JCC partners with Spartan/DEKA to strengthen fitness and community in the South Hills

The Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh reaffirms its commitment to wellness in the South Hills through a new program and partnership.

In partnership with Spartan/DEKA, the JCC launched On Your Mark Fitness — an opportunity for members to achieve individual and collective goals through functional training and gamification.

“It’s not just fitness for fitness’ sake. It’s fitness with a purpose,” said Jason Kuntzman, JCC Chief Program Officer.

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On Your Mark Fitness is based on a foundation of rehabilitation sciences and therapy while incorporating functional testing. The latter, Kunzman explained, encourages people to use specific Spartan/DEKA-branded equipment while performing a variety of movements necessary to promote fitness and reduce injuries.

JCC trainer Steve Manns said the result was 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 burn stored body fat, but also offers participants the ability to constantly switch and individualize their workouts and never plateau,” Mance said in a statement.

In addition to using Spartan-brand RAMrollers and wall balls, the training allows participants to use repurposed stations at the South Hills JCC, Kuntzman noted.

On October 22nd and 23rd, the JCC held its first DEKA Strong and DEKA Mile events, with members and guests in attendance.

Participants complete 500 meters of stationary rowing. Photo courtesy of the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh

Training partners Frank Fazzolari and Michael Staley drove from Charles Town, West Virginia to participate in the DEKA Strong event.

After the 3.5-hour drive Saturday morning, Fazzolari and Staley walked into what they both described as an “extremely welcoming environment.”

“Everyone was so helpful, lots of smiles,” Fazzolari, 55, said. “It’s almost like they were expecting us.”

“The facility was amazing,” Staley, 39, said of the South Hills JCC. “It was good to see lots of people enjoying their training routines in addition to the planned competition.”

While members went about their regular weekend exercises, Fazzoli, Staley and other registered athletes — ranging in age from nine to nearly 70 — competed in DEKA Strong and DEKA Mile events.

During the two events, participants completed a variety of activities — including a 500-meter stationary row, 25 medicine ball sit-ups and a 25-calorie air bike ride — in 10 zones. The main difference between the DEKA Strong and DEKA Mile events is that the former does not involve running. During DEKA Mile events, participants run 160 meters between each of the 10 zones (1 mile total).

At the end of both the DEKA Strong and DEKA Mile events, participants received a fitness testing score. The result, said DEKA co-founder Yancey Culp, “allows people of all skill levels to have gamified fitness.”

Once someone receives their score that goes on the leaderboard, they can participate in DEKA-inspired exercise classes — like those held at the South Hills JCC — and prepare for the next challenge, he added.

Kunzman recently received his result, which he says provides 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’s training and events has broad appeal. Of the 40,000 people who have undertaken an event, there is a 99.4% completion rate. Plus, “100% of the classes are designed for people of all skill levels.”

Jason Kunzman, Yancey Culp, and Farrah Marcus. Photo courtesy of the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh

Culp toured the newly designed space inside the South Hills JCC and noted the various DEKA signs and equipment. He said he believes the aesthetic will “feel more appealing to a wider range of people while also recruiting a younger demographic.”

Farah Marcus, the JCC’s director of marketing and development, praised the space and said the Spartan/DEKA alignment made “perfect sense.”

Citing one of Culp’s maxims, Marcus said 20 percent of people are confident enough to sign up for a race, train and cross the finish line, whether it’s a 5K, half marathon, marathon or alternative endurance challenge. What often prevents the other 80% of people from taking on such a task – or even starting to prioritize fitness – is intimidation or feeling overwhelmed.

DEKA’s goal to positively impact 100 million lives through fitness aligns with the JCC’s commitment to nourishing people and connecting the community, Kunzman said.

The Spartan/DEKA partnership is also a chance to reverse the fiscal damage of COVID-19; the South Hills membership has not “recovered as quickly as the Squirrel Hill membership,” Marcus said.

While the Squirrel Hill branch has recovered 82 percent of its paid membership units before the pandemic, only 55 percent of paying members have returned to South Hills, according to Kunzman.

“The recovery from the pandemic has been uneven, and we know that one of the biggest opportunities for growth at South Hills JCC is related to fitness,” he said. “The bet,” he continued, is that the suburban site can attract new members — especially those aged 35 to 55 — by relying on a “well-vetted science-based fitness proposition.”

Each month, people spend about $34 on fitness, according to a StyleSeat survey of 1,421 people. Statista reported that the gym, health and fitness club industry in the United States is expected to reach nearly $36.6 billion this year.

Kunzman, Marcus and JCC leaders hope some of that money finds its way to the South Hills branch.

Numerous activities take place at the South Hills JCC, such as Purim carnivals with local congregations and recruitment for the Center for Loving Kindness, Kuntzman said. “To be most productive in these efforts, having a physical footprint helps, and the only way that works is if we have a viable branch.”

“It is the organization’s responsibility to aggressively recruit new members and equalize 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 in the South Hills Center will help attract new members.

However, there are significant costs involved.

In starting On Your Mark Fitness, “we wanted to raise $250,000 and we raised close to that,” Marcus said.

Kuntzman acknowledged that the community and JCC leaders helped make the partnership happen, but also said he hopes people appreciate the investment the organization is making in the South Hills.

He cited the 2017 Pittsburgh Jewish Community Survey, which found that the South Hills is home to 20 percent of all Jewish households in the region.

“There’s a market out there and we need to identify the offers that will resonate,” he said.

JCC management already knows that certain programming works well in the area—registration for the South Hills day camp is at “all-time highs”—and is confident that its relationship with Spartan/DEKA will reap similar benefits.

Whether it’s welcoming new members to the building or helping people of all ages reach new levels of fitness, there’s a lot to be excited about, Kuntzman said. When it comes to strengthening the South Hills, building community and helping individuals, this partnership “checks so many boxes.” PJC

Adam Reinherz can be reached at [email protected]

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