Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Fitness in the New Year

Every January, throngs of Americans publicly declare their intent to “get healthy.” Depending on your current lifestyle, that could mean anything from simply joining a gym to finally weaning yourself off Chinese laxatives. For those that choose a more traditional route to their fitness goals, many gyms offer group sessions for those that prefer communal calisthenics over solitary routines. It has gotten to the point that a fitness center would be downright embarrassed to admit that all they had to offer was free-weights, treadmills, and adequately-lit parking.

The race to provide a more creative method for this choreographed physical exertion has led to some interesting offerings over the years. America experienced Jazzercise, Spinning, Buns of Steel, Tae-Bo, Zumba, and 8-minute abs; yet somehow the entire nation manages to collectively get fatter every year. So what looms on the horizon for 2012? It appears there will be two contenders for exercise phenomenon of the year.

The first is called Drums Alive, and involves participants beating drum sticks on yoga balls to a rhythmic beat set by the instructor. It was invented by a German woman named Carrie Ekins who decided to start beating on cardboard boxes with sticks after suffering a hip injury and was unable to continue her normal exercise routine. Like any true visionary, she quickly recognized that just because a primate can do something unaided doesn’t mean Americans won’t pay cash for an instructor.
Drums Alive
It is quickly replacing Zumba as the class of choice in many fitness centers due to its lower impact and ability to channel aggression. In fact, many “Drum Alivers” cite anger rather than fitness, as the primary driving force behind their participation and claim they feel relieved after their sessions. The program’s biggest market has been senior centers, a trend instructor Shawn Bannon attributes to familiarity: “For seniors, a lot of this involves dance moves that they already know."

Am I the only one disturbed at how angry these people are? What is going on in their lives that they can only find relief through hour-long sessions of synchronized bludgeoning? My theory is that their aggression stems from the realization they agreed to an iron-clad 12-month contract with a gym whose most appealing classes involve hitting decommissioned exercise equipment while listening to “My Humps” by the Black Eyed Peas.

I am also unsure how to interpret the instructor’s theory on the programs popularity amongst the geriatric demographic. What exactly does “this involves dance moves they already know” mean? What kinds of dance moves involve repeatedly striking an inanimate object on command? And better yet, why would said dance move be more familiar to the elderly? If this catches on I will seriously consider quitting my job in order to lead a fitness class where participants pay $10 apiece to hit a piñata with a pool cue.

The second challenger to the Zumba throne is called “Nia” and is also a certified instructor-led low impact dance workout to music. But don’t let the similarities fool you, because Nia involves a much more impressive quasi-spiritual description:

Nia is a sensory-based movement practice that leads to health, wellness, and fitness. It empowers 
people of all shapes and sizes by connecting the body, mind, emotions, and spirit. Nia draws from disciplines of the martial arts, dance arts, and healing arts. Every class offers a unique combination of 52 moves that correspond with the main areas of the body: the base, the core and the upper extremities. We can become connected to others to shape a consciousness that extends beyond our own. Together we will unearth possibilities never before imagined.

Roughly translated, this means that by combining ambiguous religious terminology with commercially-unmarketable music we have created a more efficient way to sell you a rebranded version of the same fitness product you have been repeatedly purchasing for the past twenty years.

The real beauty of Nia is the breathtaking revenue infrastructure. Instead of simply becoming certified as a trainer, those wishing to become instructors must earn a series of color-coded “belts” with the black belt being the highest. Not only does each belt cost $1,600 dollars, you must take a mandatory “reflection” period of one year between belts ensuring that the creators of Nia will have a steady source of income for the next half-decade or so.

This, combined with the online store selling official Nia music, videos, and pendant necklaces makes this the clear winner in terms of profit margin. There are over twenty official Nia CD’s alone on the site. This means that an exercise movement in its infancy has already generated a larger back catalogue than The Beatles. While a few of the discs feature recognizable artists like Moby, most tracks are nameless instrumentals destined to appear in an upcoming Lexus commercial.   

So which will take the crown? First of all, if my choices as a fitness instructor are between paying $8,000 to acquire a series of refurbished Taekwondo belts or simply possessing the motor skills to move a stick in a repeating vertical pattern you can bet your sweet Aspercreme I will be down at the senior center with a set of 
yoga spheres. So, in terms of market penetration I will give it to Drums Alive.

However, I am not yet convinced both programs have the same target audience. After all, Nia appears to be aimed at middle-upper class women under 60 who feel Zumba is becoming too pedestrian while Drums Alive has found a niche with emotionally-disturbed octogenarians. Either way, I am sure both will be obliterated once Tony Little releases The Gazelle 2.


  1. Don't hate!!! Drums Alive is actually quite fun. And not black eyed peas in my class

  2. Beware of Zumba- the work of Infidels !

  3. But isn't variety the spice of life! Not to mention the desire we have to pay someone to remake our bodies!

  4. Considering that Seniors typically have the most health related issues, and, are in part playing a significant role in rising health care costs, one would think it doesn't matter what kind of exercise they participate in, Drums Alive included. Any exercise is exercise and assists the body in healing itself. And the more healthy seniors we have, is an aid in reducing healthcare costs. If seniors are attracted to Drums Alive, and instructors are filling a need, more power to them. Its certainly not for everyone... and I would guess to say you're included. But it sounds like a lot of fun to me. I live in Baltimore and have seen the class in my gym completely packed. So they're obviously doing something right. People are always looking for something different and not boring us to death.

    1. Exceptional MediocrityApril 25, 2012 at 9:41 PM

      I fully support the health of senior citizens, but I stand by my initial assessment that getting someone to pay for the privileged of hitting objects they used to pay for the privilege of sitting on is nothing short of genius....


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