Defy Stereotypes and Expectations

One last thought about defying stereotypes. When it comes to fitness facilities, stereotypes are everywhere. From the grunting supplement-popping guy in the weight room to the spandex-covered perky woman on the stair climber to the triathlete who comes in your club twice a day and never runs under an 8.0-mph pace on the treadmill, health clubs provide good fodder for those who don't want to exercise. Members like those just mentioned (we all have them; in fact, at most facilities, they make up the base membership and are often the most loyal members) intimidate the “normal” people of the world, hampering many people's best intentions of losing weight and getting fit.

Many fitness facilities are aggressively trying to change the stereotype that exercise and health clubs are only for the already fit by marketing with advertisements that feature average looking people and verbiage that is welcoming to all for reasons of health rather than physical beauty or sports performance. Some fitness-related centers are successfully defying stereotypes.

Time to brag: I teach group exercise at one of them.

Time to be honest: It threw me for a loop.

I currently teach a core training class at a facility that is one-third fitness, one-third yoga, one-third massage therapy. The space isn't very big, but it's calming. The lights are low, soft music plays, a vertical water fountain gurgles. The place exudes serenity. As someone with experience teaching group ex in very high-energy studios with loud music and bright lights, I appreciated the tranquility…but had absolutely no idea how to teach in the environment. The classes I had taught at other clubs were lively and energetic, beneficial to the spirit but rarely described as peaceful.

The facility's owner gave me the freedom to teach the core training class in whatever format I wanted. I could go high-energy cardio (what I knew best) or straight up Pilates or yoga. I couldn't decide, so I spent two weeks preparing a variety of moves suited to both types. After all, I had little idea as to who would come to my class, what they would expect and what would make them want to come back.

That first class was interesting. Most participants wore flip-flops to the class, and no one wore athletic shoes. Everyone brought a mat. Most surprisingly, everyone was male, and none of them listened to Top 40 radio. Talk about defying stereotypes in the group ex room.

I quickly thanked my lucky stars for having the foresight to come prepared and threw together the best barefoot yoga-Pilates-fitness fusion class I could. I played the one CD I owned that had only beats and no lyrics, spent half the class doing standing balance work, the other half doing mat-based yoga and fitness-related core moves, played Enya for a cool down and thanked everyone for coming.

It was by far the most untraditional class I'd ever taught, and it reached a market that is usually completely uninterested in group ex: your average, middle-aged man. And guess what? They liked it. I've kept the fusion format, and they keep coming back each week.

Is it odd that an untraditional class attracted members who don't normally show an interest in fitness? No, it's common sense. Traditional fitness programming and facilities attract traditional members. Untraditional classes, services and facilities attract those elusive untraditional — and many times deconditioned — members. When it comes to defying stereotypes, it looks like our industry needs to stop putting the blame on intimidating members and start taking a closer look at ourselves.

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