A Culture of Making Lives Better
In the January Collector’s Edition of the magazine, I wrote about the passing of our 85-year-old LVAC owner, Donahue Wildman, “The Wildman”. The Wildman leaves behind an amazing legacy of a fitness industry and as an athletic icon. His phenomenal athletic accomplishments throughout his lifetime rival the legendary Jack LaLanne. He was also one of the pioneer’s and founding fathers of the health club industry. All of the founding fathers came from the first two large companies in the 50s and 60s, American Health Studios and the Vic Tanny Gyms.
A Legacy is Born
Don Wildman and my father, Rudy Smith, were part of Vic Tanny’s, and another LVAC owner, Jerry Kahn, started with American Health. From the remnants of these first two companies came the next two large fitness companies: European Health Spas and Bally’s Health and Tennis Corp. European grew to almost 200 clubs, and Bally’s Health and Tennis grew to more than 300 clubs. Don Wildman, Jerry Kahn and my father were all part of Bally’s Health and Tennis prior to their ownership of LVAC, and following their founding fathers’ beginnings.
Part of the Wildman, Smith, and Kahn legacy is the LVAC company culture of “making lives better.” As the leader and CEO of Bally’s Health and Tennis, with its 300+ clubs, four million members and 20,000 employees, Don Wildman was instrumental in making millions of lives better through exercise and healthy living. Using celebrity spokespeople like Cher, Heather Locklear, Victoria Principal, Jaclyn Smith, Raquel Welch, Brooke Shields, and Arnold Schwarzenegger to name a few, Don’s television commercials ran nationwide and inspired mainstream America towards a healthy and fit lifestyle. Everyone who came in contact with Don Wildman was inspired by his incredible athleticism and saw him as a role model for the benefits of health and fitness.
The Smith Machine
In the mid-1950s, based on a piece of exercise equipment at Jack LaLanne’s gym, my father asked his friend if he could take the design of the apparatus to an engineer to see if it could be developed into more of a multi-purpose machine. At the time, most of the equipment was comprised of dumb- bells, barbells and plates, and a few pulley machines as well as some other passive machines like jiggle belts and wood rollers (that would jiggle and roll the fat away). My father took his ideas/notes written on the back of a napkin to Paul Martin, for the benefit of the whole industry and to advance the limited types of exercise equipment that were available back then. Today, just about every health club in the world has a Smith Machine, and probably the reason why it is still called the Smith Machine is due to my father never collecting any royalties or license fees on the name. But Jack LaLanne and my father were more interested in improving the state of exercise equipment in health clubs and in “making lives better.”
Making Lives Better
We continue to follow this tradition, always striving to improve the quality, variety and selection of equipment. In the 50’s when the Smith machine was introduced it was very different compared to dumbbells, barbells and pulleys, as one of the first controlled movement machines with the barbell moving vertically up and down rods. As unusual as the Smith machine was when it first came out, the Hoist Roc-it selectorized machines in our clubs today are very unusual in that they rock back and forth and the movement feels so good. There is, of course, an abundant selection of the best Smith Machines, both angled and straight.
We will always attempt to stay at the fore- front with both strength and cardio equipment, such as the new Octane Zero Runner with its zero impact, and the Freemotion Incline Trainer with its incline going all the way up to 30 degrees. It’s the evolution of the standard treadmill, with new machines that are so advanced we have added tutorial videos on our website to help you with the learning curve. Let’s face it, standard gets boring over time, and “making lives better” gets down to having fun and being in a “happy place” where it’s an enjoyable experience. That’s why the selection of equipment is so important to our culture as a company. We have tried to do the same thing with our entertainment options, especially in the cardio area, where fun is not always associated with long duration cardio or High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). Las Vegas is also known as the entertainment capital of the world, and our clubs should have the same type of spectacle, so that a lack of stimulation and monotony doesn’t set in while you are exercising.
We also have taken the same approach of always striving to improve our group fitness offering with cutting edge programming. There are countless examples of members starting their fitness journey in group fitness classes, and so we will always add new group formats as times and interests change. HIIT is now becoming more and more popular in the cardio areas and group fitness, especially with millennials and Gen Z. We have to always adapt and be able to change with the current trends, and make sure that we stay multi-generational. Even in the HIIT style group fitness classes there is a lot of ancillary equipment to enhance the experience.
Our strength, cardio and ancillary equipment, along with group fitness programming are at the core of our culture of “making lives better” and promoting a healthy lifestyle. LVAC is very member focused, and therefore equipment and experience centric, and this leads our clubs into the future and is the foundation of our culture.
Going along with the LVAC culture of making lives better is our saying that we like to display on our digital billboards next to the clubs; look better, feel better, do better.
A special thanks to our entire Team for their commitment to following the path of our founding fathers.
Yours in health, fitness, and making lives better!
Todd O. Smith
CEO/Chief Experience Officer/Chief Exercise Officer/Chief Equipment Officer