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The Essence of Fitness
Originally Posted:  06/30/09

The essence of fitness is that somewhere, somehow, someone still has to get in shape.

We forget this in the current fitness business model. We package the clubs well, rent vast fields of equipment to the client economically, decorate and showcase our products and work on our ability to generate new sales, but we have drifted from the essence of what our business is all about, and because of this drift from our roots the member has suffered and our businesses have lost money and direction.

There is heavy buzz in the industry about the word, "retention.” Simply defined, we discuss how to attract new members into our system and then keep them staying and paying longer than we now average. Most clubs, despite huge claims, only keep a new person actively working out in the clubs for about 7-9 months on average. Members trust us with their most precious asset, their fitness and health, and then leave after a short period of time.

Mostly we blame them. They aren't motivated, didn't make the commitment, weren't ever really serious or just didn't get "it”, with it meaning the culture of we know how to get you into shape and how dare you not listen to us.

Maybe there is another reason they fail. Maybe it's us. Maybe we don't really know how to get people in shape.

Laree Draper, the business mind behind the legend Dave Draper, perhaps the classiest body builder ever to stand in posing trunks, just sent me a book to review: Never Let Go, by Dan John. The book is a collection of articles and blogs by Dan edited in a well written and motivational read.

The book wanders from Dan's training philosophy, honed after decades of working with thousands of students and athletes, personal philosophy and a unique look at what fitness really is and how to achieve it. His personal story makes it a good read and his trials and tribulations make it funny as well.

My take, however, is that the book also points out why and how we fail the average consumer who comes to our clubs. Dan talks about pure fitness, meaning doing things that actually get people into shape, as opposed to main stream fitness where everything is pretty and convenient and nothing really works for long. In other words, because of how we train members we actually build failure into the workout because after about 6-8 weeks the person doesn't progress, gets frustrated and eventually leaves.

Here is Dan's list of tips for athletes. Read and figure out how we so radically differ what actually getting this done in most clubs:

1. Use whole body lifts: rarely isolate a muscle
2. Constantly strive to add weight to the bar, and move it faster
3. The best anabolic is water
4. Did you eat breakfast? It not, don't ask me anything about nutrition
5. If you smoke or don't wear seatbelts, please don't tell me the quick lifts are dangerous
6. Go heavy, go hard
7. Keep it simple. Less is more
8. You have to put the bar over your head
9. Put the bar on the floor and pick it up a bunch of different ways
10. Know and love the roots of your sport

This is from one of the older articles in the book and he expands on these and other core ideas as the book progresses.

Read these carefully and you find out that most fitness members don't do much of these during their average workout. Most don't do anything whole-body but instead rely on machines to isolate everything. Most don't add weight unless forced and then not enough to keep the challenge. Most are fat because of the 10 sports and soft drinks they had that day. Few understand free weights and use them only as extreme isolation tools and very few would know Bill Pearl, Dave Draper, Bruce Jenner or any other person who helped moved training ahead over the years if they worked out next to them in a club.

We have made fitness accessible, convenient as to number of clubs, affordable and attractive. We haven't, however, done much to make it more effective. To paraphrase another Dan John quote, can you imagine any real athlete coming to the gym, jumping on a treadmill for an hour and plugging in Brittany Spears? If you don't get into shape, you leave and we structure entire fitness businesses around the premise that working out without sweating is your goal for the membership.

People always ask about what the next big thing is going to be in fitness. I think one of the next big mind shifts is when we stop training a very limited number of our members like spoiled clients (one-on-one fitness) and start training bigger numbers like athletes at a lower cost and with better results. Group personal training, extended boot camp cultures, a return to full body workouts three times a week and the emphasis of getting people up and moving is all returning to our business plans.

The sports world has already returned to simple fitness, and many of the teams, such as the Tennessee Titans, have returned to fundamental fitness in the form of even kettle bells, ropes and logs (go to artofstrength.com). Most change starts with athletes, then trainers and eventually winds back to the mainstream fitness world. If we embrace fitness at the base level again, and perhaps return to some of Dan's insight from above, we can get members results and they will stay with us longer and pay us longer.

My thanks to Dan John and Dave Draper who have made the fitness world a better place because of who they are and what they share.

To order the book go to Amazon.com and it is about $16.

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