In this month's blog Michelle Dand, Head of Fitness Product and Programming at David Lloyd Leisure, talks to Ad-Lib Training about the positive way she is interpreting the current fitness landscape by creating new and innovative programmes such as Blaze and Rhythm.

Speaking to Rebecca, Michelle shares her views on the skills needed in today’s group exercise instructors and why social interaction is a key design element of a class.

How did you get to the role of Head of Fitness and Programming for David Lloyd?  

My career in fitness began at Holmes Place Health Clubs 27 years ago, where I started in Fitness, teaching classes and working in the gym and ended up working in general management, running multiple sites as a cluster General Manager.   I’ve been teaching group exercise for over 20 years and after having children, I was offered the opportunity to work as a consultant for FitPro, advising on their group exercise programmes, and the flexibility of this type of role fit nicely with my life at the time.  I then spent 7 years heading up Fitness part time within Everyone Active before joining David Lloyd.

How has the current group exercise landscape, e.g. competition from boutique studios and budget gyms, impacted on the way you design your group exercise offering?

I see the competition from boutique studios as one of the best things that’s happened to the fitness industry. It has encouraged lazy operators to reflect on what they need to improve and focus on, and made operators question how much they could potentially be spending on licence fees.  When I first trained as a freestyle group exercise instructor it was essential that I had the skills to create my own choreography and music, this enabled me to make my classes unique.  Members want an experience and boutique studios can respond to the demand for bespoke offerings, which has the potential to significantly differentiate them from other operators. 

David Lloyd has responded to member demand for boutique style experiences by creating Blaze and Rhythm. We have developed Blaze as a group training experience combining cardiovascular training with strength, boxing and martial art skills, along with heart rate monitoring that offers social interaction.  Rhythm is a new cycle class that offers members an immersive workout that works your muscles whilst engaging your emotions.  

One of the unique selling points of your Blaze concept is the social interaction built between members – why was this important to you? 

Why do people stay or go to a class?  They want to feel like they belong so if our instructors can create a wow experience, they will continue to engage that member to return.  Although Blaze is a boutique style experience, it’s still delivered within our clubs which offer a whole range of other classes as well as the spa, pool, racquets, bar and café.  Blaze instructors encourage social nights on a monthly basis outside of the studio environment which allow our members the opportunity to use these extra facilities to build social networks. 

How do you balance the needs of members who want trend driven, innovative classes vs. members who love routine and hate change?

For me it’s important to ask, ‘Who are our current members?’, ‘Who do we want to attract to our market?’. If you only ever market to your current audience, it will be challenging to grow.   We must be conscious that members grow older – our older members make up a high proportion of the attendance of our holistic genres, they are tennis members and grandparents bringing their grandchildren to enjoy the club’s facilities, so we need to ensure we cater for their needs.  Having said that, it’s vital we also attract a younger market and healthy male: female ratio of members so the development of products like Blaze and Rhythm should appeal to these groups.  

How do you ensure your group exercise team have the skills and knowledge to meet the class brand and the needs of the members?  Are there any areas that need development? 

I worry that as an industry our group exercise instructors have lost creativity by mainly delivering pre choreographed classes.  Whilst pre choreographed classes may be easier for instructors to deliver, it can become a big weakness for an employer when there is then an inability to develop and deliver innovative bespoke classes.  

You are a keen triathlete and cyclist – in your opinion how important is the outdoor environment to fitness?  

Very important.  David Lloyd will be delivering BATTLEBOX in 15 clubs by June this year.  BATTLEBOX is an outdoor class with different programmes for everyone including ropes, scramble nets, high poles, warrior-obstacle course races and CrossFit style workouts. The programmes aren’t just for adults, there is a BATTLEBOX programme for families too where sport, play and teamwork can be used to get the whole family fit.  David Lloyd is encouraging use of its outdoor spaces across all sites where possible. 

What’s your favourite training method?  

I am about to complete my first triathlon in over 5 years. I still cycle (although I may be a fair-weather cyclist!), run and attend Blaze twice a week.  It may be surprising to know that I hate training alone and can sometimes find a workout boring so Blaze is perfect for me as it’s a different workout every day, it’s unique so there is a constant anticipation of what the class will deliver.

Do you have a favourite quote/mantra you follow to maintain focus and motivation?

We live in a very disconnected world compared to 20 years ago when I first joined the fitness industry. We don’t switch off, we work 24/7. For me it’s important to be present and appreciate the amazing industry we work in; I feel lucky to help change and make differences in an industry I love and maybe inspire others to help make positive changes and innovations.

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Michelle Dand

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