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Freakish About Fitness

My family and I live outside of Boston. This forces me to listen to sports talk radio up here, which is not easy for a lifelong Mets, Giants and Rangers fan — I gave up on basketball during the Patrick Ewing era.

I was listening last month as the Red Sox got ready for a trip to New York to face Roger Clemens, who was gearing up to go for his 300th win on Memorial Day (a feat that he did not accomplish that day).

“Red Sox Nation,” as the fans here are known, were engaged in a bitter debate over the former Red Sox player and guaranteed Hall-of-Famer who left the Sox on less than friendly terms, although he still has a solid fan base here.

So what is the point and what does The Rocket have to do with the fitness industry? Not much. But what does impact the industry is the debate that raged over Clemens' work ethic and training regimen.

“He's a workout maniac,” one caller said when talking about Clemens. “He's one of them fitness nuts,” said another. “He's a freak about his fitness training,” said a truck driver and “big time” Clemens fan.

It's words like maniac, freak and nut that have plagued the fitness industry since the days of Steve Reeve and the birth of Muscle Beach. It is this attitude that is expressed by these radio callers — most of them fitting the age, income and other demographics that fitness facilities are targeting. What's more interesting is that they fit that 60-plus percent demographic of Americans that are not physically fit or physically active.

You see, despite the encouraging news that the barrage of data and media reports about the importance of working out and eating a nutritious diet are beginning to impact the masses, the truth is that there are still a great many Americans (and potential customers) that look upon your current customers that head to the gym before work or even go out for a run on a nice Sunday as the “crazy” ones, all while they sit in traffic with a doughnut and coffee while smoking their first or second — of what will be many — cigarettes of the day.

No matter what inroads have been made by individual chains and the industry as a whole to reach the mainstream potential customer and convince them that a healthy lifestyle based on moderate exercise and a balanced nutrition program, there are still too many people out there that look at fitness-minded people as part of a sideshow rather than the main attraction.

That's why it is important for the industry to continue using as many avenues as possible [advertising, PR, research, community outreach, etc.] to show those not involved in a healthy lifestyle that it is — or at least should be — seen as the norm, not the exception. Until that happens, fitness industry professionals will continue to lament about that 60-plus percent of Americans sitting at home calling us freaks.

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