With a new collection of concept classes, a new app and an evolution of its outdoor offering just three of its hot-off-the-press initiatives, the 177-club ACTIC Group is set to explode out of the blocks in 2021. Group training product manager Jessica Tito Martins speaks to Kate Cracknell
What is your role at ACTIC?
I joined ACTIC in April 2019, originally responsible just for the Swedish clubs. In September 2020, I took on responsibility for Norway and Germany too, becoming group training product manager for the whole group; we do also have clubs in Austria, but they don’t offer group training.
Given those dates, you’ll appreciate that a lot of my time in the role – in fact, with ACTIC in general – has been spent with projects on-hold due to COVID. Things haven’t moved on as far as I would have liked… yet!
What have been the highlights so far?
We’ve already been working on a series of 11 concept classes. These are pre-choreographed class formats that we develop centrally, based on market trends and customer demand, and test in Sweden – where most of our clubs are – with a view to rolling successful programmes out across the estate.
We were also very quick to move online during COVID, especially when you consider that we didn’t offer any online training before. We took this a step further in December with the launch of a new ACTIC ANYWHERE app, designed to support our members with their gym-based and at-home workouts: it offers on-demand group exercise as well as workout plans – using bodyweight-only or equipment – where you can, for example, search by body part for your perfect workout.
we found those who already had an exercise habit wanted to get back into it
Initially driven by COVID, online fitness – and therefore the new app – is nevertheless something we’re excited about for the long term.
How hard were you hit by COVID?
In Sweden, other than a few locations with pools, we were able to keep our gyms open throughout the crisis, albeit with restrictions in place: social distancing, extensive cleaning, a 50 per cent reduction in class capacity and so on.
Things were tougher in Norway and Germany, where clubs were closed throughout the first lockdown and where, as we speak [interview conducted on 19 November 2020], many are once again closed.
Even in Sweden, though, there was a lot of uncertainty among the members at first. Some even cancelled their memberships, simply because they didn’t really understand what they were allowed to do.
We spent a lot of time speaking with other big operators in the market – SATS and Nordic Wellness, for example – to make sure we were all acting in the same way, so consumers had a sense of consistency from us.
By summer/autumn, members were returning. It wasn’t so much about brand new joiners – I’m not sure gym membership is the obvious first step for someone who was previously inactive – but we found those who already had an exercise habit wanted to get back into it.
A 50 per cent reduction in class capacity, you say?
Yes, and as a result classes were very busy, averaging 86–87 per cent of max capacity. Across ACTIC, only 22 per cent of our members take part in group fitness – it’s something I’m keen to improve, getting more people involved – but they’re heavy users and classes were in high demand.
i see online as one of three actic ‘arenas’: indoor, online and outdoor. we won’t just be a gym any more.
In spite of the restrictions, we therefore tried to keep offering our members the things we knew were important to them. Some classes weren’t possible: classes with shared equipment; boxing classes involving work in pairs; all our senior classes, of which we usually offer a lot. That was tough for those members, because the classes provide their social contact as well as their fitness.
But generally, we offered what we could, with adaptations where needed: in our cycling classes, for example, we took away every other bike. Cycling has been quite good during social distancing, actually: members feel safe on their bike, because they know nobody can inch closer to them during class.
We also innovated, not only in online training as I’ve already mentioned, but also growing our outdoor programme. People really came to value their time outdoors during lockdown.
How do you see the app fitting into your long-term plans?
Online coaching is absolutely here to stay: people have already got used to the convenience of it.
Moving forward, I see online as one of three ACTIC ‘arenas’, all of which will be important to the overall member experience. We won’t just be a gym any more: we’ll have indoor (our club), online and outdoor.
Our outdoor offering is something we’ve already expanded during COVID, as I say, and we’re now looking to do even more of it, even better. We’re already exploring new concepts – outdoor group rides and a cycling club, for example – and we’re about to make an exciting announcement about the future of our outdoor group training. I wish I could tell you more now, but the news will be out soon!
What’s your group cycling offering like at the moment?
This is one of the areas I identified early on as something we can improve: at the moment, our cycling classes are essentially cycling choreography set to music, and I think we can do more to diversify the offering and bring new people into cycling.
As with all our plans, COVID has put this development work on-hold, but we’ve already created a high-intensity, 30-minute concept class called Explosive Ride. We started piloting it at a few sites in January 2020. Then COVID happened, so it hasn’t rolled out to the rest of our estate yet, but that’s something we’ll look to do in 2021.
Tell us more about your concept classes.
We have 1,300 instructors just in Sweden and it’s very important – to them and to the members – that they are allowed to inject their own style. I don’t want to take away their chance to be creative and don’t want every class on our timetable to be the same.
However, I was keen to create a collection of pre-choreographed signature classes that will be bespoke to us and consistent across the ACTIC estate. Even then, each instructor will have their own style of teaching, but it allows members to take part in a class at any of our clubs and have, in terms of the workout itself, the same experience.
We’ve launched 11 concept classes so far (see ‘A New Concept’). These were first introduced to our members in January 2020 and will be rolled out in 2021, with a fresh programme created three times a year for each concept class. As I say, we build current trends into these classes: at the moment, there’s a lot of functional training, heart rate training and shorter classes for an efficient workout.
We also have guided class formats: either track-based, where instructors choose their music and exercises but every track has to have a specific focus; or time-based for interval training, again with flexibility around the music and exercise selection.
What do you see as the future of indoor cycling at ACTIC?
I see data as being very important moving forward, so we’re planning to introduce more tech into our cycling studios and build new class formats around this. I’m talking about heart rate, RPM, power… I think people who do cycling classes tend to be the sort of people who are into progress tracking and data. More so than those doing a dance class, for example.
But at the same time, I want to broaden the appeal of indoor cycling. There are lots of people who feel it isn’t for them, so I want to make our product more accessible and edgier at the same time.
I’d like to explore opportunities to bring virtual into our cycling studio, too. It won’t replace our live instructor-led classes, but it will mean we can offer cycling classes throughout the day. I think virtual might encourage people who don’t usually cycle to give it a go, too.
And I want to offer our instructors more training, so they can expand beyond track-based choreography and into formats like interval training, heart rate training and power training. Some of them are already doing this, but not consistently. I want to give our instructors the tools they need to build diverse styles of cycling into our studio timetable.
In fact, if we start to do this – more tech, more instructor training, more diversity, more accessibility – I think we’ll improve our whole group training offer, not just indoor cycling. There’s a lot to do and I’m excited to get more people into group training!
A New Concept
ACTIC Group’s signature group training collection currently spans 11 concept classes.
Explosive Ride – 30 mins
Music-based, emotion-led, but also short, swift and sweaty to boost fitness levels.
Power – 55, 45, 30 mins
Whole-body strengthening using a barbell, free weights and bodyweight as resistance.
PowerStep – 55, 45 mins
Simple, efficient cardio and strength class using a step, barbell and freeweights.
Functional Strength – 55, 45 mins
Strengthening and toning class that brings in elements of cardio, balance, flexibility and agility, working through the basic movements and planes of functional training.
Core – 30 mins
Strengthens the core, developing good posture and balance, through a series of functional exercises.
BootyWork – 30 mins
Tones the legs, buttocks and hips via a series of functional exercises.
CardioFight – 45, 30 mins
A fun fighting class influenced by various forms of martial art.
CardioHIIT – 30 mins
High-intensity, cardio-based class using bodyweight and plyometrics, and incorporating elements of functional training.
Dance – 45 mins
Each track of this dance class adopts a distinct dance style – but fun is more important than getting the steps right!
Dynamic Flex – 30 mins
A low-intensity stretching and body awareness class.
YogaMotion – 55, 45 mins
Featuring easy flows and moves inspired by different yoga styles, physiotherapy and biomechanics, this class is about flexibility, stability and posture.