Let's Get Physical: Fitness and Nutrition in Spa
by Jamison Stoike

The spa industry has been growing steadily for at least twenty years now, but it hasn’t done so in isolation: the fitness industry has experienced an equivalent growth streak. Using those two industries as its pillars, the idea of wellness—involving nutrition, spa, fitness and mental health—has become a preeminent part of modern-day culture.

Spas have long led the wellness movement by integrating quality nutrition and physical fitness into the traditional spa experience. While the most famous spas to mix nutrition, fitness and traditional treatments are destination spas—such as Canyon Ranch or Rancho La Puerta—there are ways to incorporate nutrition and fitness into other types of spa businesses. This month, Pulse spoke with two ISPA members, the Meadowood Spa and THE SPA – Williams Island, about their strong emphases on nutrition and wellness, as well as how they make it a part of the spa-going experience.

Fitness First

For THE SPA – Williams Island—situated in the heart of a gated community in Aventura, Florida—fitness has always been an integral part of the spa-going experience.
When it opened thirty years ago, its first spa director was a fitness instructor, and she “really drove that dynamic into the spa,” according to Director of Spa, Fitness and Wellness Karrie Griffiths. (Griffiths’ title further highlights the importance of fitness in the spa experience at Williams Island.) Fitness was the facility’s biggest draw at the time, mainly due to a lack of gyms in the surrounding area. now, with the rise of boutique fitness, William Island’s spa serves as the facility’s unique selling point. “Our business used to be more lopsided toward fitness, but now it’s more balanced between fitness and the spa side,” says Griffiths.

In that sense, Williams Island is fitness facility that has integrated spa into its programming, rather than a spa that has integrated fitness. Spa guests—who must, with a few exceptions, be part of the residential community—are encouraged to design their own fitness programs with the spa’s personal trainers. The trainers then create tailored programs for each client, and there’s functionally no type of training that cannot be done at Williams Island, Griffiths says: “Between all of us, the services range from meditation and yoga to triathlon training, marathon training, functional fitness, senior-focused, Parkinson’s-specific, stretching, weight training, balance. I can’t think of one thing that at least one of us doesn’t offer.”

The wide-ranging expertise of Griffiths’ staff makes it easy for the spa to incorporate fitness into its programming, no matter how large or small of a commitment a spa guest is ready to make. Additionally, one of Griffith’s trainers is also a nutrition coach who creates custom diet plans for members and leads nutrition workshops. Although the spa and fitness facility does have a restaurant onsite, integrating its efforts with those of the spa is a work in progress. However, the restaurant recently unveiled full vegetarian and vegan menus that have been a hit with both trainers and spagoers.

Williams Island is perhaps most well-known, though, for its daily fitness classes—it was here that Beto Perez, creator of Zumba, first began leading classes in 2001. Griffiths routinely tracks attendance numbers for every class; if its attendance is low, she’ll look at comment cards, talk to members or check in with the instructor to ascertain why the class might be struggling. Oftentimes, a class does better once it’s moved to a different time slot—Griffiths strives to build a balanced schedule and finds that time of day and class mix have a great effect on attendance and satisfaction. Williams Island will often begin early in the morning with high-intensity classes for the go-getters, such as crossfit and body sculpting, then follow those up with lower-intensity yoga and Pilates classes. If she runs a high-intensity class at 6 am on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, Griffiths will schedule a low-intensity class for 6 am on Tuesday and Thursday. the aphorism “variety is the spice of life” is key when building a fitness schedule. Says Griffiths, “if someone comes every day of the week at the same time, we want to break up their schedule so that it’s not always the same thing. It’s an organic schedule, and we offer new things to keep it fresh.”

When looking to add a new type of class to the schedule, Griffiths first and foremost listens to her spa’s members, who frequently travel internationally and try new classes abroad. If someone tries another class in the Miami area and recommends it for Williams Island, Griffiths and her team will often go take the class themselves or invite the instructor to the spa to provide a demo. If the demo seems promising and the spa has an instructor who can lead the class, Griffiths will “try a six-week trial period” to see if the class is worth keeping long-term.

When Williams island revamped its main fitness area three years ago, Griffiths made sure to incorporate more spa concepts into the space by transforming the existing outdoor space into a Zen garden. In addition to beautifying the area, Griffiths added a sound system, a fountain and soft artificial grass. “there are no chairs out there, and that was purposeful,” Griffiths says, “because once you put a chaise lounge out there, it becomes something different.” The end result is a space solely dedicated to purposeful peace-of-mind.

Fusing Fitness and Food

It should come as no surprise that the Meadowood Spa, located in the heart of Napa County, California, places an emphasis on balancing the pleasures of food and wine with the invigoration of fitness and the rejuvenation of spa. The Meadowood Spa, newly built in 2015, is part of the Meadowood Napa Valley Resort which includes a Forbes Five-Star hotel and a three-Michelin-starred restaurant. The spa itself is also Forbes Five-Star rated.

Wrapping spa into larger concepts of wellness begins with the treatment menu itself: the shortest massage offered by the spa is 90 minutes. Sixty minutes are reserved for the massage, while 30 minutes are set aside for guests to spend time in the treatment suite and discuss their wellness, fitness and overall health goals with their particular service provider. “We ask them about their water intake, their sleep patterns, their stress levels,” says Director of Spa and Wellness Michael Conte, “and really go deeper than just a quick 60-minute in-and-out.”

Conte stresses the importance of letting every guest know about the spa’s amenities at every touch point: “When we are on the phone creating the reservation, we want to make sure they know about the full amenities, because we don’t want them to come here for just an hour and half.” Although guests aren’t committing a week (or more) of their time to spa and wellness like they would at a destination spa, Conte’s goal is to have them spend “two to four hours” on the property. In addition to a full fitness center—which was recently renovated— Meadowood boasts a large outdoor area with hiking trails and a meditation labyrinth.

Conte acknowledges that guests don’t visit Napa Valley to eat spartan food and drink spring water; therefore, the area’s wine-and-food centric tourism has informed how Meadowood approaches the nutritional needs of its guests. The spa’s resident health coach—a cross-trained massage therapist, personal trainer and nutritionist—offers a “Wine and Wellness” program that counsels hotel guests and spa-goers on how to keep fit and healthy while enjoying the region’s culinary delights. Meadowood partners with biodynamic wine growers for tastings and encourages guests to ride bikes from vineyard to vineyard. Says Conte, “We want to do a full-circle, 360-degree option.”

Each hotel guest, member and spa-goer is encouraged to look at Meadowood’s fitness schedule and take a class before or after they receive their treatment. The health coach will often take small groups outside for yoga, cardio and strength training that is “customized based on the clientele,” according to Conte, who adds that a large portion of the spa’s clientele makes use of the fitness facilities.

Not all spas have the luxury of a full fitness center, expansive outdoor areas and gourmet onsite restaurants, of course. When it comes to integrating fitness and nutrition into a smaller day spa setting, Conte says that the first step is to realistically look at what the spa can handle. Then, work within those guidelines by asking, “What are my guests really looking for?” For nutrition, he suggests partnering with a local farm-to-table restaurant to provide “bento-box-style” lunches for spa guests. “You can fill gaps by getting involved with your community,” says Conte.

For Conte, the dovetailing trends of nutrition, spa and fitness convalesce into one word: “longevity.” With lifespans lengthening and the number of senior citizens rising, more and more spa-goers are interested in building a healthy lifestyle that will persist throughout their lives. By highlighting a unified concept of wellness, Conte hopes that Meadowood can cater to that growing demand.

Tailor-Made Fitness

At both THE SPA – Williams island and the Meadowood Spa, the keys to successfully integrating fitness and nutrition into spa are to rely on the expertise and interests of one’s staff, focus on quality over quantity, and inform the spa-goer as frequently as possible about the programs offered by one’s spa. With the right mix of increased awareness, fresh fitness ideas and one-on-one time with staff, fitness can be a revenue-driver for spas big and small.