Sunday, January 4, 2015

Induction, Program, Leave, Repeat.

It's that time of year again, when thousands of people join gyms, and in a few months, most if not all of them would have left. That's why the fitness industry market penetration stands at about 12%, overall the number of people using health clubs and leisure centres' and PT studios is not really going up.


Churn is an oft used term in the fitness industry. It refers to the fact that most people have been members of a gym before. They will join the gym, leave, possibly go and join another gym, leave, come back and join the original gym again, and so on. The fitness industry is churning members, clubs are merely swapping members.

The main reason is most clubs offer the same product, there is no differentiation.

And one of the biggest failings of the industry is the induction (sometimes called orientation) process. That initial appointment or series of appointments where the fitness instructor initiates you into the 'secrets' of the gym.

Clubs and gyms make a big point of saying you get 2 or 3 or 5 or 3 months of appointments with them, and free personal training, and it's always included in your membership. Always individual to your needs. Nearly always includes an 'assessment' and free program. What's not to like? The problem is most of this is not true.

The induction process is a failure. This could could be because the industry has adopted the same process, which is tired, boring and unimaginative? The fitness instructors delivering it could be under-skilled or lazy? But, I am going to put it out there, the public are to blame as well, with their low expectations, low adherence levels, and unwillingness to break out of their comfort zones. They end up getting the product they deserve. It all becomes a vicious cycle.

Museum tour.

Once you've had the museum tour of the club, 'this is a treadmill', 'this is a leg extension', 'this is a sauna you're never going to use' it's time to join and get booked in for the induction.

The tour has set up an expectation of what the induction will consist of (all the shiny machines with TV's attached) and the members previous experience has also set up an expectation (I've had an induction before, I've joined the gym to use the same machines I used at another gym, even though I didn't get any results, these machines must somehow be different, after all they are connected to the internet. Of course, the definition of insanity is expecting different results while continuing to do the same thing).

The public have an expectation of what a gym should consist of. I think this is because the current generation of exercisers first joined a gym sometime in late 1990's, early 2000's. This is when big box gyms were on the rise, these chains all had plenty of CV machines, some resistance machines and not much else. This is what the public think a gym and fitness is. The fact that this was an aberration, that for most of history gyms didn't look like this, fitness didn't look like this, is lost, people only know what they've seen and what they've experienced.

And the fitness renaissance that has happened in the last 5 years or so, with an upsurge of freeweights, kettlebells and bodyweight has been mostly ignored by the general public. For example, I still get asked 'where is the adductor machine you sit on, I used to like that'.

When all these new fangled treadmills and machines first came out, maybe you needed someone to show you how to use them, but not now. If you can turn on your TV and walk down the street, you can probably use a treadmill.

How do I start this machine? Good news, It's got a TV, I'm bound to lose weight now.

Low skill, high skill.

When it comes to the actual induction, the vicious cycle begins. Back in the 1990's, gyms and golf clubs and hotel gyms could employ low skilled instructors, because showing someone a few machines was an easy minimum wage job.

Except, now many instructors, trainers, coaches have a decent skill level, and know how to demonstrate squats, deadlifts,and kettlebells (of course, there is some variability here). But this takes time.

On the other side is the new member. They have certain expectations and a perceived wisdom of what will get results. It must be all the machines, that's what I'm paying for?

Back to the instructor, they are back to back with appointments, as its January, and the member has just uttered the dreaded sentence 'I just wanna lost weight and tone up, and don't want to get bulky'. Plus they've just mentioned a back injury and knee injury, which they've had some 'physio' for but now they want your advice on what to do for this, will the x-trainer help or make it worse?! And they can only train twice a week.

And times ticking, the instructor has 45 minutes left. There is no assessment, there is no movement screening, because 1) They may not know how to do one 2) The member expects to get on and do some cardio pretty soon, because after all that's how you lose weight?! 3) The instructor is going to stick to the tried and tested machines they know they can show people quickly in 45 minutes. Because the instructor may already be thinking that this person is going to drop out, if I show them how to squat, when they come in by themselves they are going to stay in their comfort zone and go on the x-trainer again, and I will be inducting someone else so wont have time to help them.

Because, if the instructor says, 'actually with your knee issues and back issues, we need to do a full movement screen, and there is no fitness solution to injury, and you should be doing these mat based exercises to begin with, and to lose weight you don't need to go anywhere near a x trainer'; they know they will mainly get a perplexed look from the client.

So the instructor ends up showing them the treadmill, bike, x trainer variations, a few resistance machines and a mat based exercise. And then books the client in for their follow up appointment.

Because showing you these takes about 30 seconds and is a low skill option for the instructor and the client; and will result in no weight loss.. And if the instructor shows you a goblet squat are you going to have faith that they are telling you the truth.

Except the adherence rate for follow up appointments is very low, most people don't make it past appointment 2, after all they are safely in their comfort zone on the x trainer failing to get any results, literally going through the motions.

Oh and a program of course.

What can also happen, is the instructor will write you an 'individual program' while walking around with you. Of course, it isn't individual or optimal, its what is easy to show you and what the instructors thinks you are going to remember.

Most clubs seem to have been using the same program card format for the last twenty years. If you use a program card, I can guess the layout right now. 1) Warm up box 2) Static Stretch section 3) Cardio section 4) Resistance section, it might even say resistance machines 5) Cool-down 6) Some more static stretches.

The programs will consist of warming up on a piece of cardio, a few stretches, 5-10mins each on a selection of cardio equipment, some resistance machines, cool-down on a piece of cardio, some stretches laying down. It will probably be a one day program. And if your lucky it will have a core exercise like a plank, or possibly a swiss ball, though they have fallen out of favor now.

However, this program format is absolutely useless, works for no one, and you will get a more intense workout walking from your car to the gym. So it is no surprise most clients will abandon this program, and then start free styling their workouts.

What should happen then - fitness is a skill.

We need to break the cycle. The exercises that work take skill, time and coaching.

The content of gyms has exploded in the last 5 years, with kettlebells, TRX, Viprs plus more barbell and cables, but most of the public don't use them or get shown them. This is a two way street.

You do the occasional client who says 'show me everything', which shows they don't really know what they are doing either, and they also need to be educated. Yes, we could spend literally weeks just showing you dumbbell exercises, and you want to see every cable exercise as well, plus Olympic weightlifting, this is going to take a bit longer than 55 minutes.

It could take an instructor an entire session to coach someone a squat, or deadlift, or kettlebell swing. You may not get any training effect in the first session. In fact in may take 4 or 5 sessions, to coach and educate the client on what is the most effective exercises for them. They may need an entire session on corrective exercise or mobility. This is why instructors loathe free PT sessions, what can you really do with someone in 55 minutes with no info, background, screening or experience of the client. Especially when the client is expecting to get out of breath, and 'smashed', as this is what fitness is to them.

Most instructors are willing to coach now, they want to coach and impart what they know.. The business's they work for need to realise this. To begin with not all clients will get this or understand this. But in the longer term they will get results. You will lose some people to your competition but others will stay and get results.

"If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses." - Henry Ford.
To paraphrase Henry Ford, if you ask the public what they want in terms of fitness, some are going to say a better x trainer or new ab machine. Something easy.

Members need to be educated and the fitness experience re-framed. They are not buying equipment or machines, they are buying coaching and results and a community experience. I'm slightly loathed to say it, but this is what Crossfit has got right.

And coaching is be better in a small group environment. Many clients end up going to classes and covering way more in one bodypump class than they would do in the gym with an instructor one to one. We need to accept that the one to one training/ induction method may not be the most optimal way of training people. Most athletes train in groups. All classes are in groups, why did the gym become a lone activity?

People don't turn up to appointments because they don't value it. You are offering them free coaching and they don't show up. They think its about equipment because that's how we sell it. We need to sell differently. We need to put coaching and our staff and results at the forefront in peoples minds.

And as for the people who have decided before they turn up that they don't like exercise or they don't like the gym. This could be because of previous experience of inductions and lack of results from the cookie cutter program and perfunctory inductions, so if you do something different you've got nothing to lose, as they were going to leave anyway. And if they don't want the new method they were already lost, the product never was for them.

And you don't need a program.

At the other end of the spectrum are the people who opt out of the induction process, either because they've had one before and attach no value to it, if someone is just going to show you how to use a treadmill again why bother. And the other group (mostly guys) who are following a program they have got from the internet or Mens' Health.

And iI'm going to put it out there again, the program is not really that important. For most people whether you do 3x10, 5x5, or 4x8, dumbbell press or barbell press is irrelevant. The heart rate zones aren't important, walk uphill, get out of breath, and for the love of all that is right, work on your strength, running form and technique before going for a jog..

What IS relevant is the execution and skill. Most people following programs have poor form, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing (these are the guys who think they can figure out how to use any machine, and end up doing leg presses on the calf machine). What they need is COACHING. They need to be taught the SKILL of training. How to structure their own training. This lasts a lifetime.

We should be coaching the movements that work - squat, press, deadlift (hinge), row (pull) - whether that be with barbells, kettlebells or dumbells or sandbag or bodyweight. But this takes time.

Bright shining lie.

And the lines between induction, instructing, coaching and personal training become blurred. The idea that we give this amount of information in an induction but if you want real training you need to do personal training becomes problematic. We may need to re-frame our products.

But also members need to re-frame there expectations and we need to help them. Only the other day, an older lady told me the gym was becoming more about young people and young guys with all its free weights and kettlebells. In her mind, cardio equipment and certain resistance machines were for old people. And don't get me wrong, many machines have their benefits. But what an indictment that someone now thinks a basic movement such as a squat or press up or a dumbbell is only for younger people.

In conclusion, we have all failed, the industry, the staff, the clients. We were all complicit in the bright shining lie, and it was fueled by equipment manufacturers.

It's time to get real, get truthful, it's time to re-frame our product. Its time to have faith in your knowledge, its time to realise the true value of your product and skill set. It's time we all got out of our fitness comfort zone. It's time to get coaching!

Otherwise next January is going to be the same as this January.

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