By Jon Ingram
This is going to sound crazy coming from a gym owner, but I’m about as anti-gym as it gets.
Something has gone very wrong with modern day gym culture the way that fitness is marketed to the public. Despite better awareness of the importance of being fit, the free and easy availability of fitness facilities (there is a gym on virtually every street corner in Geneva) and advances in science and technology, the world is facing an ever increasing problem in obesity.
I don’t think that Switzerland has as big a problem as some other big industrialised nations such as the USA, United Kingdom and Germany, but my own experience is that people are becoming less and less fit.
I see lots of people come into my fitness facility who regularly do some kind of traditional fitness activity like jogging, aerobics or a 30 minute circuit of weight machines at the local gym. Despite this, the majority have the mobility of a cement block and are about as strong as my 15 month old daughter. They are, by any objective measure, very unfit.
Personally, I put the blame squarely at the feet of the commercial gyms which are on the front lines of educating the general public about fitness.
Gyms should be service providers that take care of their customers’ needs
Gyms are business and as such should make money. However, they should also be service providers that take care of their customers’ needs. Unfortunately they have gone down the route of purely profit making enterprises that care little for the goals and desires of their members. In fact, their ideal client is one that pays for a year’s membership in advance and never actually turns up!
Most commercial gyms simply rent equipment to their customers. Beyond this there is no relationship, unless of course you forget to pay your dues. If that happens you can be sure you will hear from somebody! Despite making huge promises like buying a membership will give you the body you always wanted, there is no desire on their part for this to happen.
How many people do you know who have had this type of experience at a gym?
Customer: “My membership runs out in 6 months and I know that if I want to cancel I have to do it by tomorrow, otherwise it will automatically extend for another year (what is the deal with that by the way? 6 months in advance? Is that really necessary??). Here is my letter of resignation.”
Gym: “That is correct, but you have to send your cancellation notice by registered letter to our head office.”
Customer: “Ok, but I’m right here and I’m giving it to you now. Can you just pass it on?”
Gym: “No, our policy is that a letter must be sent by registered post.”
Customer: “But it is Saturday afternoon now. I can only send it on Monday, which is past the deadline. Can you please just take it for me?”
Customer: “So now I have to pay for another year, even though I have no desire to come back?”
Gym: “That is correct, yes.”
Fade out to the thwack thwack sound of the customer repeatedly banging his head against the reception desk.
It’s one thing to tie people into long term contracts, but gyms also do a horrific job of educating their members on how to achieve results. Everyone gets the same program of 3 sets of 10 on the machines followed by 20 minutes of cardio. Folks, this program did not work in 1970 when strength machines were first marketed to the public, it sure as hell is not going to work now.
You should look forward to going to the gym
I firmly believe that going to the gym should be a community-based experience, a place where “everybody knows your name”. A place where people work hard, support and encourage each other, compete where appropriate, compare notes, get results and have a good time in the process. You should look forward to going to the gym, not dread the prospect of 30 minutes of tedium on the treadmill (provided you can even find one free) surrounded by people just a little bit too in love with themselves.
I also believe that it is entirely unnecessary to join a gym if you want to get in shape.
So what’s a fellow to do? Self educate is a great option. The internet is a fantastic place to learn about proper fitness and how to achieve it and there are plenty of excellent resources out there.
Get out of the gym cycle entirely by going to a bootcamp or hiring a personal trainer for a few sessions. There are plenty of great trainers around, they are not hard to find. Do they have a web site, a track record of testimonials and success, a passion for fitness and education? A trainer with those qualities can change your entire approach to fitness all for the price of a few sessions.
You don’t need expensive equipment like treadmills or leg press machines. All you need is some enthusiasm or a willingness to learn. There is a whole world of options out there away from the traditional gym so get out there and see what you can find!
Jon Ingram owns a small fitness facility in Geneva, CrossFit GVA.