formats will appeal to different people. For example, a kick boxing fitness choreography class taught in a manner where the movement and technique combinations are performed to music in 8, 16 or 32 count music phrasing patterns would probably appeal more to those who regularly participate in group fitness classes like STEP aerobics.
"Kick boxing fitness classes can be taught in many different formats"
Another example of a specific class format is a kick boxing fitness circuit interval training class. This class would probably have a greater appeal to those who are intimidated by or prefer to not perform the movements and techniques to a specific musical pattern. Some people may like to use kick boxing training equipment in their workouts - others may be intimidated by the possible use of training equipment in their workouts.
What kind of class would teenage girls like to participate in? What music appeals to this age group? What kind of class would teenage boys prefer to participate in? Are pre-teens a market for this workout? What kind of class would appeal to the parents of your existing karate students? Can you design a class that would be a good off-season conditioning (and skill) program for high school or college athletes? The possibilities are numerous!
To properly structure a program and accurately design the classes that makeup the program, school owners need to know who the target audience is and what types of class formats would have the greatest appeal to those particular people.
New Activities for Current Students and Members
Adding a variety of kick boxing fitness classes to programming can provide some huge benefits. Obviously, for the fitness center, adding new programs and classes provides a potential new source of income. It is quite normal for additional fees to be charged for participation in such classes.
Another perspective on this is to offer the program and classes at no extra charge to current martial arts students. Adding classes at no extra charge could make the traditional martial arts programming more attractive to potentially new students, as well as possibly improve retention of current students and members.
Another benefit is related to martial arts student development. By adding kick boxing fitness specific classes into the program schedule, the traditional martial arts schedule can be focused more on skill instruction and less on conditioning. How many of us try to cram a warm up, conditioning work, skill work, mental & emotional enhancement activities and a cool down into 45 to 90 minutes of class time. How much more effective would each type of instruction (conditioning and skill) become if they could be separated into different class times?
A fact of exercise physiology is that fatigue increases directly with the duration and/or intensity of physical activity. Fatigue has a negative affect on physical coordination, as well as mental capacity for learning, both of which are necessary for learning new skills. For this reason, it does not make sense to subject martial arts students, some of who may be less conditioned than others to handle certain levels of physical stress, through a grueling workout and then expect them to proficiently learn and practice skills, especially complex ones.
Students learn and retain skills to a higher degree if they are exposed to them and practice them in a state of high physical energy - no fatigue. Another argument for separating skill training from conditioning training is that a student's physical condition can be improved faster and to a higher level if the conditioning training is performed for a longer duration, such as in a separate 45 to 60 minute class. If the conditioning segment of a one hour martial arts class was that long, there would be little time for skill training, which would slow the students progress in skill development. What effect would that have on word-of-mouth marketing?
As a student progresses through the belt ranks, their conditioning levels increase quicker and to higher levels. Because of this, the intensity level of the advanced skill classes can be increased accordingly, ultimately leading to well-conditioned, highly skilled black belt students!
The Principle of Progression
Once program goals are defined and documented and the target population(s) is (are) identified, the classes should be designed so they appeal to, and create a demand by, the target population. Intimidation by and/or fear of these types of classes must be minimized or eliminated, if possible.
"Very few people are willing to venture outside of their comfort zones to experience what they think could be an unsuccessful 'journey' into fitness."
In the beginning it seemed as though kick boxing fitness workouts were marketed and designed for the 20-30 year old athletically inclined individual. The regular, de-conditioned person off the street might not be up to the challenge of this high energy, high intensity, high kicking fitness activity known as kick boxing. Fact - Very few people are willing to venture outside of their comfort zones to experience what they think could be an unsuccessful "journey" into fitness. People don't want to be injured and they are not fond of being embarrassed. Participation in kick boxing fitness can be beneficial to anyone - if it is properly taught. The Principle of Progression should play a major role in program structure and class design.
Also in the beginning when the kick boxing fitness craze was at its peak, it seemed as if many fitness and martial arts instructors completely forgot about the Principle of Progression when designing and teaching these classes. All that mattered was the desire to lead dynamic, high energy, fast-paced classes that would leave everyone exhausted and drenched. The concepts of safety and adaptation were completely forgotten or just plain ignored in favor of the new excitement created by this workout. Unfortunately, this method of program implementation is probably a big reason for the current downturn in popularity. The only people who could handle the classes were the young athletic type. And now, many of those who braved the exhaustive workouts, have begun to feel the effects of improper training - acute and chronic injuries.
Designing classes according to the Principle of Progression can minimize intimidation and fear of kick boxing fitness. To follow the Principle of Progression, two things must be considered:
skill and physical conditioning. So, the task of the school owner is to provide a program that offers a safe and effective path of progression - for both skill level and conditioning level.
Martial Arts schools already do this for their traditional programs. Black belt forms are not taught to beginners - they do not yet possess the necessary skills. The initial forms learned by beginners are typically shorter in duration and use simpler techniques than advanced level forms.
Complex, high-energy free style self defense techniques are not taught to beginner white belt, either. They won't have the skills, nor the conditioning required to sustain that activity. White belt beginners are not normally subjected to intense sparring sessions against black belt opponents who go full effort. Fighting skills and physical endurance would be lacking in the beginner. And, from the other perspective, advanced level students would not be forced to always train at the lower intensity and skill levels of the beginner students.
Neither of these situations would have a very positive effect on student retention rates. Nor would they offer very much incentive for new students to join the program. Why would a fitness-based program be any different? Participants must be allowed to participate and learn in situations that are comfortable for them. Program structure and class design should provide a safe and effective path for progression for any person of any skill level or conditioning level, who wants to participate.