You’ve decided to get into shape, so off you go to join that big box gym around the
corner. As you pull into the driveway, you’re shocked by the size of the parking lot, thinking you
might need a shuttle service to get to the front door. When you make it to reception, you ask
for a tour. The young lady behind the counter welcomes you with a smile before handing over a
stack of paperwork for you to complete. After you fill everything out, you’re greeted by a young
man who looks like he stepped out of the pages of a GQ magazine...
Your tour guide is pleased to show you the juice bar, hair salon, restaurant, and beauty
salon a few amenities the gym has to offer its clients. When you finally make it onto the gym
floor itself, you are intimidated by the state-of- the-art machines you might need a pilot’s
license to operate. You notice a line of perfectly coiffed people talking to each other, and think
to yourself that you may need to go shopping for new training clothes. As your tour continues,
you learn about a roster of qualified personal trainers and the many classes available to clients.
The change rooms come complete with walnut cabinets and top-of- the-line fixtures, and you
vow to never shower at home again. When your tour is over, your tour guide invites you to his
office. You notice his business degree displayed on the wall behind him, but nothing to indicate
any expertise in personal training. The membership cost isn’t unreasonable, but it only includes
use of the gym floor and change room. If you want any guidance, you’ll have to sign up for a
personal training package. At $100 per hour, you plan to do a few introductory sessions and
figure out the rest as you go.
Initially excited for your first session, you are disappointed to spend your first 15
minutes warming up on the treadmill. Your trainer runs through a few short sets with you, and
you don’t even break a sweat. As you struggle with core exercises, you look up to see your
trainer chatting with one of his colleagues you note that neither of them are paying attention
to their clients. After a few similar sessions, you decide to try your program on your own.
Feeling overwhelmed on the gym floor, you head to the treadmill that’s where you always
started first! You walk for 15 minutes, because that’s what you always do. You run through
what you can remember of your program before hitting the showers.
After 3 weeks, you don’t see the results you had hoped for. You can’t see any physical
changes, you don’t feel stronger or healthier, and you’re bored of your routine. To get a new
program, you’ll have to buy another training package. Deciding there was little value in the first
set of sessions, you eventually get discouraged enough to stop working out. The gym continues
to take your monthly membership fee, and you’re left to wonder if it was worth it at all.
Back in the day, things were different. A gym owner would open a gym because they
wanted to help people to achieve their fitness goals it was a passion. The owner did most of
the training, cleaned the gym, took the garbage out, and took the time to work with their
clients. Clients would see results assuming they were prepared to put the effort in. Back in
1975 when I was 15 years old I accepted a part-time summer job at a gym. I helped with
cleaning, maintenance, and filing program cards.
Before gyms were owned by massive companies, the owner of the gym was almost
always there to greet their clients. The owner would listen to a new client’s fitness goals before
giving a tour of their facilities. Back then, gyms were mostly between 2000-5000 square feet
anything bigger was almost always part of a college or university. When clients decided to join,
the owner would request that they complete a short medical questionnaire which would be
reviewed and discussed before training began. A membership would be all inclusive, including
use of all facilities and training support from the owner. On your first day, the owner would
take you through a proper warm-up and complete head-to- toe program. There was no time-
limit, and your trainer (usually the owner) would provide all the support you needed to make
sure you could complete your program properly and in good form. After a month or so, your
program would be re-evaluated to ensure you were always moving towards your fitness goals.
Back in the day, you could get good value for your money. Clients got results, so they
stayed motivated to continue. Going to the gym wasn’t about prestige, it was about good
health. It seems like fitness culture today has forgotten why the gym exists in the first place. It
was opened to provide a place where clients could go to receive the right information about
fitness and training and get some exercise. It shouldn’t be about the bottom line or prestige.
Looking at the big box gyms of today, all I can think is: oh man, have we forgotten.