The problem with the U.K. fitness industry

An excerpt from an email exchange at W10 Performance, prompted by a Facebook post by Thomas Plummer.

The W10 team talks about the state of the fitness industry, why highstreet gyms are a dying breed, and how to bridge the growing disparity between the fitness industry and the consumer.

Sad but true – we spend many a late evening trying to heal the fitness world in our endless albeit rewarding quest to get it right for our members. May contain nuts.

from Jean-Claude Vacassin
8 Jun (2 days ago)

Fair comment?
to adam, Steve, olli, Mark, tom, Rob, me

Thomas Plummer
5 hrs ago via Facebook
We believe we always do the right thing, but what if we are building failure into our clients from the first visit? Subjective failure, or failure by design, is when we project our own vision of fitness onto our clients; a burden few of them can carry. We believe we are encouraging, but the reality is we set standards so high that the client simply slips away after a few months.

We work out almost everyday, so we imply to the client that if she can’t get there at least 3 times per week she is a failure and won’t reach her goals. Worse is a young trainer trying to fill his schedule so he ‘pounds’ her for 3 sessions a week just for the money. You can suggest 3, should be happy with 2, but realise 1 a week from any client who has a life, kids and a job is a success.

We also often set a nutrition vision too far away from her reality often trying to start a client today with a diet plan that took us 10 years to adjust to our own bodies. Any client who shows up once a week, or who makes gradual shifts with food, is a winner. Encouragement should never be confused with pushing a client toward a reality she can’t endure over time.

Our two cents…

Once a week will get zero results. Our model isn’t based on people not using the gym. First time I’ve disagreed with Plummer.

Probably fair in some respects, but I think most people are looking for the easiest possible route and if we don’t set some sort of standard we will just attract the same fann*s as V*!%#$.

I agree with the post, in so much that any change is good. And we should meet people where they’re at, if we want to engage them by making it accessible, to them, at that time. Being dogmatic with our expectations doesn’t work. Although people should also be told straight, which is what I think we do well.

It’s a strong culture and an approach that our members hopefully respect and appreciate. And we should continue to approach it authentically and in line with our beliefs. It is what sets us apart from globo gyms.

But I also think that we need to remember that, in the broader scheme of things, we are the extreme ones. And for most people, going from bugger all to three sessions is daunting and potentially ‘not doable’. Same goes for going from eating like shit to eating Paleo. If you can go from zero to two sessions, that’s massive. Getting 15 of 21 meals right, having previously eaten like shit, is big too.

I guess the take home, mine anyway, is that we need to consider where people are at and meet them there, even if sometimes that is below ‘our standard’. Which might be a baseline of three sessions and 19/21 meals eaten well, for example. The goal is then to get them here as quickly and as unobtrusively as possible, so that it’s sustainable. Probably also worth remembering that to go from three sessions to five is easier than going from zero to two or three.

We should continue to be straight and challenge people (I always remember the Henry Ford quote: ‘If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse’), but we should remember that our job as good coaches is to get people where they need to be, with minimal fuss or friction.

Also worth remembering that some people with no commitment and drive in the gym, are hugely driven and successful in other areas in life. They’re not inherently weak willed and lazy, they just haven’t found an anchor in their training and nutrition. And we need to keep at them, which might be a slow burn in some cases.

Overall, my observation is that there is a growing disparity between the fitness industry and the consumer, which is what I think the point of the post is trying to highlight. I.e. we’re getting more extreme at either end, which is putting people off coming to places like ours. Our job is to bridge that gap.

Have not read much of his stuff before, but I would have to say I think he is right when talking about the general population. Any amount of change is a result for a group of no hopers and should be applauded.

There are people out there who are perfectly suited to our mentality and should not be given up on. This is where we come in.

When talking about a small results based facility that offers what we offer, Plummer is wrong. We are not catering for thousands of people, we are looking at a smaller audience who want to train hard and be pushed. We don’t offer soft options or accept excuses, because secretly this is what people actually want.

People can go to globo gyms to get a smile and a cuddle for making it to a Zumba class every week.

Most people do not know what they actually need. They are soft and they do not currently have the balls to change. We can help them if they are willing to put the work in.

The softer we get the closer we become to a globo gym.

For me, the moral of this post is that any positive change somebody makes to their lives, regardless of whether is 1 session a week or 3, should be applauded. I agree with this.

The reality is that 1 hour of exercise a week isn’t going to yield results long term. However, 1 session a week can, in time, lead to 2 sessions and so on. So appreciate it as a starting point. We shouldn’t be happy with 1 session for our clients as we know the 3+ sessions a week is optimal.

Fair? Yes, no, maybe…

Agree with what others have said in that the sentiment that any positive change should be applauded to a degree, but the suggestion that pushing an ideal that people should aim to train for 3 hours a week out of 168 hours is an unrealistic standard to achieve doesn’t wash.

That isn’t my ideals, that’s the minimum people should be aiming for, if I pushed my ideals onto people, they should do something to move around everyday.

None of us are working mothers or people coming back to fitness for whom ‘easy does it’ may well be the right starting point.

The ones who wish to step it up and prioritise health or other goals, and get hungry along the way, will put in the hours. Everybody’s journey is different.

I feel that the community, for lack of a better term, is the red thread. That’s what most of our competitors are lacking. That’s why people stay with us and come back. And those people are the ones we want. Not the guy who’s walking on a treadmill on a sunny day at V*!%#$.

Another crazy idea is to ask people how do they feel as a result of training? (Ignore the usual complainers)

People usually tend to move away from pain towards pleasure. Sometimes the process of change is only triggered when we come so close to the point of pain that everyday life becomes unbearable.

If the point of pain is being injured, we’ll get them as close to feeling mobile as possible so that daily tasks outside the gym become easier.

If somebody is fairly fit, what kind of training schedule is intense enough but doesn’t cause physical fatigue due to overtraining/under-recovery and can still function in the office.

If their point of pain is not feeling good about their weight, we’ll adjust the programming and nutritional advice accordingly to help with fatloss.

Again I echo most of the sentiments already expressed in this thread. We should never underestimate how hard it can be for people to make a change and going from sitting on the coach all day to one session of exercise is a step in the right direction.

But of course this is only the start and I believe it is our job as coaches to speed up the process of understanding ‘why’ more than one session a week will benefit health, mobility, quality of life etc. Hopefully once people understand the why then overall commitment to the process will become automatic.

I’m of the opinion that until ‘the lazy ones, the moaners and the sappers’ understand exactly how exercise can help them achieve their life goals (more energy, look better, less injured etc) then commitment will never be of the level that drives them to exercise more than once a week and that one session will be of poor quality, not to mention the other 170 hours!!

Most PTs focus on the what (sets and reps), forget to educate and then wonder why their client bags it after 3 months!

Contact us on 0203 489 5428 or drop us an email on info@w10performance.com to find out about training and nutritional advice at W10 Performance.