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Parting Words From Laurie McCartney

Parting Words From Laurie McCartney

Laurie McCartney in memory
In memory of Laurie McCartney, who tragically passed away in February, Athletech News shares a conversation we were fortunate enough to have with the fitness industry leader just days before her passing

Laurie McCartney, Fitness and Learning President at Ascend Learning, provided visionary guidance to Ascend’s various fitness and wellness brands, including the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), Athletics and Fitness Association of America (AFAA) and Club Connect, whose acquisition she spearheaded. Powered by her innovative and creative business strategies, these brands continue to expand on their mission to prepare today’s fitness and wellness professionals for successful careers.

Athletech News sat down with Laurie on February 3rd to discuss her outlook on the industry to which she had devoted the past 6 years. On February 6th, she passed away unexpectedly.

Although deeply saddened by this loss, we are grateful for the large impact Laurie had on the industry and everyone around her. It is with this gratitude and profound sadness that we share our conversation with Laurie McCartney.

Athletech News: Where you see the fitness industry going, and where do you feel are the big growth opportunities?

Laurie McCartney:  The fitness industry is evolving and presenting exciting new growth opportunities. We’re seeing a real shift in people’s fitness goals from appearance toward more balance, mental wellbeing and overall health. Really a case of “movement meets mindfulness.”

We also see a big focus on nutrition, and an increase in concern over not just what you do at the gym, but also what you put into your body and how you manage stress. So that’s what we’re including in our courses. We’re training our trainers and coaches to have a more balanced, holistic approach to how they work with clients. 

ATN: What are some of the most exciting trends NASM is addressing with new products? 

LM: For trainers, we are encouraging a much more holistic approach, and now have a certified wellness coach product. We just launched an exciting new certified nutrition coach product. We get a lot of prosumers, or customers who aren’t necessarily coaches or trainers, but who want to absorb that professional-level knowledge for themselves and their families.

And for group fitness instructors, it’s so exciting to see the ability to move from HIIT (high intensity interval training) classes to doing more with different modalities, even some older forms of fitness, like aerobics and step aerobics making an entrance again.  

We also see small, personalized group training classes that are taking a very exciting turn. The idea of the movable gym is really fun, with the group exercise class moving outside and inside. I think the pandemic started that and I see that trend continuing.

And, our physique transformation bodybuilding coach program is for everyone, not just those who want to compete or be bodybuilders.

ATN: Do you see the holistic approach and, obviously, classes and training sessions, becoming more digital, chat-based, and communication-based? And less about filling three slots a week of training? 

LM:  We saw the pandemic accelerate this idea that you can train anywhere, anytime, through connected fitness, with online courses and apps available to trainers and consumers. Then, with wearable technology, wherever you are, everywhere you go, you’re tracking your steps. There’s also a gamification monitoring tool that consumers can now harness, allowing us to personalize the fitness experience and roll it out to a broader group of people.

It all reduces the barriers to how, when and where people can exercise, which makes it much more accessible.

ATN: What new technologies do you think are enhancing the training and certification space?

LM:  We’re always looking at things that are evolving. The gamification, AI and interactive demos are being incorporated into our delivery model course offerings to make them much more exciting, integrative and accessible. For example, Edge is our app for trainers so they can better connect and communicate with their clients, send them personalized workouts and keep them accountable. It allows them to have a more fun, personalized dialogue with their clients but also scale their business so that they can reach more clients on a continuous basis and work from anywhere.

“We saw the pandemic accelerate this idea that you can train anywhere, anytime, through connected fitness, with online courses and apps available to trainers and consumers. Then, with wearable technology, wherever you are, everywhere you go, you’re tracking your steps.”

– Laurie McCartney (1967-2023)

ATN: Are there new certifications and training opportunities popping up in response to consumers’ desire for “more and different”? The proliferation of content out there has been very interesting.

LM:  We’ve incorporated more fun into our courses, more Hollywood-type videos, interactive tools and, importantly, modular courses that are more bite-sized. If you want to learn a topic, we have broad certifications, but we also have a lot of mini courses in everything from mindfulness, sleep and weight loss management to behavior change and even “how-tos” on things like setting up your home gym or virtual coaching.

ATN: How do you see the boutique fitness space evolving and growing post-pandemic, and what challenges do you see there?

LM:  I think boutique fitness is so exciting because it’s the entrepreneurial side of the business, where they can be nimbler and embrace or create new trends. As long as they can continue to reinvent themselves and offer something that is new, fun and effective that keeps that consumer excited, I don’t see that going away. The boutique environment is very personalized and can have a very nice local flavor, which people respond to as well. Many popular new trends get started at the boutique level, like recovery studios, neuromuscular stretching, saunas, cold immersion, yoga, meditation, and then larger clubs will incorporate some of them into their formats as well. 

ATN: How are consumers driving a lot of these trends?

LM:  Whereas people used to work out to lose weight or go for more of a physical result, to look good, they came out of the pandemic in general more focused on health and wellness. We’re seeing people’s goals change in favor of longevity, mental wellbeing, stress management, health and happiness. We’re now seeing a broader range of reasons that consumers are passionate about their fitness, health and wellness. We continue to target unique populations, such as youth, seniors, women, and others with our offerings. It’s a big opportunity as the definition of and interest in health and wellness expand. People want to live their best life. And that excites me because I think it brings more people—trainers, coaches and consumers—into the industry. All of us in this space want to improve as many lives as possible.

ATN: How do you bring new people into the workout space? Would you, for example, try to attract people who wouldn’t be into a cardio boot camp class with a dance class as a way to start?

LM:  It’s important for a workout to be accessible, that we lower the barriers to entry, make it more personalized, but make sure it’s done right. Influencers post dance workouts on social media, and people start following them and get excited and decide to try a dance class. It spurs a lot of interest and lowers those barriers. Then it’s a matter of making sure they learn the right way, ensuring the quality of education of certified trainers and fitness instructors.

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Another great concept is this hybrid form of training, so you can do some at home and some at the gym. This brings more people to the gym, frankly, because they start to work out in the comfort of their home, and then hopefully they feel a little more comfortable and less intimidated to go into that gym or studio format to try it.

“We’re seeing people’s goals change in favor of longevity, mental wellbeing, stress management, health and happiness.”

ATN: What excites you most about what you are doing? 

LM:  It’s a big responsibility to help provide educational tools and services for coaches and trainers! We’re helping them transform people’s lives. I always think about just how important movement is. The more we can get people to get up and move just a little bit, take a few steps at a time, the better. After that, they get to feeling a little more comfortable. The more we can get our community globally to do that, that really excites me. 

Because I believe movement is happiness. 

In Memoriam

Reactions from industry colleagues who were inspired by Laurie McCartney’s enthusiasm, dedication and vision: 

“The passing of Laurie McCartney will be felt for many years to come. She was a mother, leader and educator. Her passion for life and her laugh were infectious. She was an inspiration to us all and will be sorely missed.” – Mark Mastrov, Chairman, New Evolution Ventures 

“The news of Laurie McCartney’s passing was a shock to IHRSA, our Industry Partner Advisory Council, where she was a respected and engaged advocate, and the health and fitness industry as a whole. Laurie was a friend, mentor and colleague who inspired with her intellect and approach and brought the same zeal and creativity to the association and industry leadership that she brought to her own business and career. Her loss is felt by the entire IHRSA family, and we are holding her colleagues, friends and family in our thoughts and prayers at this difficult time.” – IHRSA President and CEO Liz Clark

 “I was fortunate to meet and work with Laurie through NASM. Through our relationship, I learned important business values. Laurie was an amazing networker and knew how to politely steer a conversation for the good of all involved. She was a masterful leader. Our entire industry will miss her. Laurie was special.” – Neal Spruce, CEO, dotFIT

“Laurie was an integral member of our Senior Leadership Team, a force of positivity and energy for our organization, a beloved leader, a mentor to many and our dear friend. Her impact and achievements as a business leader and President of our Fitness and Wellness segment, where she led NASM, AFAA and Club Connect, were remarkably vast. Her ability to inspire and connect with people, influence and create ideas, paired with her deep love for her family and overall kindness, will be irreplaceable. We are committed to continuing Laurie’s legacy of helping people transform lives through fitness and wellness across the globe.” – Greg Sebasky, CEO, Ascend Learning

 “Laurie’s smile could light up a room. She was instrumental in making fitness education accessible to everyone.  We loved collaborating with her, and I will miss her dearly as a friend and industry colleague.” – Alberto Perlman, Co-founder and CEO, Zumba Fitness

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