Exercise instruction took a big step out the gym at the world's largest fitness convention earlier this month. For the first time, the IDEA conference offered an organized education track of fresh-air activities for thousands of attending instructors.
Participants at the IDEA World Fitness Convention paddled surfboards into the San Diego breakers, visited the San Diego Velodrome for bike classes, and attended workshops with names like "ChiRunning" and "Strength Training for Triathletes." The fitness instructors and trainers also dashed around downtown looking for hidden stashes with GPS units in a "Fitness Caching" class, not to mention took walking and Nordic walking classes.
The goal of the "Club Without Walls," as the track was called, was to showcase the outdoors as a complement to indoor workouts. Typically, the IDEA conference runs as many as about 300 sessions for several days that cover everything from Pilates and yoga to step choreography, water aerobics, biomechanics and nutrition.
"Because we live in such a beautiful city and we knew the weather was so great, we wanted to give people a chance to get outdoors," said Kathie Davis, the executive director of the IDEA Health & Fitness Association, a group for group-exercise instructors and personal trainers.
"It's something new and different for us," Davis said. "We have to keep pushing the envelope and offer things no one else is offering."
Some sessions, such as the surfing trip, were filled far in advance; a few others filled up on-site or were only sparsely attended.
Participants attended the Club Without Walls for many reasons, including curiosity and interest as much personal as professional.
"I have clients who would like to do this, but they couldn't," said Mary Reinhardt, who trains seniors at a gym in Eliot, Maine, as she attempted supine twists on a stability ball on the grass outside the convention center.
"It's really hard for them to even get into this position," Reinhardt said. "It's also for balance, but for me it's personal."
The class, Dry Land Training for Surfing, had 50 attending instructors charging through a challenging 10-station circuit focusing on balance and core strength.
A trainer from Austin, Texas, hoped to start a multi-sport camp with other trainers, while Jeff Case, a firefighter and trainer from Phoenix, saw surf-specific training as way to enlarge his fitness toolbox. "There's no special component here other than core strength and injury prevention," he said.
While the Club Without Walls encompassed only seven classes, it accounted for a great deal of the conference's promotion. A woman reached for a rock-wall handhold on the cover of the event's promotional brochure that was sent several months in advance to many thousands of instructors and trainers, as well as media. The registration area was festooned with photos of sporty folks cycling, running, jump-roping and doing yoga, most in the outdoors.
Davis described Club Without Walls as an enhancement of what IDEA has offered in the past.
"We've been doing these kind of classes for a long time but we never put a name on it," she said. "We would hold fitness walks or meditation walks or in-line skating sessions or outdoor boot camp.
"It wasn't that it was new -- it was that it was packaged differently that brought so much attention," she added.
For the next two years the IDEA convention heads to Las Vegas and the Club Without Walls will continue, Davis said, although how it will work in the lung-searing midsummer heat in the flat and paved-over concrete jungle of the convention center just off The Strip is unknown.
"I always like to take a session or two I know nothing about," said Cheryl Miller, a triathlon coach from Phoenix who decided to attend the conference because of the Club Without Walls. She awaited a session on Fitness Caching, sort of a treasure hunt with a GPS locator and a side goal of improving fitness.
"Besides," she added, "it might be the beginning of something big."
SNEWS® View: We know this is something big -- that melding of fitness and outdoors in such a way that complements each other without taking away from either. Research and anecdotal evidence alike shows that many people who do exercise indoors on equipment, also venture outdoors to do activities like biking, rock climbing or surfing to stay in shape. Of course equipment like poles, rubberized resistance, mats, GPS units, heart-rate monitors, stability balls and all kinds of stuff still come in handy too. Although IDEA has had various offerings of outdoor classes for many years, we know the offering expanded greatly this year into areas that went beyond more simple activities like walking or running. Never would anybody have dreamed a decade ago that indoor trainers and instructors would be running around with GPS units or training for triathlons or walking with poles, all as a way to expand their bag of tricks to help the public get more fit. As we've said before, this mix will continue and companies need to consider it as they grow and embrace trends.