Written by Karen Gellender Friday, 28 January 2011 00:00
This is a tough time of year for fitness; those countless resolutions for a healthier lifestyle, which seemed so appealing on Jan. 1, lose some of their luster when winter snow and ice repeatedly gets in the way of pleasant fitness walking. Even those who have stuck to their New Year’s resolutions so far may find their resolve begin to flag as winter drags on, as their once-invigorating new exercise program becomes tainted with the boredom of routine. With all the distractions of modern life, not to mention plain old winter blues, how can healthy hopefuls resist the siren’s song of the couch and TV long enough to achieve their fitness goals?
According to Life Time Fitness, who just opened their 91st club in Syosset, the way to make people stick with it is to make the fitness experience as personalized, varied, and downright luxurious as possible. If you doubt the claim to luxury, just walk through the front doors of the new center at 300 Robbins Lane; there’s a spa on your left.
Getting to Know
Life Time Fitness
Those who venture further into the impressive 112,000 square foot center will encounter a basketball/volleyball court, a Pilates and yoga studio, a cycle theatre (complete with video screens and generated wind to simulate the outdoor cycling experience) a mixed martial arts studio, more than 400 pieces of state-of-the-art cardiovascular and resistance training equipment (each with their own personal television viewing screen), a large rock-climbing cavern, multiple pools for lap-swimmers and recreational swimmers, whirlpools, a waterslide, and more.
In addition, locker rooms not only come fully loaded with towels and bath-products, but have been engineered to filter the air in such a way as to prevent that “locker-room smell.”
However, those who think that these resort-like accommodations necessitate resort-like prices may be pleasantly surprised. “We’re committed to providing value,” said Jason Thunstrom, vice president for public relations and corporate communications. “If you can find a better value on something that we offer somewhere else, then shame on us.” Just across from the spa, while the cafe may offer some more expensive dishes, it also offers snacks and beverages in price tiers of $2, $3, $4 and $5. At the Syosset location, monthly dues are $119.95 for an individual, $199.90 for a couple and $249.85 for a family.
Notably, explained Thunstrom, Life Time Fitness does not offer annual plans; membership is done on a month-to-month basis, which was a revolutionary concept in the health club industry when company founder and CEO Bahram Akradi pioneered it in 1992, when the Chanhassen, MN based company opened its first club; other health clubs have since adopted the model.
Akradi thought that the health club industry had gotten a bad image by trapping people in cumbersome membership agreements that required them to pay even when they were no longer using the service. He wanted to go to a monthly model in order to demonstrate to customers that the club was earning their patronage each month, and that has been the model at Life Time Fitness ever since.
The company went public in 2004, and for a period of time, was opening 8-10 new clubs per year all over the country. Unfortunately, the breakneck pace couldn’t continue indefinitely; the financial crisis of 2008 had a significant effect on how the company did business.
A Long Time in the
Making for Syosset Club
In fact, the building for the Syosset club was actually erected over two years ago- leading many local residents to wonder, whenever they drove by the train tracks on Robbins Lane, just what that impressive structure was that always seemed empty. After the financial crisis, the company slowed its expansion to 3-4 new clubs a year, deciding to wait on the Syosset location for a period of time. According to Thunstrom, the company wanted to prove that they could continue to expand without relying on borrowing- and from 2008-2010, that’s exactly what they did.
The Birchwood Civic Association (BCA), which has a vested interest in development along the Robbins Lane corridor that borders the East Birchwood community, was a supporter of the plan for the club from the very beginning. Representatives of the BCA’s Board of Directors met with representatives of Life Time Fitness and developer the Blumenfeld Development Group to review the plans for the club years ago; they favored the plan for the club over other development plans for that parcel of land.
Once the facility was green-lighted once again after a several year interim, following a pre-opening tour with general manager Bryan Smith in early January, the board of directors said they were impressed with the facility and gratified with their support of its development.
BCA President Craig Snyder welcomed Life Time Fitness “as an example of the type of positive development that our association supports as a quality of life enhancement for our community.”
Health: More Than
While noting the sheer amount of workout machines on the gym floor might lead one to believe otherwise, the club isn’t just about fitness in the traditional sense; the club aims to be a community hub as well. Specifically, it aims to be a family center, where all family members can come and find something to do. The childcare center, which can accommodate children from as young as three months old to 11 years of age, not only has toys and an indoor playground, but a computer center. Thunstrom also explained that security is taken very seriously in the children’s area; only the same parent who checked in their child may check them out.
Classes on health-related topics, both for members and club personnel, are given at the education center. For those concerned about what their family eats, food in the cafe is free of hormones, bleached flour and hi-fructose corn syrup; the complimentary bath products in the locker rooms, provided by the Minnesota company J.R. Watkins, are similarly free of artificial dyes and other potential irritants. The spa offers not only the typical massages and facials, but haircuts for the whole family.
In short, Life Time Fitness aims to be one-stop shopping not just for dedicated gym-goers, but entire families. This concept is reflected in many unusual aspects of the club- for example, in addition to the usual men’s and women’s locker rooms, there is a family changing room, for those times when a parent brings an opposite-gender child; rather than facing the slightly awkward situation of Mom bringing her 8-year-old son into the women’s locker room, the two have their own dedicated space.
Thunstrom says these unusual, but intuitive modifications to the health club formula- the kind of things that members themselves would think of- are what keep members enjoying his clubs long after the notorious “February drop” has cleared out other clubs.
In addition, club employees track usage, so if a member hasn’t been using the club, a member of the staff will contact them and ask what the member is looking for in their club experience that they aren’t getting. Of course, nagging someone to exercise more is not a very effective motivational strategy, so employees aim to tailor the program to the client’s preferences: Hate to work out, but like martial arts? Come sign up for an MMA class. Want to swim, but only feel athletic at 3 a.m. for some reason? Sure thing; the club is open 24 hours, seven days a week.
In keeping with the theme of community, there’s a wide range of specialized member interest groups including cycling, running and weight loss. In addition, 60-80 group fitness classes, taught by certified instructors, are offered on a weekly basis.
Jericho resident Carla Karen, who works in sales at Life Time Fitness, summed up the philosophy: “There is something for everyone here and a place where the whole family will want to be!”
Membership: Not Guaranteed
One more feature of the model that may be relevant to those who are unsure whether or not they want to try it is the fact that the company likes to keep a high staff-to-member ratio; the Syosset location has approximately 250 employees. In addition, they want to keep membership from swelling too large to maintain the quality of the experience, meaning virtually no waiting for gym equipment, or deck chairs by the outdoor pool in the summer.
While time will tell whether or not residents flock to the new club, Thunstrom says that the club is expected to reach 15,000 members by its 37th month, at which point the facility is considered “mature.” At that point, anyone who wants to join will have to put their name on a waiting list. While people do leave health clubs every month, meaning those on the waiting list can get in eventually, the goal of Life Time Fitness is to get members to join for a lifetime- meaning, there’s no guarantee that a slot will open up.
However, for those that are looking for a little bit of luxury, membership isn’t necessarily required; the LifeSpa and Salon is open for business from the community right now, members and non-members alike. For more information about the new club, call 822-1777, or visit www.lifetimefitness.com.