Resolve to Thrive on Newbie Enthusiasm

One last thought about the New Year. It's January, and you know what that means: it's resolution time. Time to vow to drop 10 pounds, train to run a marathon and stop eating chocolate of any kind. I'm sick of those resolutions though. They're old, boring. As a group exercise instructor and a seasoned gym-goer, I have a new resolution (and maybe as fitness professionals, you can join me in this). I resolve not to be annoyed by the four gazillion people that will undoubtedly head to the gym during the month of January hoping to finally get in shape and get those washboard abs they see on television.

Now, you may think of this time of year and delight in the fact that membership sales will rise and your club will be packed with life. As a group exercise instructor, I understand. I thrive off the energy that fills the room during those first weeks in January when I have 50 eager faces willing to try anything in my class. Unfortunately, come mid-February I'm back to my normal class count of 15, and I am left wondering — why doesn't anyone stick around? Maybe part of the answer can be found in my response as a gym-goer to these new members.

Each year eager “newbies” flood the elliptical machines, treadmills and selectorized equipment. They cram themselves into the group fitness studios, and they overload the personal trainers with sessions scheduled from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. I can see the motivation and will on their face. I can hear their breathing — some of them exercising for the first time ever. And I can feel their sweat beading off from the next treadmill over.

I used to let the newbies get on my nerves. I mean, really, what are they doing here in my space on my treadmill? They'll just give up in a few weeks, I used to think. After stumbling around, staring blankly at the free weights and occasionally getting lost in the hall between the locker room and the pool, they'll give up. Because, honestly, how many newbies really make it past the month of January? But, this year I'm banking that they stay there. Not because happy members that come are members that renew and increase revenue, but because it's the right thing to do.

After the long winter months filled with endless holiday eating and days spent lying around watching football, I think we could all use a bit of exercise. Who am I to claim the gym as my own? The newbies have the same goals that I have: to be stronger, to be fitter — and to look better naked. Many of them have health problems and not only want to get fit but desperately need to improve their health. Why should I make the gym an even more hostile environment than it already seems? Just a glance around at the long rows of machines that look like torture devices, the scantily clad women who run for hours without oozing a drop of sweat and the grunting, testosterone-filled men busting out of their tiny tank tops is enough to send any sane person running in the other direction. The health club can be a weird, scary place — especially when you're new and the other people there look at you like you're an annoying idiot.

I have looked at newbies like that before. I admit it. Sure, I've shown them how to properly kick a roundhouse in my class without passing judgment, but I've also looked at them on the gym floor and felt proud that I am among the gym elite who knows how to work every machine in every corner of the club. In my mind, I earned this place in fitness society by putting in long workouts and years of dedication.

This year, though, I'm throwing down the welcome mat. I'm not going to scoff at the unknown face on Jan. 2, 2005, who asks me what the giant green button that clearly reads START on the treadmill means. Nope, I'm going to grin and bear it and help a fellow gym member out — no matter where they are on the gym hierarchy.

A shake-up in the faces at the gym wouldn't be bad. It would be good. When I first walk into the gym, the newbies will be full of enthusiasm and ready to go. I should use that “newbie enthusiasm” to fire up my workout, make some new friends and infuse my class with vigor. As fitness professionals, we should attend to our members' motivation and keep it strong through the new year. Because with a little extra work and attention, a few of those faces may just join our ranks some day in the high-class society of the gym elite.

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