A recent survey from the Physical Activity Council revealed that one in four Americans didn't exercise at ALL last year. Not once, in an entire year! 28% of our population did not engage in what their bodies were DESIGNED for for 365 days straight. Let that sink in for a minute.
Gyms have always been weird to me, even as a gym owner. The thought of creating a space where we have to go and perform motions which imitate the work our bodies were designed to do on the daily simply because our daily lives have been reduced to sitting behind desks is a little existentially mind blowing for me, to be honest.
But, the fact is, this is where we are. So how do we solve this, before that 28% of our population grows to 30%, 40%, 50%?! And keep in mind the 28% covers individuals who didn't exercise one time. Imagine how many only went to the gym once or twice last year, only to leave feeling defeated.
A lot of news articles I've seen covering these statistics so far are just recycling the same "advice" to the general population. Get a gym membership. Make a commitment. Go workout. They fail to recognize some real hard truths that exist which keep that 28% from doing so:
"Allender, Cowburn, & Foster (2005) is a review of over 1200 of those qualitative studies between 1994 and 2004. And according to their review, the common barriers to exercise for adults that come up are:
Gyms are generally designed for those who are already fit to come to to "stay fit". For people who enjoy "working out".
If our mission as gym owners was to really reach that 28% of our population, then peering inside of any gym would reveal individuals of ALL body types, from ALL walks of life engaging in joyful physical activity. Newcomers would be celebrated, not judged (and we can all tell when this is authentic and when it's not).
Look inside your typical gym, are only (what the general public perceives to be) fit people working out?
In order for us to reach, touch and engage the 28% of Americans who did not move their body with effort at ALL last year, we need to provide them with a space and a community where they feel welcome to do so.
I'm calling on gym owners everywhere to take a look around their space and turn a magnifying glass on their own businesses.
Is your gym accessible?
What does it look like from the outside? What does it look like inside? Do you understand the difference between "intimidating" and "challenging"?
Is your gym approachable?
Is your staff trained to truly welcome someone who has never worked out a day in their lives? Is your community judgement free?
Do you use the word "xtreme" or do you use shirtless fitness models with unattainable bodies in your marketing? If you're trying to reach the 28%, these things certainly will NOT bring them into your gym in the emotional spirits it takes to spark true change.
Is your program fun?
Because fun is a huge motivator. Some would argue the most important. If you don't care about making your programs fun, then you're absolutely continuing to cater to the "already fit" crowd. And don't worry about losing them, they're a good crowd- and they appreciate a little fun, too. Smiles make your gym more accessible and approachable as well.
Is your gym a community?
Do you set the expectation that ALL will be welcomed? Is high fiving one-another throughout a workout autonomous? Does conversation immediately spark when a new member is introduced?
There is huge value in ensuring that our members feel like they're "in it together". They celebrate each other's successes, they pick each other up when down. They get results because they feel welcome and awesome. And they WANT to come back again and again.
Does your gym operate within scope of practice?
Do you refrain from offering unsolicited nutrition advice (and selling your clients nutritional products and programs)? This is a hard one for a lot of trainers, but we need to get real and recognize that not everyone comes to your gym to lose weight.
Over and above that, many of us are simply *not* qualified to dish out this type of advice:
a. because a lot of us aren't up to speed on true evidence-based nutrition research
b. because a lot of us lack the emotional and psychological resources needed to guide someone through such a lifestyle change. Do we understand personal histories of disordered eating and their potential triggers?
c. it is a challenge to understand the socioeconomic, cultural, familial, emotional, psychological and dietary reasons why one might be eating the way they do.
Do you refrain from trying to fix injuries without referring out to an MD or physical (physio) therapist?
Do you recognize when someone needs a mental health professional? Do you keep a list of professionals you can refer your clients out to when their needs exceed your scope of practice?
Is your gym focused on full health?
Mental, physical and emotional health should be equally weighted when it comes to "getting in shape". Does your staff understand the implications of their words and actions? Do they realize that "harshness" and intimidation is oftentimes counter productive to mental and emotional health? Respect the fact that anyone can get in physical shape by driving themselves mad, which doesn't do anyone any good.
Is your gym body positive?
Do you celebrate what people can DO over and above what they look like? Do you acknowledge and preach that "fitness does not have a look"?
These are the seven keys to creating an environment which WILL attract, engage and transform the other 28%.
If you build it, they will come.
"How can you be so sure?".
Well, I built it, and they came, and every single day individuals from all over the globe ask me how to get a gym like mine in their community because they would workout at Surf City Fit Club in a heartbeat. If they can tell the differences in my gym based on what they observe about us from across the globe on social media alone, imagine how your different gym will shine in your very own community.
It's time for a change, will you be it?
PS. There is a place on facebook for us body positive fitness professionals to connect with one another. See you there!