At my old gym, I knew everyone by his or her first name. I was the go-to trainer and had a relationship with most of the regulars.
Recently, I moved to a new town to start Physical Therapy school. Sadly, I had to leave my old, familiar gym and search for a new gym that had squat racks and bumper plates. Being the new guy again was a rude awakening to what it’s like for new gym-goers.
On my first day at “New Gym,” I met Aaron, one of the trainers. He recognized that I was new and introduced himself with a sincere smile and a confident handshake. We talked for a bit about training and Prowler pushes. He told me to let him know if I needed anything. It was exactly what I would have done if a new person had come in to my old gym, and I immediately felt like “New Gym” was the place for me.
I watched Aaron closely over the next few months. He was the flagship of the gym. He knew everyone. He embodied the gym’s culture. He was the man.
This got me thinking: Can one person really change an entire gym’s culture? My conclusion was, “Yes.”
An individual can have an immense impact upon a gym, as is true for any organization. Switch, a great book by Chip and Dan Heath, provides solid examples of this concept.
The first example in Switch, of an individual who enacted substantial change is Donald Berwick. He was the CEO of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement. He reformed a hospital’s policies and procedures in a way that literally saved the lives of over 100,000 patients.
We can also look at Jerry Sternin, who worked for an organization called Save the Children. He single-handedly reduced the malnutrition problem in Vietnam. Sternin was able to educate and mobilize the mothers of the Vietnamese villages to change the way they cooked and fed their children.
Then there was Randy Perry, a high school business teacher in the near-deserted Miner County, in Iowa. He motivated a group of high schoolers to believe they could change the fate of Miner County. The impact rippled throughout town and it now stands as a thriving business center.
One person can make a vast difference for good. But, if you set out to be that agent of HUGE change, it can seem overwhelming. The key is to break the change down in to small, actionable steps.
5 Easy Tip to Change the Gym Culture at Your Gym
1. Know everyone’s name. Just like Dale Carnegie says in How to Win Friends and Influence People, “a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” Aaron knows that name of each and every person that frequents the “New Gym” floor. He greets them by name and with a smile whenever he sees them.
Remembering and using a person’s name is the easiest way to make a person feel important. Gym-goers were always pleasantly surprised when I would use their name before asking them a question. In our culture, people’s names often go unremembered, but you can capitalize on this and stand out by remembering the name of every person in your gym with whom you have contact.
Keep a list””somewhere private so you don’t seem creepy””with people’s name that you meet and a simple way to remember them. I like to use Google Drive. Try to use the name of every new person you meet a few times in your first conversation with them, so their name sticks.
Note from Jon: I took this to the extreme. When a member would come into the gym I’d run to my computer before greeting them. I also had a spreadsheet to remember important details. The entire system and my template can be downloaded here: Tracking Personal Training Clients.
2. Be yourself. A recent British study showed that merely seeing someone smile creates the same level of brain stimulation as eating 2000 chocolate bars or receiving $16,000 in cash. Don’t be afraid to be ridiculous and make a fool of yourself. Get people smiling, laughing, and having a good time in the gym. Not only will this make your gym a place people will want to be, but it will also make you the go-to trainer.
3. Invest in people’s success. Between his sets or while he’s not with clients, Aaron is always encouraging people to push through tough lifts. He knows what people in the gym are working toward and gets excited when they break PRs or hit goals. Ask people what their goals are when you meet them. Find out what motivates them. Write it down in your Google Drive and ask them about it every month.
4. Act the part. Don’t be the trainer that doesn’t lift. People value authenticity. One of the best ways to show you understand the benefits of exercise is to exercise in your gym. Not only will you working out benefit the gym culture and business, but it can spark the creative fire you need to write copious amounts of workout plans with variety.
Some trainers hate to be bothered by people when they work out, but that’s the nature of being a personal trainer in a gym. You have to be willing to be sociable even at the expense of your workout intensity. Work out during the busiest time of day, smile, be courteous, and work your ass off. One person who is passionate about fitness and who is sweating through their t-shirt can really change the culture of a gym.
5. Be Coachable. Giving corrective advice is difficult. Humans are naturally resistant to change, and especially when others suggest it. It strikes the deep chord of pride in our hearts and makes us twinge.
Be eager to learn something from everyone you meet. Obviously, you need to filter information through your sieve of fitness know-how. But the principle of keeping an open mind is paramount to growth and maturity. If you’re open to new ideas, people will feel like their voice is being heard. This will create an atmosphere in your gym that will keep people coming back.
In a sensational article by influence expert SharÃ Alexander for thePTDC, she shows you how to ask members for help help as a rapport-building tool when learning how to approach clients on the floor.
Being a culture-changer is tough. It may seem intimidating to change an entire gym’s culture, especially a large one. The secret is to start small. Focus on one thing you can change and go after that tenaciously. I don’t know what it takes to change the culture at your specific gym. It depends on the culture you’re looking to create and where you’re starting from.
Take some time to ponder what you would like the gym to look like. Figure how you can embody that change and do it. Make your “New Gym” THE gym for the New Guy.