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Perceptions Mean Everything

I often receive calls from the consumer press asking about fitness industry issues. More often than not, their attitudes about the industry are a bit negative and skeptical. Recently, I was interviewed by a reporter about retention efforts at clubs. She was focusing on how some clubs are doing more hand-holding (by offering fitness buddies and calling people when they miss a workout) to attract the deconditioned and to retain members. She asked about the motivation for this. During my explanation, I said that most people in this industry want to help people become more fit. She expressed surprise that altruism was a motivating factor.

Yes, I asserted, this industry is a business, and the facility owners and managers want to turn a profit, but the majority of people who entered this business did so because they enjoyed working out, and they wanted to help other people become healthier. Along the way, they hoped and planned to also make money. I don't know whether or not I convinced her of this, but her skepticism isn't unusual. Often, the press that sticks in the public's mind involves negative stories — abrupt club closings, locker room thefts, and facility owners and/or staff charged with criminal acts all make the news and tend to stay in people's minds. The stories of clubs helping members meet their weight loss goals aren't quite as sensational and, therefore, are easily forgotten.

Unfortunately, the negative stories only perpetuate the view held by some of the public that fitness facility owners just want to take their money and run or that they are just a bunch of muscleheads who should get real jobs. The view that the public holds of our industry is so important today as we face the obesity epidemic head on and welcome in more of the deconditioned.

Just as important, if not more, is the view that the medical community holds of our industry. If we are to beat the health ills of this country, we need to team with the medical community and show them that we are an industry of professionals. For example, a recent study showed that although 75 percent of those with Type 2 diabetes had been advised by their doctors to exercise, less than 40 percent of them actually exercise. What is worse is that the more health issues a person has related to their diabetes (therefore, the most dire cases), the less likely they are to be active. Why don't these people exercise? Probably because doctors stop advising their patients to exercise and don't offer the next logical step, which is planning a safe, effective and individualized workout routine.

That's where clubs can come into play. It's important for the fitness industry to continue to improve its reputation and for fitness facility owners, managers and personal trainers to develop a good rapport with the medical community. By doing so, doctors can recommend that their patients visit an “approved” list of facilities and choose one that best meets their needs and helps them implement a program to cure or alleviate their health issues (especially if insurance plans do more related to reimbursements). Of course, that means that our personal trainers and dietitians must know how to work with this population. By sending your staff to get additional training to work with specialized populations, you elevate the professionalism of your trainers, your club and the industry.

And that's a big step in the right direction for an industry that's come a long way but still has a lot of old perceptions to overcome.

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