Isn't It Time We Break the Silence?

One last thought about familiar faces. Now that it's warmer outside, I've been spending less time in the club's four walls and more time in good ol' Mother Nature. I miss working out with the usual characters at the gym, though. There's the one girl who doesn't have a limp when she walks or runs, but on the elliptical, she has a severe and unnatural favoring of her right side. There's also the guy who reeks of curry once he hits mile two. Good times (and smells).

However, taking my workouts outdoors adds a much-needed change of pace from my winter indoor workouts. (No offense to my club.) For the past few weeks, I've been running at a local park that has a rubberized trail. One loop on the trail takes you through about 1 1/2 miles of hills, trees and a small pond with ducks. There's always something or someone to look at while jogging, even when I cover four or five laps in a session.

One day on a jog, I started wondering about outdoor workout etiquette. After I pass someone for the third or fourth time, isn't it a bit rude to just run by without even acknowledging their presence? This whole “if you say hi once, do you need to say hi again?” shtick is very Jerry Seinfeld, I realize, but still, I pondered the question for a good lap.

I then began to apply the situation to health clubs. If members see the same person day after day in the club or even work out on the bike next to them each morning, wouldn't they eventually introduce themselves or strike up a casual conversation? You'd think yes, but I'm not so sure.

I've never once talked to the unbalanced girl or Mr. Curry, and they've never talked to me. In fact, I rarely see people at my gym randomly striking up a conversation. It seems like nowadays everyone just plugs in his or her iPod and zones out. Sure, like me, they may notice or recognize other members, but after a few months of working out next to someone, isn't it almost absurd to start randomly talking when you've been doing the silent thing for so long?

I know clubs are working hard to create a sense of community and improve customer service. And while many clubs do a great job of fostering that, I'm pretty sure that a few club operators out there believe that saying “hello” to each member by name is enough to earn a gold star when it comes to customer service.

In addition, many members join a club not only because they want to get fit but also because they're looking to make a friend. (They don't call it a club for nothing.) People want to belong. However, it's usually the same people who are looking for companionship who are the hardest to reach because they're the most reluctant to enter a group exercise studio or ask your front desk staff members how to work the selectorized equipment.

Make it easier by taking the first step for them. Place everyone who's a new member in an orientation program. If clubs really want to create a community, they should create programs that group together members based on age, gender or special interest/exercise experience.

Maybe out-of-alignment girl, curry man and I would be best friends if I ever stopped watching them work out and actually said “hi.” Or maybe if I would have been introduced to them in a new member orientation class, we'd all be workout buddies, encouraging each other to keep up our daily workouts. It's doubtful, but you just never know.

Familiar faces should be more than just familiar in your facility. They should provide an opportunity to create more than just members. Help foster true friendships, and you'll have your own little microcosm of society, your own little thriving community, right there inside — and hopefully outside, too — of your facility.

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