Build Your Tribe With a Branded Program

Group exercise clients demand quality and consistency. Here’s how branded programming makes it easier to deliver the goods.

by Shannon Fable

Branded workouts like Zumba mean instructors can focus less on prep and more on safety, results and FUN!

Group fitness participation is at an all-time high, with 86% of studiogoers having multiple memberships (2016 Health Club Consumer Report, IHRSA). To gain and retain members' attention, it's more important than ever to provide group exercise classes that are top-notch. Time, too, is at a premium for today's ultra-busy members and instructors. Branded programming offers the consistent quality that club members crave, plus time-saving shortcuts for instructors at all levels.

Group fitness superusers are no longer loyal to one format, one location or one instructor. They seek out the best options to get results and are happy to drive around town to make it happen.

For years, health club visits have held steady at an average of twice a week (2016 Health Club Consumer Report, IHRSA), and members want the most from the time they have. Unfortunately, group-ex programming is not the most consistent product. Group fitness programs vary greatly from instructor to instructor, format to format, and club to club.

The most successful studios have solved this problem. By offering robust in-house training for instructors, centralized programming and strict delivery guidelines, the program has become their product, and the product is what's marketed. Instructors are celebrated for delivering a consistent customer experience versus trying to stand out. This philosophy is the essence of branded programming.

The program-as-product concept has existed for decades. It was introduced to health clubs in the late 1990s beginning with BODYPUMP® by Les Mills. Since then, many companies have followed suit with branded programming options. Today, the popularity of such programs is on the rise. Not all instructors believe this is for the best, but some industry experts believe it's a necessity.

"Les Mills predicts the market for branded programming will increase over the next few years. Facilities need quality and consistency in the group fitness space, as the market is demanding it. The branded programming world should not be seen as moving backwards when the need is so great," explains Reanna Dempsey, vice president of instructor experience for Les Mills U.S.

What Is "Branded" Programming?

Branded, simply put, makes programming centralized. Branded programming is the opposite of freestyle programming, where instructors create and deliver their classes. With branded programming, the programming is predetermined-delivered but not created by the instructor. This can occur in several ways:

• Several prominent health club chains and studios invest in their own branded programming. Class concepts created at the national level get passed down to instructors through internal channels (e.g., Equinox ®, Life Time™ Fitness, Orangetheory® Fitness).

• Clubs license branded programming from a company specializing in developing, training and marketing group fitness (e.g., Les Mills).

• Clubs contract instructors who are trained in branded programs that are directly licensed to the instructor (e.g., Zumba®, Beachbody® LIVE!)

Branded programming can be either prechoreographed or preformatted. Prechoreographed programming provides all necessary ingredients, the recipe, and guidelines for presentation. Much like recipe-delivery services that are so popular these days, everything shows up in a box. You simply put it together. Because branded programs create everything, you can focus attention on giving participants all they need to feel successful and have an enjoyable experience. Over time, new instructors will develop an understanding of the how and why behind the programming, possibly enabling them to develop their own workouts.

Preformatted programming provides a bit more individuality with a healthy dose of guidance to ensure a good finished product. Much like a visit to Chipotle, you know the available ingredients and there's a suggested method for constructing the burrito, but no two burritos end up exactly the same. Preformatted programs differ in how much structure they provide, but the work is still heavily underwritten by the third party, making your life a lot easier.

Petra Robinson, fitness industry adviser and trade show productions at Zumba Fitness LLC, explains how Zumba applied the preformatted program approach: "In the early 2000s, it was clear clubs were beginning to resist paying licensing fees. When the first Zumba Basic Level 1 instructor training program was designed, we decided to go 'old school' and teach attendees how to put together a great workout using the Zumba Formula, which Beto [Perez] created. Instructors receive the framework to create unique workouts, or they can follow our lead from start to finish. The result is the consistency of branded programming with individuality."

Instructor Benefits

The path from earning a primary group fitness certification to delivering a good freestyle class can be long and challenging. Members expect the same experience whether you are a veteran or a new instructor. Because freestyle instructors develop and deliver their own classes, they must be the screenwriter, actor, director and producer all at the same time.

In a perfect world, mentoring programs would be readily available to help instructors progress from book knowledge to practical excellence. Unfortunately, this is a luxury for most clubs these days. Enter branded programming, which provides an approachable training format to help new instructors.

Even if you are a seasoned pro, the shortcuts are a lifesaver. Leading a class, for most, is very part-time, and preparation comes amid full-time jobs, parenting and endless to-do lists. Having part of the prep already done for you allows you to focus on what matters most: delivering safe and effective programs, producing results and ensuring everyone enjoys the experience.

BODYPUMP by Les Mills launched the branded programming trend in the late 1990s, and it's still going strong!

"Providing programs people ask for by name is a great way to expand your reach."

Club Benefits

While promoting individual instructors as part of a bigger marketing strategy can be impactful, if people are your product, you run the risk of members following instructors to other clubs. With branded programming, you can attract members for the class, which is easier to maintain over time. Several branded programs provide member-facing marketing tools to help you minimize the effect of instructor turnover. Quite a few branded programs even have consumer recognition outside of the traditional club setting. Providing programs that people ask for by name is a great way to expand your reach. Beachbody, a well-recognized brand in the home fitness market, made the leap into fitness facilities about 4 years ago. Barb Brodowsky, senior director of field operations for Beachbody LIVE, explains: "Our strong brand recognition of programs such as INSANITY® and P90X ® helps attract new classgoers. When a customer is ready to move from the basement to the bright lights of the studio, our formats are familiar."

Consumer Benefits

Most members seek a repeatable experience that allows for progress and is offered multiple times a week. Branded programs solve these issues by providing professionally designed programs on a regular schedule and ensuring all instructors use the same playbook.

"Consumers are constantly pressed to find the time to dedicate to exercise and fail to see results because their workouts are not effective. Les Mills' scientifically backed programs provide the right formula for participants to get a great workout with inspiring music that helps drive the results they are looking for," says Dempsey. "Even though the class construct is always the same, [which increases] the participants' confidence, the movement patterns and repetitions change frequently to challenge the body. We take care of all of this for the instructor."

Ultimately, Customers Rule

While you may not yet embrace branded programming, there are certainly lessons to be learned. Now, more than ever, we should seek to understand the benefits branded programs can provide in efforts to deliver more consistent experiences to meet the needs of millions worldwide.

Of course, we cannot hold branded-fitness companies solely responsible for the success or failure of our group fitness departments. Ultimately, it's up to us: Clubs, managers and instructors need to set the bar high and we must hold one another accountable for providing memorable experiences that keep members coming back.

Try Branded Programming or Tell a Friend

AFAA Pros and Zumba ZIN Members Enjoy Special Pricing

What happens when you combine the strengths of two great education brands like AFAA and Zumba?

Everyone wins-fitness professionals, participants, facilities and the reputation of the fitness industry in general! Delivering experiences that are safe, smart and fun is what will help exercisers make progress, avoid injury and keep coming back for more.

Expanding a partnership that began last year, AFAA professionals will enjoy a 25% discount on a Zumba® Basic 1 Training, and ZIN Members will receive special pricing of $99 on the AFAA group exercise instructor course (details below). While these discounts are appealing, just think of what it means to add the powerful combination of AFAA's primary group exercise certification plus a Zumba Instructor license to your experience! It amplifies your array of skills in the view of both participants and employers. Upon completion of both programs, professionals will have the ability to teach in a wide variety of formats (including freestyle), with the bonus of knowing the formula for leading Zumba-one of the top specialty group exercise formats in the world.

Both AFAA's and Zumba's leadership believe that layering the boundless energy and enthusiasm of Zumba instructors with the strong, science-based education foundation of the AFAA group exercise certification makes for a group exercise instructor that is unparalleled.

A Zumba Basic 1 Training offers the four cornerstones of making a workout into a party:

Basic Steps: The basic steps and variations to four of the Zumba core rhythms: Merengue, Salsa, Cumbia, and Reggaeton.

Music and Choreography: The music and moves to successfully lead a class, plus a take-home review CD/DVD to reinforce the curriculum.

The Zumba Formula: The knowledge to identify the different parts of a song and understand how to use them to build an effective dance-fitness workout.

Your Zumba Teaching License: Receive your license to begin teaching Zumba classes!

ZIN Members will be eligible to enroll in the AFAA group ex instructor course for only $99. This fee includes the certification exam at no additional cost-a $200 savings. To receive this special offer, ZIN Members should call AFAA at 800-466-2322. AFAA will donate 10% of these $99 purchases to Zumba's Party in Pink campaign to fight breast cancer.

Information about becoming a licensed Zumba instructor is available at For information about AFAA group ex instructor certification, visit

Meet our experts

shannonfable Shannon Fable, Shannon Fable is a business/programming consultant who has helped brands such as Anytime Fitness®, Schwinn®, Power Systems® and BOSU®. She is also a certified Book Yourself Solid® business coach and owner of Balletone® and GroupEx PRO®.

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