Here is an idea that I have been sitting on for quite a long time, but I finally feel it's time to share it aloud. I have worked out in and worked at commercial gyms my entire training career. Sure I participated in weights for school which was set in the more classical strength and conditioning room with rows and rows of squat racks, but all the while still doing my own training at the local YMCA. I share this because I don't want to seem completely biased.
I have honestly successful both training and working in this setting and if it were not for commercial gyms I wouldn't be where I am today. I recognize that and I appreciate it. But I am a believer in innovation and that is something the current most popular fitness model needs! Innovation!
In all the time I have spent around them and seen how they are operated and how their members function in this setting I have come to two fairly negative conclusions about commercial gyms both as a business model and as a method for helping people become leaner, stronger, healthier people. These two conclusions are my beef, so to speak, with commercial gyms.
1. Lets talk about the commercial gym from a perspective of a business. At the most basic level the commercial gym is a rent to own operation. This means that for a certain fee per month you are allowed to use their equipment thus saving you the expense of trying to outfit your own. In addition to the equipment most commercial gyms offer a number of other amenities to sweeten the deal such as free daycare, towel service, locker rooms, and smoothie bars.
Now this isn't a legitimate figure more of a guestimation, but I would say that the average commercial gym membership across the United States is anywhere from 30 dollars a month to 85 dollars a month. All depending on the location and amenities. Regardless however you can't honestly believe that your monthly membership covers any of the actual cost of you using the facilities and all the extra free amenities because it doesn't.
This is not a problem for commercial gyms because the name of their game is volume, membership sales, and it is the driving force of their business model, especially recurring monthly billing memberships. A commercial gym is always open to new members and the more they have the merrier. So a commercial gym might only have the equipment and space to handle five hundred members at once, but they will sell 4 times that many memberships and continue to sell as long as there are interested parties to sell to. Seems a bit odd to me.
I mean could you imagine if an entire commercial gym's membership showed up on everyday of the week. In the example above this would mean a gym that might only be built to hold 500 people at once would see 2000 people in a single day. I am telling you that would be one hell of a packed gym!
Commercial gyms don't have to worry about this because they know the odds of a member who joins consistently coming on a weekly basis is rather low. You are probably thinking well won't members who stop coming regularly just cancel their membership. That is what you would think, but come to find out many don't.
There are a number of possible reasons for this including maybe people just like being able to say they are members at a gym, maybe it makes people feel less guilty about poor nutrition because they carry a gym fab around on their keys, or maybe they only joined to do so networking and to keep the networks they created they stay apart of the gym. To be honest who really knows, but the fact is most commercial gyms have hundreds of members who pay them recurring monthly payments, but only attend the gym less than 4 times a month.
When you look at this closer it is in the interest of the commercial gym for you to sign up and then not come because this means they get your monthly dues without the expense of your wear and tear on the machines and your use of the amenities.
This is a huge problem to me because if commercial gyms are all about getting people healthy and affecting lives; why then does their business model specifically reward signing members and keeping them out of the gym? It just all is a tad fishy to me.
Even worse is 90% of people who want to make a change and get healthy start with exercise which means joining a gym and for most of these people the only gym's available to them are the big box chains. Furthermore who honestly cares about what amenities a gym offers. You want to look better and feel better right? Is a towel service going to directly help you obtain this goal? No, it doesn't! So who freaking cares if the gym has a towel service!
This is where innovation is needed and where more fitness professionals need to make a move away from big box gyms and toward smaller membership training based gyms.
All of which leads me into my next beef. . .
2. Commercial gyms make a shitty option for people who want to get healthy, become stronger, and change their lives. Sure commercial gyms can be great for the well-educated trainee and well-experienced lifters because they give them access to awesome equipment for cheap pricing. But for those people who are just beginning their health and fitness journey, which is most of the population, they are bad choices (most of the population falls into this category).
The major reason being lack the lack of guidance, support, and accountability they offer. Don't get me wrong most commercial gyms are well staffed and their staff are friendly, but after your initial membership sales meeting and free training sessions (most commercial gyms provide you with a couple free training sessions to interest you in purchasing personal training) you probably won't ever have much more contact with the staff then the couple seconds when you scan your card and say hi as your entering.
Now you may not think this is a big deal, but for people who are just starting out on their journey to a leaner, stronger, healthier person there is a need for continued support when their motivation wanes and a need for accountability to keep them coming on Fridays when they'd rather go home and start their weekend early.
Besides the lack of support and accountability provided at commercial gyms beginners also find no continued guidance on proper nutrition or training. Which are the two very things that a beginner needs to achieve their goals of looking and feeling better. Yes, now that they are member they have access to tons of fancy of equipment, but they have no idea what to do with it or how to structure their training or diet for success.
This is why 9 times out of 10 new members spend 30 minutes walking on a treadmill for 3 to 5 times a week for the first month and then stop returning because they see no difference and feel no difference. It only makes sense anyone can operate a treadmill, but not everyone knows how to perform a proper squat.
Not to mention the fact that they are in a new atmosphere. One in which they feel uncomfortable and out of place in so the last thing they want to do is start trying to use the free weights and equipment because they fear being mocked for their ignorance of how to use it.
It is all really sad and I have seen it happen often to people. People who just want to have more confidence, feel better, and be more comfortable in their own skin. This reason again is why their is a need for innovation. Small membership training based gym's solve these problems as well as online training.
Both of which offer the guidance, accountability, and support necessary for beginners to have success. Sure these options cost a bit more, but when compared to what a commercial gym is going to charge you for a similar service, which would include hiring a trainer along with paying the monthly membership, you actually save hundreds of dollars and get much more satisfying results.
The truth is we need to take a hard look at the fitness industry and how we can do a better job of getting people physically fit, because the current model is not working and the evidence is all around us.
At the end of the day the goal for a fitness professional should be about helping others, changing lives, and making a decent living using the most efficient, effective, and practical methods possible to do so. Which is what drive me daily. I think these methods are online training and/or training based gyms with smaller membership base.
Sure there might always be a need for the commercial gym, rent to own operation for those who believe they know best and just want a place to train. But their is a much bigger population of people who are yearning for change and the support, accountability, and guidance necessary for that change. It is up to the health and fitness professional to provide services that will fulfill the needs of this population because currently it just isn't happening.
I am certain that their are some of you out their who may be in the commercial gym dilemma yourselves. Perhaps you belong to one, but you don't attend regularly because you don't know what to do. Or you do attend regularly, but you have no idea how to train or eat for success and are frustrated with the results. I would like to encourage you to either seek out a smaller training based gym or if none are available apply for my online training so you can get the guidance support and accountability you need for success. Follow the link below to do so.
Practical, Purposeful, Effective Training