The Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh is reaffirming its commitment to wellness in the South Hills through a new program and partnership.
In conjunction with Spartan/DEKA, the JCC is launching On Your Mark Fitness — an opportunity for members to reach individual and collective goals through functional training and gamification.
“This isn’t just fitness for fitness sake. It’s fitness with a purpose,” said Jason Kunzman, the JCC’s chief program officer.
On Your Mark Fitness builds on a foundation of rehabilitation and therapy sciences while incorporating functional testing. The latter, Kunzman explained, encourages people to use specific Spartan/DEKA-branded equipment while undertaking various movements needed to promote fitness and reduce injury.
JCC trainer Steve Manns said the result is both fun and challenging.
“Our new fitness philosophy is proven to not only increase muscle strength and power, increase bone density, improve insulin sensitivity, stimulate growth hormone secretion and consume stored body fat, but it also offers participants the opportunity to constantly switch up and individualize their workouts and never fall into plateau,” Manns said in a statement.
In addition to using Spartan-branded RAMrollers and wall balls, the training allows participants to make use of redesigned stations at the South Hills JCC, Kunzman noted.
On Oct. 22 and 23, the JCC held its first DEKA Strong and DEKA Mile events, with members and guests in attendance.
Training partners Frank Fazzolari and Michael Staley drove from Charleston, West Virginia, to participate in the DEKA Strong event.
After the 3.5-hour drive Saturday morning, Fazzolari and Staley entered what both described as an “extremely welcoming environment.”
“Everybody was so helpful, lots of smiles,” Fazzolari, 55, said. “It was almost as if they were expecting us.”
“The facility was amazing,” Staley, 39, said of the South Hills JCC. “It was nice to see multiple people enjoying their workout routines in addition to the scheduled competition.”
As members engaged in their regular weekend exercises, Fazzoli, Staley and other registered athletes — ranging in age from nine to nearly 70-years-old — competed in DEKA Strong and DEKA Mile competitions.
During both events, participants completed various activities — including a 500-meter stationary row, 25 medicine ball sit-ups and a 25-calorie air bike ride — across 10 zones. The primary difference between the DEKA Strong and DEKA Mile events is that the former does not include running. During DEKA Mile events, participants run 160 meters between each of the 10 zones (totaling 1 mile).
At the end of both the DEKA Strong and DEKA Mile events, participants received a fitness-testing assessment. The score, DEKA co-founder Yancy Culp said, “allows people of all levels to have gamified fitness.”
After someone receives their mark, which goes on a leaderboard, they’re able to participate in DEKA-inspired exercise classes — like ones occurring at the South Hills JCC — and prepare for the next challenge, he added.
Kunzman recently got his score, which he said provided a “baseline.” During these optional competitions, “you’re certainly competing against others, but you’re also competing against yourself. That’s what’s so attractive about this approach.”
Culp said the competitive nature of DEKA training and events has broad appeal. Of the 40,000 people who have undertaken an event, there’s a 99.4% completion rate. Additionally, “100% of the classes are designed for people of every level.”
Culp visited the newly designed space inside the South Hills JCC and remarked on the various DEKA signage and equipment. He said he believes the aesthetics will “feel more inviting to a broader range of people while also recruiting a younger demographic.”
Fara Marcus, the JCC’s chief development and marketing officer, praised the space and said aligning with Spartan/DEKA made “perfect sense.”
Citing one of Culp’s maxim’s, Marcus said that 20% of people are confident enough to sign up for a race, train and make it past the finish line, regardless of whether it’s a 5K, half-marathon, marathon or alternative endurance challenge. What often prevents the other 80% of people from completing such a task — or even beginning to prioritize fitness — is intimidation or feeling overwhelmed.
DEKA’s goal of positively impacting 100 million lives through fitness dovetails nicely with the JCC’s commitment to nurturing people and connecting community, Kunzman said.
The partnership with Spartan/DEKA is also a chance to reverse the fiscal damage of COVID-19; membership in the South Hills hasn’t “bounced back as quickly as membership in Squirrel Hill,” Marcus said.
While the Squirrel Hill branch has recouped 82% of its pre-pandemic paid membership units, only 55% of paying members have returned to the South Hills, according to Kunzman.
“The recovery has been uneven coming out of the pandemic, and we know that one of the greatest opportunities for growth in the South Hills JCC is related to fitness,” he said. The “bet,” he continued, is that the suburban site can attract new members — especially those in the 35- to 55-year-old range — by relying on a “well-vetted science-based fitness offering.”
Each month, people spend approximately $34 on fitness, according to a survey of 1,421 people by StyleSeat. Statista reported that the gym, health and fitness club industry in the United States is forecasted to reach nearly $36.6 billion this year.
Kunzman, Marcus and JCC leaders are hoping some of that money finds its way to the South Hills branch.
Numerous activities happen at the South Hills JCC, such as Purim carnivals with local congregations and recruiting Center for Loving Kindness upstanders, Kunzman said. “In order for us to be most productive in those efforts, having a physical footprint helps, and the only way that works is if we have a viable branch.”
It’s “incumbent on the organization to aggressively recruit new members and even out the recovery between the South Hills and Squirrel Hill sites,” Kunzman said.
Marcus said the JCC is confident that partnering with Spartan/DEKA, purchasing new equipment and reconfiguring the upstairs space at the South Hills center will help attract new members.
Still, there are considerable costs involved.
In undertaking On Your Mark Fitness, “we wanted to raise $250,000, and we’ve raised close to that,” Marcus said.
Kunzman credited the community and JCC leaders with helping to bring the partnership to fruition, but also said he hopes people appreciate the investment the organization is making in the South Hills.
He cited the 2017 Greater Pittsburgh Jewish Community Study, which found that the South Hills is home to 20% of all Jewish households in the region.
“There’s a market there, and we need to ID the offerings that will resonate,” he said.
JCC leadership already knows that certain programming works well in the area — registration for South Hills Day Camp is at “all-time highs” — and is confident that its bond with Spartan/DEKA will reap similar benefits.
Whether it’s welcoming new members into the building or helping people of all ages attain new levels of fitness, there’s a lot to get excited about, Kunzman said. When it comes to bolstering the South Hills, building community and helping individuals, this partnership “checks so many of the boxes.” PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.