Saturday, September 11, 2010

Are the people who work in the fitness industry fit (or even healthy)?

Some gym members and PT clients are under the impression that you must be super healthy and superfit if you work in the fitness industry. They’re under the impression you knock out a 20k run, deadlift 200kg and then go home and eat an organic chicken you raised yourself and some quinoa from your own personal vegetable patch. And if you enter an event, they expect you to just be able to ‘do it’ because you’re a trainer.

The truth doesn’t always match reality. I’m not talking about the occasional cheat meal or someone who is following John Berardi's 90/10% rule, eating well 90% of the time and for the other 10% having the occasional snickers or glass of red wine or missing a training session when on holiday.

I’m talking about people who are the very opposite of what the public would expect. And it not only applies to the fitness instructors & personal trainers in a health club or centre but even more so to the managers, duty managers, receptionists, lifeguards and studio/class teachers. Also, I should point out that this doesn’t only apply to where I work now but is common in other companies I have worked, clubs I have been a member of and trainers I have met who work elsewhere.

Fitness Instructors

I’ve met several fitness instructors who smoke, and even met a manager who though smoking was ok in moderation, you know, like the occasional glass of red wine, and not a cancer stick.

More common is instructors who binge drink, now this could be because they tend to be younger or it could be something to do with British culture, either way it’s seen as acceptable.

And when it comes to junk food, only the other day an instructor was eating the left over domino’s pizza from the night before for lunch (you know who you are!). On the plus side, most fitness staff tend to workout and train in some way, but some don’t.

Personal trainers

This group can be worse than fitness instructors for working out. They have clients that are spread throughout the day, so the trainer spends a lot of time sitting in their car driving to appointments while snacking on the go – hoping their natural ‘awesomeness’ will pull them through, because hey, back in the day they could deadlift 250kg and run 100m in 10.5, but they can’t do it now because of that pesky knee injury and not because they don’t do any exercise and live off energy drinks. And in between working 12 hour days, getting their hair highlighted on a weekly basis and buying industrial amounts of hair gel & wax they just don't have time to train. Of course, I also know trainers who put there money where their mouth is, and live the life, they live and breathe fitness & nutrition 24/7.

Managers, lifeguards

In all my time in the industry I’ve rarely seen a club manager actually use the gym facilities or go to a class (and some of them don’t even come out of their office when they are actually working and you know, actually talk to their customers, but that’s a whole other story). Now some of these people may have been training outside or participating in a sport. And I’d be the first to admit you don’t need fancy facilities or equipment to train. But these guys weren’t training at home or doing a sport, they weren’t doing anything.

I know managers and lifeguards who have regular cigarette breaks throughout the day and don’t eat any proper food or snack from the vending machine (more on this later) or don't eat anything in an 8 hour shift.

The dark side

Studio instructors can be someone of the most compulsive about exercise but some of the worst eaters. It’s not unusual to see then have a pre workout coffee and then a post workout coffee, living of the adrenaline and caffeine. And I’ve known studio instructors whose idea of a big meal was a piece of broccoli and half an apple. Some are easily doing 15-20 hours a week of classes, mostly not lifting a weight heavier than a shuttlecock. They end up with that skinny fat, studio instructor look, high fat %, no muscle. This is what Charles Poliquin calls the 'chunky aerobic instructor syndrome'. Their paranoia about putting on weight and their addiction to cardio exercise can sometimes push them over the edge. This is the group in the fitness industry most likely to suffer from eating disorders. Now this is a minority,  but I would like to see some research on this to see how much of a problem this is, and how we can address it.

And I’ve seen studio instructors do an exhibition class at a fitness conference and then go round the back of the stage and have a cigarette!

Pre workout & post workout meal for some studio instructors


Many people in fitness work shifts, or weird hours, and sometimes duty managers can’t leave the building. And they end up making poor food choices, now most of this is due to bad planning and meal preparation, as in they don’t have a plan.

You may be surprised to find out the food choices on offer in the average health club/ leisure centre are rubbish.

For dinner I will be having A3 and B6

They still have vending machines, and cafes with muffins, cakes and basically no healthy choices apart from the occasional protein bar or shake. Managers & staff on shift can end up living off the vending machine.

Sugar & Fat - all the colours of the rainbow

Also, on a side note, I’ve seen parents taking their kids to the vending machine after various swim lessons and clubs and buying junk or buying a donut in the café

The argument seems to be that we should give the customer what they want and not what they need. But all these cakes and sweets are available elsewhere, in fact, nearly everywhere, they are pervasive. Maybe, we should provide the alternative.

Right now, Jamie Oliver is crying into his homemade ravioli.

Only the other day I saw a fitness instructor/ trainer who happens to be diabetic, and also runs weight loss classes, drinking a bottle of coke and eating a bag of crisps ( potato chips if you’re American) for lunch. Now, I’m no expert on diabetic nutrition but I’m thinking this is not the best choice. And then to go into a weight management class and say one thing and then do the other, ever feel you’ve been lied to? So if the people preaching the message of healthy eating aren't doing it, it's no surprise that some parents & kids are having a hard time following it.

Members are fitter

We’re in the situation where a lot of the members and clients of our clubs are training more and eating healthier than the very people running the health & fitness business.

I’m going to sell you a car that I wouldn’t drive

Can you imagine going to a car dealership and the sales person trying to sell you a car, but then saying ‘Of course, I wouldn’t drive this car myself’ or going into a restaurant and the staff saying ‘I wouldn’t eat here’, err, then neither will I.

But this is happening everyday in fitness. Many of the staff who work in a centre or club have free access to the facilities but never use them! And I wouldn’t mind if they were going for the occasional walk or bicycle ride outside, but they’re not.

Of course, if you work in a place all day it’s the last place you want to spend your leisure time. But this doesn’t hold up, because the people who use the gym the most are the fitness staff, who are in there all day, and some of the other staff don’t set foot in the gym all day.

If we can’t even get our own staff to use our gyms and classes, how can we expect to get the public in?

Currently, the penetration of the UK fitness market is about 10%, add in all the people who do personal training and bootcamps outside and maybe you’ve got 11% of the UK population exercising. That means about 90% of people don't go anywhere near a gym, health club or leisure centre. But most our staff don’t use our facilities or believe in the product, so why should the general public?!

To find out why the public don’t exercise, all we have to do first is ask our staff why they don’t. And not only why do our staff not exercise, but why are so many of them smoking, binge drinking and eating junk. Is it a cultural thing or human nature?

Now I should finish by saying not everyone in the industry is like this, I know lifeguards, receptionists, café staff and sales staff and even some managers who attend classes or the gym on a regular basis or participate in sport and eat healthily; and some teach classes as well. But I would go as far as to say they are in the minority.

And I’m not saying I’m perfect, I have the occasional beer or dessert. And I’ll admit right now I like to have one cappuccino a day ( ahh, sweet caffeine, okay sometimes 2, but normally on a really bad day, and as long as I drink green tea that okay, right? ) but I generally eat healthily 90% of the time and exercise on a regular basis

And again, I’m not saying you have to be superfit, but you need to be a role model to a certain extent and be fit and healthy to prove the product works. If we don’t believe in our product, who else is going to?

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