When good gyms go bad.
Something happened today that shouldn't have. I left one of my gyms after a really great workout feeling a bit sad, quite a bit angry, but mostly in a bit of shock. I won't go into details - that helps no-one, but it has left me with a feeling like I really don't want to go back. And so this afternoon I've been thinking about gyms, and why at some point of our lives we end up with memberships to gyms and don't end up using them. Remember that episode of Friends where Chandler tries to quit the gym, he says "I try to go four times a week, and I've missed the last... 1200 times". Yeah, I bet there's a load of people with unused gym memberships who identify with that well. I know I have in the past.
So why is it that people start with really great intentions for achieving good health via a gym, go hard for the first little while, and then stop. If it's not for domestic challenges, then why else? After my ruminating on this, I think I've figured it out.
Sense of belonging. Respect. Recognition of achievement. If these three things are not being met by your gym, you are probably not going to go anymore. Here's why.
As I've said before, I'm not a professional in the fitness industry, or the health industry for that matter. I've never worked in a gym as a trainer, but I have worked with a few gyms and health professionals from a brand and reputation perspective. I've also been a member of gyms for 20 years with countless wasted memberships, and these are the things that contribute to whether my membership will be wasted or not.
Sense of belonging.
Generally speaking, people do not like being places where they don't feel they belong or fit in. Some people don't give a shit about that, but most do. Your sense of belonging could be smashed to pieces by being ignored by the gym staff, perhaps being interrupted mid way through a conversation, so you feel less important, and less valued as a contributor to the gym's success. Perhaps you could feel exclusion based on your fitness abilities. If you feel you can't achieve challenges or goals for whatever reason, your sense of belonging is likely to be diminished.
This is a biggie and it's not just the fitness industry that should watch this one. If you don't feel respected while you are potentially at your most vulnerable (in a gym, in activewear, exhausted from a work out, super red face etc) you are probably not going to come back. It might take a few experiences of not being respected as a member of a gym before you just decide you've had enough and don't want to come back. What does respect at your gym look like? Acknowledgement, being listened to, spoken to politely and professionally. For me, aggressive, macho, sexist bullshit is the fastest way I'll be leaving a gym.
Recognition of achievement
It's not hard to say "good job" to someone if they achieve something they never thought they would ever. Achieving a box jump for example, for a lot of people there is huge fear. Jumping around as a kid has lost it appeal for adults and we're generally a bit rusty and out of practice, and of course fear of failure, fear of hurt - those things all crop up. So if you conquer something like a box jump, it's a HUGE deal. By being recognised of your achievement in the gym, your self belief is reinforced, and the things you thought you might not have been able to do, you're probably going to try, because you believe you can. Having your achievement ignored or belittled really does contribute towards not wanting to go back to your gym.
In my last post I shared all the reasons why I haven't felt compelled to go to my gym. Some things are beyond my control like sickness and domestic duties which are priorities in my life. But if those reasons are not why you don't want to go to the gym, think about if you have a sense of belonging at your gym, are respected as a member, and are recognised for your achievements. Because if not, you could be in a similar position to me, and not interested in going back.
This doesn't mean exercise is over for you. But it does mean you probably need to find somewhere else to work out. And so many gyms are on to it and prioritise their members general wellbeing. They work hard on fostering that sense of belonging. Ask around. See where you'll get those needs met, and give them a try. I'm certainly going to. This hiccup today, is definitely not the end of my journey to health, but probably the start of a brand new one.