Of course, you will want to use your own creativity and special interests, as well as the unique characteristics of your market, to build the right kind of programming for the inactive population in your area. However, there are basic elements you can use as a foundation to create a strong, successful program.
To help you integrate components that will ensure an effective class or program, I am going to outline fundamentals learned from over a decade of experience designing exercise programs specifically for the average sedentary adult.
At the South Shore YMCA in Boston, we train as many as 500 formerly inactive adults in a year. Our participants respond well to a basic training program (20 to 25 minutes of strength exercise and 20 to 25 minutes of endurance exercise three days a week), using standard training principles. We incorporate several educational and motivational teaching techniques to enhance member satisfaction and adherence.
After an eight-week training program, participants complete an anonymous, written questionnaire regarding their exercise experiences. The average rating has been 4.9 out of 5.0. Although some individuals drop out, about 95 percent of those who finish the program continue to exercise on a regular basis. In our experience, eight weeks of carefully designed exercise is sufficient to change the lifestyle patterns of previously sedentary adults.
How You Can Do It
To develop your program, you need to concentrate on three key aspects: motivational approach, exercise methods and teaching methods. I will begin by briefly describing our approach to motivation, then discuss endurance and strength training exercise methods and, finally, offer tips on successful teaching methods. While I will speak from my experience with one kind of program, keep in mind that you are free to take these ideas and create your own unique offering.
1, 2, 3 . . . Get Motivated!
At South Shore YMCA, we use the "awareness, attention, achievement" approach to get and keep our new exercisers. You can probably come up with your own strategies for making this three-step approach work, but the following ideas have worked for us.
To us, this means, "Get the word out!" To introduce the benefits of exercise to people in our surrounding communities, we use television segments; radio shows; business newsletters; and presentations at schools, hospitals, churches, senior centers and service clubs. However, our regular "Keeping Fit" newspaper column - presently in its 14th year - is far and away our most effective tool for reaching and teaching the sedentary population.
The majority of our weekly exercise articles are directed toward the inactive market, including youth, adults, seniors, overweight persons and weekend athletes (golfers, skiers, etc.) Each article presents about 700 to 800 words of basic exercise information, typically emphasizing training benefits, principles, and options for nonexercising individuals.
Awareness is a good starting point, but it is rarely sufficient in itself. Unfortunately, most nonexercisers have difficulty sticking with a home-based exercise program. They purchase equipment and learn how to use it, but they seldom adhere to a regular workout schedule on their own.