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.