The Fitness Industry Is Led by People Out of Shape

     In March, I’ll travel to San Diego to walk the floor of the largest fitness trade show in the US- The International Health and Racquet Sportsclub Association trade show or IHRSA, as its commonly called. Every aspect of running a health club, gym, or studio will have a presence at this event. I look for trends and to see the direction the fitness world is currently moving towards. It was at this show a few years back that I saw a clone of my studio. When I opened J & D Fitness Personal Training 2 ½ years ago, I envisioned a semi-private personal training studio that had a focus on coaching movement, not using machines. I selected the TRX suspension system, kettlebells and the Ultimate Sandbag as my mainstays. It was from my personal experiences as a trainer that I understood the vastness of exercises I could perform with just these 3 tools. If you’ve never visited my gym before we have a rig in the center of the floor with the TRX straps anchored with sandbags and kettlebells stored on either side as bookends. 




A simple but very effective layout. You can imagine my amazement when I saw a reputable company featuring a floor plan similar to mine years after I opened my studio. The point I’m trying to make is that it was my years of experience on various gym floors working with different body types that allowed me to determine what I wanted. Now what if I told you that many of the larger gym chains & organizations are led by people with very little background in fitness. Many have never coached or trained a single person. Most have never administered a goal session with someone. If you asked them how to help someone improve their overall fitness level, they could provide you a topical answer- 3-4 days of resistance training supplemented with cardiovascular training and a healthy diet. That sounds more like a mission statement, not a strategy. In their defense, that is the norm in many businesses. I recently heard a statement that sums it up perfectly- It’s a Myth that industries are led by experts. Dr. Stuart McGill, Gray Cook, and Gary Gray are some of the top minds in fitness, movement, and strength and conditioning. I’m going to guess you have never heard of them before. Jeff Bezos graduated from Princeton University with a degree in electrical engineering and computer science and he currently runs one of the largest retail giants- Amazon. Brian Chesky, one of the co-founders of Airbnb, had no prior experience in hospitality before launching the accommodations leader. Maybe now you can understand why I tell people to ignore most of the programs offered in some of the big box gyms.

     The focus in many of the large big box chains is architecture, hard cost, and liability, not program design. I recently had a conversation with one of my members. He was a bit frustrated that the program he was doing at one of these large gyms was not only incomplete, but actually put him at risk of injury. His question to me was “how could a place that cost over $50 million to build allow something like this to happen.” My answer is that they are in the business of selling memberships, not changing people’s lives. There are many variables that are involved in creating a program for someone. You need to assess them. You need to find out what they want to achieve and determine if their goals are in fact realistic. You also need to design a program that caters to their specific needs. I have a saying that there is no such thing as a “bad” exercise. There are exercises that some people shouldn’t do. 

     I know I’m starting to sound like Mr. Anti-establishment, and truly I’m not. I have friends and contemporaries that are good coaches and work for organizations such as Equinox. Don’t take my rant as “all large gyms are bad”. If I can make one point, it’s that you shouldn’t assume a coach or trainer is qualified because they work at a busy facility. It’s the coach, not the facility that will determine whether you get to where you want to go.

He Makes Sausages, I Demo Lunges, It’s the Same Thing.


     Lately I’ve cut the amount of time I spend on social media to a minimum. I think it has become a platform for people to shout their political perspective and demean others that don’t agree with their viewpoint. I’ve chosen to abstain from making political comments. I do use it as a platform to share my knowledge and information on fitness. It’s enabled me the ability to help others outside of my physical geographical reach. It’s also connected me with friends from my past. Recently, I conversed with an old friend from junior high school, via Facebook. I had to share with him the multiple parallels we’ve both experienced as we’ve carved out our careers by following our passions. My school friend, Bill, currently owns an Italian eatery named Rocky’s of Savannah, in Georgia. He has put pounds on people with his homemade sausages and sauce, and I’ve worked to take pounds off of people pressing kettlebells and lifting ropes. Our journeys have been almost identical.




     My first job, after school, was working at a Bally’s Total Fitness Center. I was 21, and I didn’t have a clue what I wanted to do with myself. I got the job because my workout buddy worked for the company. I got the job by accident. My friend asked me to meet him for lunch at his job. I showed up to see he had set up an impromptu interview with his boss.  He introduced me as his friend who reads fitness magazines and books for fun. I was also competing in bodybuilding contests at the time. Based upon my interest and that I looked the role, I was offered a job. To this day, this friend reminds me that I owe him everything for getting me started in fitness. Bill went to work for McDonalds. He was out of college, and needed a job. He always cooked as a kid and grew up in an Italian family where he was helping with “Sunday dinners” at an early age. I still remember him teasing me, because I called tomato sauce- “sauce”. “Doug, it’s called gravy.” Both of our starts were pretty meager, but it gave both of us a start and taught us that there is a business outside of the craft. We both climbed the ladder and became managers in our jobs respectfully. 


     After 3 years of working for Bally’s I soon went out on my own. This is when I thought I knew it all, and preceded to make every mistake I could make. I never did anything unethical, but I lacked compassion and maturity. It’s these errors in my career that have been the driving force behind me as I mentor others and create an intern program at my studio. Billy worked for a few catering businesses, but got fired from each of them. It wasn’t for work ethic or lack of skill, but he had a hard time listening to management and frequently told them how they should be doing their job. Are you starting to see the similarities?


     The next 15 years would provide a lot of ups and downs for both of us. During that time, Bill and I lost contact with one another. I moved across country to Las Vegas from NY, and Bill relocated to Savannah, Georgia. During this period, I learned and gained competency in assessing others, teaching people how to move well, get stronger and how to drop body-fat. My knowledge grew, but my humility grew more. Bill learned how to master Italian cooking in the heart of the south. He even briefly worked for Paula Deen. Southern cooking isn’t his passion, but he realized that there were valuable lessons he could learn from someone who had navigated a successful career in food. It was around this time we re-connected via Facebook. 


     I opened my training studio 2 ½ years ago, fulfilling a lifelong dream. It demands long hours, a lot of work, and as in many small businesses, you’re only as good as your last month. I couldn’t be happier. I realized a few years back, that my true passion is teaching and sharing with others. I realized that it bothered me to see others frustrated because they didn’t know what to do, or because they needed someone to help keep them accountable. It feeds my soul when I receive text messages from people sharing how I’ve helped change their life. There is an old Chinese proverb that sums up teaching and empowering others.


“If you are planning for a year, sow rice; if you are planning for a decade, plant trees; if you are planning for a lifetime, educate people.”


A few years ago, Bill opened a deli that offers Italian food. You can dine in or take out. His place is small, and he has a small staff. He loves sharing his passion with his team and leads by example. He jokes that when they are jarring his sauce, he’s right up to his elbows in crushed tomatoes, elbow to elbow, with his team. I guess we both are pretty lucky.

J & D Fitness
4180 South Fort Apache Rd,
Las Vegas, NV 89147