From washboard abs to a gym’s sex culture, you’re turning off a lot of people and missing a huge market if you keep pitching the same thing over and over.
Editor’s Note: The following is an open letter by Michael Keeler that was originally posted on businessforunicorns.com. It was written from his perspective that we as a whole industry seem to have forgotten about whom we are truly serving: themselves or people who need our help? Let this be a powerful reminder to you, as a personal trainer and shaker in this industry, to never forget why you are doing what you are doing in the first place.
Dear Fitness Industry,
Am I invisible?
Every day I see your ads online, on TV, and on the street, but none of them seems to be for me. I can see you, but can you see me? I know you are a big industry with a lot of opportunities to make money, but I think you are missing out on a huge market — people like me.
To be fair, I work in the fitness business, and I know all the reasons the industry functions like it does. It’s an industry full of truly amazing personal trainers and nutrition professionals who get up every day, motivated to change the lives of their clients. It’s also an industry (like most) where the largest fitness companies are often driven more by profit than by people. They design marketing and sales campaigns based more on what sells than what actually helps people.
And here’s the thing, I get it.
As a business owner, I understand the need for a business to actually make money. The industry is full of good people who are put in the tough position of balancing the need to give clients what they want (what will sell) with the need to give clients what they need (what will get results).
So, let’s start with that understanding. I don’t think you are evil, dear Fitness Industry. In fact, I think your work is vital and important, and mostly being done by incredible humans trying to make a difference in the lives of their clients. However, when I put aside my knowledge of the industry and experience running a fitness business, my personal relationship with you feels very different.
Personally, I feel like most of you don’t see me or speak to my needs at all. And if I’m being honest, it kind of hurts. As a gay man in my late 30s who was never an athlete (I chose ballet slippers over soccer cleats), I’m not sure where I fit in. Big box gyms just bore me. CrossFit-type stuff just feels way too hardcore. I’m too old to be enticed by all the trendy sh*t, but adventurous enough to want more than a series of staid personal training sessions. Sure, I’ve found some places that work for me, but why is it so hard? Why–in such a huge industry–are there so few fitness companies speaking to people like me?
What did I do to deserve to be cast to the sidelines?
Let me tell you a little about what things look like from my perspective.
I see a ton of fitness companies that want to help me achieve elite levels of fitness and performance. But what the f*ck do I need that for? I’m not an athlete. I don’t need to jump really high or run a six-minute mile. In fact, I kind of hate sports. They remind me of all the jocks who were jerks to me in high school because I was a theater geek. I’m old enough now to have gotten over that (mostly), but still, the fitness companies that only talk about sports and performance tell me instantly that I do not belong. That is not my tribe.
I see a ton of fitness companies that want to help me get a six-pack. Apparently having a six pack is the Holy Grail of human aesthetics. Who decided that? I honestly don’t give a crap about having washboard abs. I’ve just never wanted to look like that. Thin, yes. But ripped? No.
Let’s just say for a second that I did want a six-pack. I’ve been in this industry enough to know that, for my body type, the kind of lifestyle I’d have to live to obtain and maintain visible abdominal muscles is not appealing to me in the slightest. Whenever I see fitness professionals promising crazy ripped abs, it tells me instantly that they don’t understand what’s important to me. That is not my tribe.
I see a ton of fitness companies who seem obsessed with wanting to teach me about their unique approach to fitness. They want to explain to me (in excruciating detail) why they do the type of exercises they do or all the science-y minutia about how they designed my particular workout. I hear phrases like “high-intensity interval training”, “muscle confusion”, “intermittent fasting”, and all these other fancy fitness jargon.
On one hand, that’s amazing. I want my fitness professionals to be well-educated and up-to-date on all the latest tools and techniques. But on the other hand, I’m sorry, I don’t give a crap about learning all of that. Teach me what I need to know to get results and nothing more. If I wanted an education in exercise science or nutrition, I’d go back to college or read a few dozen books.
I’m also not interested in the latest bullsh*t fad or trend. I’m smart enough to know that most of industry agrees on 80 percent of the exercise strategies that are proven to get results, so save your cleverly branded, focus-grouped, split-tested fitness strategies for someone else. Give me the meat and potatoes workout please.
Ultimately, when a fitness company seems obsessed with cramming fitness and nutrition knowledge down my throat, it tells me that they are more interested in educating me than listening to me. That’s not my tribe.
I see plenty of fitness companies that appear to care more about getting me laid than getting me results. When I see ads for these places, I literally laugh out loud. You know who you are. Your marketing always features barely-clothed fitness models who are ridiculously tanned, glistening, and posed in a way that says “you know you wanna f*ck me, so what are you waiting for?”
I like sex as much as the next person, but why does my gym have to be a thinly veiled hook-up club? Shockingly, I’m not looking for my next one-night-stand at my gym. There’s nothing wrong with that, but at this point in my life I’m just not. In fact, the vibe created by all that cruising and posturing makes me feel like I’m on display—like I’m a slab of beef hanging in some meat market. Again, that environment is probably preferred by some folks, but not me. That’s not my tribe.
So, Fitness Industry, that’s where I’m at.
I’m like most Americans: overweight, overstressed, and under-inspired by the fitness industry.
Geez, that sounds pretty grim. Sorry, I don’t mean to be a Negative Nancy. But that’s what it feels like from my perspective, and I know I’m not alone.
Here’s the thing, Fitness Industry. I want to help you. I want to help you help people like me. So listen up.
I don’t care about elite performance, but I do care tremendously about living long enough to know my grandchildren. I care deeply about having a solid quality of life and aging gracefully. I want my later years of life to be filled with beautiful memories of close friends and family and not full of doctor visits, endless bottles of pills, and long hospital stays. I want to take long walks on the beach when I’m 80, holding hands with my husband without being afraid of falling down. I want a tribe who cares about that.
I don’t care about having six-pack abs, but I want to feel comfortable in my clothes. When I go shopping for new pants, I don’t want to worry if each store will actually carry sizes big enough to fit me. When I sit down, I don’t want my belly to hang over my belt and leave a red mark that stares at me when I stand naked in front of the mirror at the end of a day. I want to know that if I happen to be running somewhere without my shirt on people aren’t going to be disgusted by seeing all my fat jiggling. When I fly on a plane, I don’t want to be that big, fat guy that takes up too much room. I want a tribe who understands that.
I don’t care about bullsh*t fads or super science-y fitness jargon, but I do like learning new things. When I’m introduced to a new exercise, it feels great when I can learn it quickly and have some success on the first few tries. So skip the super advanced stuff you just learned last weekend and feel free to never teach me anything that requires more than a three-step learning process. Let me learn by doing, rather than talking me through every painful detail of proper biomechanics. I promise I’ll get better at it–just let me get started. I want a tribe who teaches and learns like that.
I don’t care about getting laid and working out with super hot fitness models, but I do value being part of a community. I have a strong desire to feel supported and feel like I belong.
Instead of creating an environment where I’m judged by how I look, create space where I can feel included and celebrated for my efforts. Cheer me on when I show up and nudge me to come back if I don’t.
I want a space where I can fail and someone will be there to help me try again, and remind me that failure is a part of this process. I want to be surrounded by fitness professionals who demonstrate empathy and lead by their own example of caring and kindness. I want a tribe who makes me feel like I belong.
Fitness Industry, is that too much to ask?
I don’t want to sound greedy, but those things feel like reasonable requests. I know I might not get everything I want, and I’m okay with that. I know neither of us has all the answers, and I’m also okay with that. I know that you are a big, diverse industry that couldn’t possibly change overnight, and still I’m okay with that.
But really, all I’m asking is to please see me. Please don’t forget about me. I need your help, too.
Thanks for listening,
This blog post originally appeared on businessforunicorns.com. It has been reposted here on The PTDC with permission.
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