January 28, 2011

Creating a quality gym experience

This morning, a friend called my attention to yesterday’s New York Times article Full Service Gyms Feel a Bit Flabby. The article bemoans the loss of what it calls “full service gyms,” where people would hang out before and after working out and have more of a connection than today’s “get in and get out” approach to working out. While Carlos said he doesn’t care because he doesn’t want to use the gym as a pickup spot anyway, I had a slightly different reaction to the article.

First of all, I would love to meet a guy at the gym. I want to date someone who shares my commitment to fitness, so the gym would be a great screening ground for that. Plus, after 5 weeks of Rachel Cosgrove’s plan, I look pretty slim, strong, and impressive doing my T-pushups (okay, I looked for a video of these and this was the best I could find – but I think my form looks better. Perhaps I’ll video myself for an upcoming post – seriously, my arms and abs look ripped when I do this move).

But forget the pickup factor – let’s talk motivation. As the NYT article points out, most gyms just don’t think they are in the motivation business anymore. As long as someone is paying the monthly fee, they don’t care if they actually come to use the gym; in fact, the gym management assumes that they can’t do anything to change someone’s habits. I totally disagree with that – gyms can certainly become more exciting and fun, encouraging people to come more often.

Now, is it their job/obligation to do so? Well, no – the individual is responsible for their own motivation, and it’s unfair to pin that on the gym. However, creating a fun environment may also attract more customers – so it does make sense from a business perspective as well. Instead of focusing on getting bodies in to replace all those who are quitting, gyms could focus more on retaining the customers they already have. I know in telecom, it’s cheaper to retain an old customer than to attract a new one – I can’t imagine it would be that different for gyms (though I suppose if only 15% of Americans belong to a gym, there’s a huge market of untapped clients to pursue… pun intended).

Terry Blachek, the president of International Consulting, says that socializing is the key to long-term exercise success – and I totally agree with him. When I was in high school and joined my local YMCA to work out a bit, I loved chatting with the instructor and the other women before my group fitness class. It was great to feel like I was part of a social obligation, and that that group would miss me if I didn’t drag my butt out of bed when the alarm went off in the morning to signify my wake up call to get to the gym. Now, working out on my own, it’s much harder to avoid rolling over and ignoring the call to action – though I will note my motivation for getting in shape is higher as I’m aging. (Speaking of which, I read something the other day that said you should never get above a weight 10 pounds more than your high school weight, which seems absurd to me. Discuss!)

I envy Charlotte and her gym buddies over at The Great Fitness Experiment, for all the fun they seem to have in their group workouts. I’ve tried to convince coworkers to start a fitness challenge with me at our hotel gym, but thus far no one’s been interested. For now, I’m getting motivation just from my spreadsheet of workouts, reps, and weights – it’s great to see the numbers go up. But I definitely think my workouts would be much more fun with a full-service gym that would encourage me to go more often.

But then I think about the busy world we live in, and how much time there is to do other stuff in life. I certainly get why most people just want to get their workout done and then get out, but I suppose that all depends how appealing the hangout spot is. Having a healthy juice bar to hang out and sip a post-workout smoothie could be fun – though maybe it’s just fun in theory but unlikely for me to visit in practice. Would a juice bar ever replace the real bar for me? Doubtful. However, maybe that’s just a matter of the “real bar” being the current hotspot. If everyone else started going to the juice bar instead, I might be pretty darn happy!

What do you think? If given the choice, would you want a full-service gym or a wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am kind of place?


10 thoughts on “Creating a quality gym experience”

  1. Considering that in high school I relied on youthful energy, not training, to do anything athletic, I am not surprised I am about 10 pounds under my high school weight. Though in 30 years this could be different.

    In principle it makes sense (disregarding the usual outliers). Though in athletic terms neither males nor females meet their athletic prime until some time in their twenties (differs by gender). Athletic prime may be a better benchmark to base lifetime weight – considering growth spurts, body mass increases will cease after athletic prime.

  2. I didn’t agree with most of the article. I go to the gym to workout. I don’t want to chat (other than a “good morning” to folks I recognize), I don’t want to stand around and socialize. I’m typically short on time and need to spend as much time beating up my body before I need to start working. Heck, even when I go to the gym with my wife, we barely say 2 word to each other. Of course, we hate each other so that might have something to so with it.

    But seriously, I’ve taken many classes and have enjoyed them, but again, I don’t talk to people too much. Maybe it’s the other way around and people don’t want to talk to me. I guess I should stop wearing those little gym shorts.

  3. I found that NYT very strange because it flies in the face of my own experience! I am a member of Chelsea Piers, which is the ULTIMATE full-service gym – right now I’m taking the boot camp class called “The Beast,” which costs extra on top of base membership but is absolutely amazing!

  4. That article has been all over this week! My friends Jess and Dori are quoted in it and have been sending it around.

    I used to be a sole ‘gym rat’ before I discovered that I liked to run or race triathlons. Therefore, I enjoyed places that were full service. I have been a member of Crunch, Equinox, Chelsea Piers, Synergy and currently Boom as I really only need the basic weights.

    In my current state I have evolved to the point where I no longer loathe running in poor weather, for instance I went for a long run Thursday in the snow!? 1 year ago I would have told you no way to that.

    I guess my point is, that I would rather be outside running, biking, swimming or playing frisbee even, tan indoors.

  5. I am an in and out type person at the gym. Although I get most of my exercise outside, when I do go to the gym, I want to get the most workout in the least amount of time, then I’m out the door. I get a chuckle out of people who spend an hour at the gym and at most do 10 reps of maybe two exercises and spend the rest of the time exercising their jaws or posing.

  6. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with creating a culture of fitness at the gym, but usually there’s an extra charge on top of an already expensive membership!

    A gym membership is part of my tuition, but I had to pay an extra $45 to go to group fitness classes. That’s cheap compared to regular gyms, let alone “full service” gyms!

    And I weigh 10 pounds less than I did in high school!

  7. I would love to get my friends more involved in working out, too. Getting them to run is one thing, but I want them to lift heavy things, too.

    I tried to add fitness to fun things, like The Bachelor Workout (doing push up when someone uses the word “connection,” etc), which sort of works, but it’s not the same as having a dedicated team of fitness friends.

  8. “If given the choice, would you want a full-service gym or a wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am kind of place?”

    Hmmm, can I have both? Sometimes I want to work out on my own and not have anyone bug me. I dig the solitude. Other times, I would appreciate the motivation, knowledge or, heck, just the company of another human being.

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