The fitness industry is failing. Rising obesity rates and the scary prevalence of relapse into inactivity is proof enough. What we're doing isn't working and change needs to happen. Here's how..
45% of Americans usually make New Years Resolutions with weight loss being the most prominent goal.
92% of those people fail. (Reference)
The fitness industry is one of the most profitable, powerful, and persuasive industries in the World and, while there is some headway being made, it’s failing.
A recent episode of the Planet Money Podcast on NPR finally made the public aware that many commercial gyms’ business models are centered around members not showing up.
Unsubstantiated claims based on cherry picked research has become the norm for savvy marketers paying large sums of money on ads in an attempt to target insecure men and women. I actually know somebody who sells an online fitness program based on psuedo-science that promises a six-pack in weeks that buys ads on the popular free dating site Plenty of Fish. He targets single males aged 25-40 who describe themselves as having “a few extra pounds” and get responses to less than 1 in 10 of their messages.
On any given day, at least 3 of the books in the top 10 on Amazon have to do with the latest buzz diet or celebrity endorsed fitness or nutrition book. Most people need to stick to one adequate program and be consistent. Promising them the next best thing is impairing their success.
I can go on but I won’t because this is not a rant. This article is about why the fitness industry is failing and what needs to be done to create wide scale change.
People Are Smart
Availability of fitness information is not the issue. At any point somebody can walk into a magazine store and, for less then $10, pick up a glossy issue of a fitness mag and get multiple workouts that, if followed, will yield good results. That same person can then turn on YouTube on their phone while they train and get expert instruction on form for whatever exercise they want.
Nutrition isn’t difficult for most people and diet plans rarely work because there’s lackluster adherence. A person that drinks wine every night knows it’s not good for their health. Your client who binges on crispy chips, creamy cupcakes, or crunchy chocolate knows that it’s curtailing their weight loss plans.
Here’s the basics–I believe that the guidelines below, while superficial, are stage one for almost every person. Ignore the debates over nutritional dogma like paleo, intermittant fasting, keto-diets, or anything else until you can adhere to the following points:
- Tons of vegetables all throughout the day.
- Lots of protein.
- Starchy carbs surrounding workouts.
- A good amount of healthy fats (control portions if weight loss is the goal).
- If over 35, include adequate fibre.
- Try to eat food grown or raised as close to you as possible.
Instead of confusing people over whether the real and metaphorical egg is good, or bad, or just the white is good, or it’s the best food on the planet–let’s keep it simple.
Eliciting wide scale change must start with simplifying and proper coaching, which I’ll get to in a minute.
A Note on the Elitist Gym Environment
Gyms should be a place where everybody feels comfortable. A sanctity of sorts built for self-improvement from within. So when I hear the phrase, “I need to work myself up to the gym” it knots my stomach.
The fitness industry is becoming increasingly elitist and the advent of social media has made it worse. Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram have all developed into a source of mental masturbation for fitness pros.
People don’t share an accurate representation of their entire lives online, they selectively self-represent. We want to show others that we’re intelligent, attractive, intellectual, funny, and interesting-and sharing pictures of sweaty bodies with sloppily photoshopped motivational phrases is a way of boasting, not motivating. Did you know that people who rank lower on a scale of emotional stability share more often on Facebook? It’s a form of therapy.
Have you ever tried something brand new, something you’ve always wanted to do but never had the chance, or, worse yet, something you tried, failed, quit, and now want to try again?
I was working out with a pilot friend years back and became frustrated when he didn’t understand what I considered to be a simple fitness concept. His reply was “what’s the takeoff speed for a Boeing 747?” I’d been in a gym since I was 15, had 4 years of University studying Kinesiology, and 1-2hrs of reading a night for 6 years–what was second nature to me was new to him and vice-versa.
It takes guts for people to step foot into our gyms, especially those with previous failures (like the 92% above). Be an ambassador and always think deeper as to the affect your actions are having.
The fitness industry is at the forefront of preventative care and is the only way to offset immeasurable health care costs and the scary rise to obesity. We must make it a comfortable place for everybody.
The 3 Things That the Fitness Industry Really Needs to be Providing
Currently most fitness information is being presented the same way. I believe that this is why it’s failing and presents endless opportunity. For a small percentage of the population what we’re doing works but it’s missing the point for most.
Selling a workout or nutrition plan is easy. Finding a research study to back it up while excluding all those that don’t support your theory is easy. And taking advantage of emotion and hitting on insecurities like the dude who considers himself to have “a few extra pounds” on a free dating website is easy. But who are we helping?
In fitness, our job is to motivate and empower people to adhere to a program. The program itself is secondary. Getting unmotivated or pessimistic people to believe they can achieve, radically shift their lives, and work their butts off for months before getting anywhere close to the body they want is hard–but that’s what we’re dealing with, and in order to do it you must consider the 3 points below:
The problem isn’t that people don’t have enough information. Quite the opposite; it’s that they have too much. This is not bad for business, it’s good. With so little regulation leading to conflicting theories and everybody claiming that they have the answer it’s impossible for the public to know what to do.
We’re in an age of over-information and it’s going to continue to get worse. As a result, more people will be hiring fitness professionals not to educate them on something new, but to save them time and headache by cutting through the noise and telling them what they really need to know.
As a trainer, this is an important distinction. Your role is changing from information provider to information make-senser. The best answer might be to detail all the available diets and programs and allow your client to make an educated decision. The reality is that most clients will be putting their faith in you to choose what’s best and don’t want to make that decision themselves.
Offer direction by educating yourself from an unbiased view on all of the available options for programing and nutrition. When training a client, don’t confuse them with all of the options. Make the best choice and present it to them confidently. Then follow through on your plan avoiding the urge to “hop” to another program.
During my tenure as a trainer I only trained one-on-one (with the exception of a bootcamp for one summer). My views have shifted and I
now believe that most people would benefit more from small group training than one-on-one. The support systems are different and very few people need somebody breathing down their neck for a full hour multiple times a week–it also breeds dependance.
CrossFit exemplifies the power of a group setting in the fitness industry. By writing the workout publicly on a board, getting everybody to openly track their results, and fostering an environment of support (i.e. the nobody gets left behind mentality) they have created communities within their training centers where everybody grows together. One trainer only has so much energy and can lend a limited amount of support over the course of the day.
In addition, creating groups both offline in group training and with your online personal training business for the clientele of your gym allows you to offer support without spending every waking second on email. Tell your clients that they can ask questions, post pictures, and write their thoughts in the Facebook group whenever they like. Encourage them to help and support each other. Then, once a week, hold office hours where, for two hours, they can call or have a text conversation with you asking questions–this way they can bring up more personal issues that they might not want to post in a group.
Offer support by leveraging the power of a group. Develop systems to create a community where you’re not the only one offering advice.
The group setting discussed above will also go a long way in holding people accountable. Giving them the option of posting their workouts and results will increase adherence. When considering accountability, it’s important to discuss personal values, what they are and how to use them to motivate.
According to Dr. Rollo May, “An individual’s values and his anxiety, […] are conditioned by the fact that he lives in a given culture at a particular moment in the historical development of that culture.” He continues on to discuss how a man’s values are interpreted in relation to other people and their expectations. One of the most notable changes in the present century is the desire by most not to achieve competitive success, but to stay somewhere in the upper middle.
The reason I briefly discussed values in the accountability section is that you need to have a firm grasp on what your client strongly values before you decide what to hold them accountable to.
Offer accountability by first figuring out what the person values and providing them with the support mechanisms specific to what’s important for them.
The Fitness Industry is Failing but You Can Fix It
What we’re doing is not working. The high relapse into inactivity, rising obesity rates, prevalence of misguided and contradictory information are proof. Exploring and experimenting on yourself is fine but when it comes to your clients understand that the workout is often secondary to your ability to get them to adhere to a program.
What to Do Next?
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Photo credit: Silva Fitness Training (featured), Polyvore, NBC News, Crossfit Hoboken
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