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Bringing boomers back to class.

One baby boomer turns 50 every seven seconds. Boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, represent the largest population ever to reach life's milestones together, including aging.

They may be entering maturity, but never assume boomers will become part of the "silver" population that we know today. Instead, they are going to create a new "mid-youth" generation that will fly in the face of convention.

The youth market and fitness craze were created by boomers. In the next decade they will re-create group fitness among participants who are 50 and over, and it will be like nothing ever seen before. Group fitness as we now know it will disappear.

"Boomers are a well-educated generation, and this makes them more demanding and sophisticated than the people in the current mature market," states Cheryl Russell, author of The Master Trend-How the Baby Boom Generation is Remaking America (Plenum Publishing Corp., $23.95). "Boomers are also highly individualistic, which makes them independent and self-indulgent."

"Boomers may be pushing 50, but most of them are still thinking 30," states Don Taylor, co-author of Up Against the Wal-Marts (Amacom, $14.95). "They are more health conscious than earlier generations, will live longer and will be more active in their senior years. They want to be recognized as important, intelligent and caring. Though the realities of earning a living, raising a family and securing their future weigh heavily on them, they still care about image."

The change has already begun with programs such as indoor cycling, boxing and indoor rowing. Instructors can be a proactive part of new fitness development. If they aren't proactive, their classes will shrink.

Here are five simple strategies to bring boomers back into group fitness and keep them there.

1. Shorter Classes

Boomers are busy, so time is a real issue. Not only do many still have children at home, many are dealing with aging parents. Boomers are not likely to retire in a traditional sense. More and more will be exploring second or third careers.

Boomers, the creators of the "me generation," also want to be entertained and have fun. A 90-minute class might not hold their interest. Thirty minute formats, or even shorter, might work better for them.

2. Diversified Fitness Levels

Boomers are a diverse generation. To succeed into the next millennium, instructors can no longer teach classes with fixed choreography. Choreography must be adapted to an array of fitness levels. Some ways to achieve this are to:

} offer choreographic choices with straightforward basic patterns, then layer on more complex variations.

} offer alternatives for propulsion moves. For instance, two heel taps may be substituted for a three-count repeater.

} offer floor mix variations for high-intensity moves. A grapevine on the floor can be substituted for an across-the-top on a step platform, for example.

} demonstrate the modified moves, not the advanced. The advanced students will do the advanced moves regardless. Beginning students usually try to do what the instructor does even at the risk of injury. No one likes to look like a failure.

3. Involve the Family

What if there were a single class that kids, moms and grandparents could attend? With shorter classes and mixed levels of choreography, it's possible. And it's fun. A 30-minute class can turn into a 30-minute event.

4. Emphasis on Functional Fitness

Many boomers are returning to exercise because of health issues such as high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease and arthritis. An expanding waistline is not at the top of the worry list. Furthermore, classes that focus on external results can intimidate and repel a generation dealing with menopause and thinning hair.

5. Attitude

Don't assume a boomer is uneducated about exercise simply because he or she may appear to be out of shape. Placing this population in beginner classes could be interpreted as patronizing and insulting. Taylor states, "Though known as a group who `tells-it-like-it-is,' boomers are a sensitive bunch." Even though it may have been years since they have exercised regularly, boomers have fitness savvy. They have exercised to fitness celebrities' video tapes, ESPN and FIT TV.

Although boomers are entering the 50+ generation, they are not prepared to participate in a seniors' program. "Baby boomers do not see themselves as aging," says Cindy Tripp of About Women fitness dubs. "They're just going on with their lives."

Boomers will be a major influence in the fitness industry for the next 25 years. At 77 million and counting, they account for much of the 80% of nonregular exercisers we'd like to see in class. Meet their needs and your classes can swell to unprecedented proportions.

Karen Bram is a freelance writer residing in Gainesville, Florida.
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Title Annotation:group fitness classes
Author:Bram, Karen
Publication:American Fitness
Date:Sep 1, 1998
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