Sunday, July 18, 2010

Commercial gyms - it doesn't have to be this way

Power rack - get one!
I work in a commercial gym - in the sense that members of the public have to pay a fee to use it - technically it's a leisure centre. I also teach classes in private gyms & train clients outside of the gym.

Commercial gyms get a bad rap, see here & here ( these made me laugh so much i printed off and stuck them up on the wall of the gym I manage ), and I've seen all of the things mentioned in the elitefitness posts at some point in my career. But it doesn't have to be that way. In the gym I manage, yes you can use chalk, yes you can lift barefoot, yes we have a power rack, yes you can do olympic lifts & we'll even plug you ipod into our music system ( but when the Glee album comes on after rage against the machine we will laugh at you, though maybe I'm a secret gleek too!)

All we ask in return, is pay for using the facility, you put your weights back after use and you don't bring your dog to the gym ( True story: yes a guy decided to bring his dog to the gym, not a guide dog or anything either, and when I told him he would have to take the dog out he accused me of bad gym etiquette by interrupting him in the middle of his tricep pushdown set, at which point i punched him in the face with a kettlebell; okay, the last part isn't true but the rest is!)

Now there are some compromises. The management above me trust my judgement and pretty much let me get on with things, but if I burned all the x trainers & treadmills and replaced them all with prowlers & sleds someones gonna probably notice ( and x trainers melt before they burn anyway). And yes we do have the perfunctory abductor & adductor machine but i haven't show these to anyone in years.
Adductor machine - just say no!

One of the problems is people join the industry & get disillusioned. They start out with good intentions but end up churning out standard gym 'inductions' because in some cases they don't have the right skill set, but mostly because they are poorly paid & undervalued, and no one else in the company bizarrely cares how good their training programs are. And members of the public are so used to getting the same old gym program, that sometimes they can't even appreciate it when someone tries to give them a program that may actually give them results! Upper management types can think its all about machines and flashing lights & integrated TV screens, anyone can show you how to use these. But over recent years the trend has thankfully started to go towards freeweights, bodyweight exercises, kettlebell, barbells, corrective exercise & mobility work - all of which require good coaching skills to teach correctly. Fitness professionals on the gym floor can end up being undervalued, even the ones running GP/ Exercise referral schemes & cardiac rehabilitation can end up getting paid little more than a standard fitness instructor and considerably less than someone who is teaching an aerobics class.

And training members of the public who have been previously sedentary, inactive or injured can be way harder than training athletes. I think it was Mike Boyle who said he had a whole new perspective and respect for personal trainers after doing personal training with some non athletic clients. Trust me, trying to get a 70 year old lady who's had a hip replacement or a 50 year old man with chronic back pain to hip hinge and get a decent squat pattern is way harder than dealing with a fit athlete.

Of course, there are bad trainers out there, in and out of gyms & sometimes personal trainers are seen as superior to mere fitness instructors. And the discussion of personal training & coaching is a whole other post. But case in point, I was attending a course with a colleague of mine in a gym up in London last year, this gym is in a very affluent area. We walked in and saw a personal trainer with his client doing squats on a bosu ball while holding a medicine ball and twisting from side to side, now from the look of the woman I'm guessing she wanted fat loss and this clown was doing unstable surface training ( see Eric Cresseys the truth about unstable surface training to find out why this was a bad idea ) and at first we laughed at this clown, but then I wanted to cry because he was probably charging £50-100 per hour for this and thought he was a world class trainer, and she could have come to our gym and got a superior training program from a lowly fitness instructor & included in her membership.

Finally, you don't have to train in a commercial gym. My brother trains at home in his garage, Ross Enamait style with an olympic barbell set, pre-selectorised dumbbells, sledghammer, tyre, sand bag etc: its suits his lifestyle and he doesn't have to wait for a bunch of guys doing 50 sets on national bench press day to finish. But that doesn't mean all commercial gyms, leisure centres are bad places to train. And if they are, we can change them from the inside out.