Fin.

After nearly eight years in the fitness industry, I had my last day on Wednesday. I’d been itching to leave for a while now, not sure where to turn next– did I want to continue on the health path or return to my roots in writing and editing? In the end, I realized that there are only so many hours in the day, and pursuing more school and a new career would take away from time spent writing, particularly after getting married and starting a family. So: goodbye fitness.

(Which, for the record, is why I failed to post last week– the fast turn around of accepting a new job and leaving my old one meant lots of time on the phone with clients and none in front of WordPress).

I don’t know what changed in me over the years, exactly. I could say I stopped caring about fitness, but I don’t think that’s entirely true. More precisely, I think I realized I don’t care about fitness to the degree, or in the same manner, that other fitness professionals do. 

Fitpros will often say, “It’s not a lack of time, it’s a lack of priorities,” when people don’t put fitness first, but I find that line of logic problematic. Okay, yes, you need to remain active to live longer, but humans lived thousands of years without gyms or personal trainers. While I think it’s totally valid for a person to work with a trainer because they know they won’t be active otherwise– we aren’t hunter and gatherers anymore, or even farmfolk– I think it’s disingenuous for the fitness industry to push individuals towards gym-centric fitness only.  

Except gyms are businesses, and to stay open, they need to make money. And to make money, you have to sell. And to sell, you have to convince your customer that your product is better than the competitor’s. The competitor, then, is not just the club down the street, but also the adult ballet classes, the local roller derby league, the park, the sidewalk, etc. Every gym I’ve seen pays its trainers entirely by commission, so for trainers to pay their bills, they have to convince their clients that working with a trainer IS THE BEST POSSIBLE way to workout. 

Yes, in some cases, it definitely is. Heck, even if it’s not the best, it’s a good one. At the same time, I don’t think you can say that working with a trainer is the best possible option, bar none, if you honestly want to improve the overall fitness level within a community.  To improve health and wellness on a larger scale, you have to acknowledge that there are people who don’t have the money to pay for a gym membership, or don’t feel comfortable in the gym, or don’t enjoy the gym, or just have things they want to do more than the gym. These comments, of course, usually spurn the “priorities” comment, but guess what, folks? People have different priorities, whether it’s because they want to or have to. It’s hard to convince people of making change if you’re not willing to at least somewhat acknowledge and respect their priorities.

In a gym setting, I think that means being willing to acknowledge that personal training is not always the best option for someone’s life. They may need to take more walks during the day, or join a class with their best friend, or learn a basic routine that they can do on their own.  I think it also means acknowledging that some people will need to find ways to improve their health without stepping into a gym– maybe they’ll go for a bike ride with their kids or take a yoga class at work. Something is better than nothing.  A routine that a person isn’t going to be able to maintain long term isn’t going to affect their health long term. Fitpros have to acknowledge a person’s priorities to help them find a routine that they can continue.

Thus, I think personal training and it’s commission-based nature actually ends up working against helping people get healthier a lot of the time, because fitpros have to encourage one specific path to wellness because that path is what’s best for the fitpro. (And I don’t mean this in a personal-trainers-are-trying-to-get-rich-off-their-clients kind of way. I mean it in a personal-trainers-are-trying-to-have-enough-money-for-more-than-bread-and-peanut-butter-meals kind of way.) Frequently, we tell clients that you can’t help others until you’ve helped yourself– making yourself healthier will allow you to have more energy for the other aspects of your life.  The same holds true for personal trainers, though; how can a fitpro really help others if they’re wondering if they have enough time and money to take care of themselves? I will say LadyGym made it easier to live comfortably without pushing training on every person you met, but I still doubt a commission-based structure is really best for developing a staff meant to improve the health of gym-goers. Of course, I don’t understand the financial of business ownership to discuss other methods of compensation that would better serve the customer (and employee) while keeping the company afloat.

I suppose, really, the point of my post comes down to this: the fitness industry seems to have mixed priorities that I can’t abide by any longer. Or, perhaps, after watching a corporate gym in a “growth” stage I wonder how much gyms can really do beyond what they’re currently doing. Yes, many people are being helped (although they are because they have the means to pay for that help). At the same time, it’s felt like the thing that made me want to work in fitness– helping others get healthier and become more comfortable with the gym– isn’t really the top priority for most gyms.

3 thoughts on “Fin.

  1. Thank you for sharing, Kat. I admire your principled thinking and priority of helping others over promoting yourself. I’m excited for your new direction and looking forward to seeing where it takes you. 🙂

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    • Thanks, Lois. I mean, honestly, it’s partly not feeling it’s right for the client, but also it seems like manufactured stress for the trainer– not only are you concerned with doing the training itself well, you also have to worry whether you’re selling enough. I’d like to say the shift is entirely altruistic, but I just don’t think gyms’ sales culture are a winning situation for anyone involved.

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  2. I can just imagine your situation, which must be a big pain to deal with. Everything feels like a “sell” and only marginally in the interest of the audience.

    I hate to say it, but this seems to be a growing thing in many fields. Take publishing. It used to be that writers just wrote books and then left the promotion to publishers. Now, publishers expect writers to be perpetual salespeople and want them to twitter, blog, travel, shmooze and maintain a website. The blogs they write may be helpful, but everything competes with the actual writing of books. Unless you’re very convinced that what you write about will ultimately be a help to the user, you start being disingenuous and more interested in selling books than communicating the ideas within them.

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