Posted April 25, 2012

Is The Gym Becoming Elitist?


My good friend and fellow trainer Jonathan Goodman recently released his long-awaited book Ignite the Fire: The Secrets to Building a Successful Personal Training Career, and I wanted to get him to write a guest post before he becomes such a huge deal that he doesn’t consort with the likes of peons like myself. Without further adieu, I’ll let him take you the rest of the way home.

Is the gym becoming elitist?

Unfortunately I think it has. The fact that people say, “I need to work my way up to the gym” sickens me. Have we really created a fitness environment where people feel they’re not ready yet to get into shape? The gym should be a sanctuary where all are welcome in our obesity-ridden society yet the gap between the fit and unfit is widening.

My life has been changed by the gym. It’s given me confidence and purpose. As a result I’ve decided to dedicate my life to improving the quality of fitness instruction. My aim is giving passionate trainers the tools to be successful. The first step is recognizing that there is a problem.

Why has the gym become elitist?

  1. Mental Masturbation

Motivational pictures have been around for years. Sites like Facebook and Pintrest have now brought them into everybody’s homes. While these photos are nice to look at I’d argue they aren’t helping anybody. Instead they’re acting as a way for the already in-shape to show off.


Repeating the same motivational phrase from Arnold Schwarzenegger or Lance Armstrong might get views to your website or “likes” to your Facebook post but it doesn’t convert the unconverted. Think about it – who within your Facebook friend group shares motivational material? Is it the people who don’t exercise or really ripped workout nuts? One of the largest reasons that people share material on the internet is to show off what they already do. It’s their way of boasting. The motivational quote they share serves as their way of trying to improve their social equity.


Large companies know this and are taking advantage of it.

Instead of spending lots of money on TV and print ads they’re superimposing a motivational phrase on a picture of an attractive person. The result is that the picture spreads like wildfire and the company gets a lot of free advertising. Unfortunately this behaviour is perpetuating the trend and making matters worse.

People who don’t exercise aren’t stupid. They know they should be in the gym and already feel bad about not doing it. They don’t need a picture of a beautiful person with an oft-repeated slogan to remind them to “just do it”.

2. Over-information

Dogma’s are created and broken every day. Conflicting information is running rampant and everyone seems to be an expert with the next best thing. Fact is there isn’t a next best thing. Exercise is beautiful in its simplicity. The next best thing may be slightly better or slightly worse than the last best thing. It does however confuse the hell out of anybody reading it.

Somebody new to the gym has no idea who or what to listen to when the reality is that if they picked one source and followed it they’d succeed. This is irrelevant of how profound the information is.

I get the need to continually innovate from the perspective of the information providers. It’s a lot easier to gain an audience of rabid exercisers than it is of people considering a change. It’s also a lot easier to sell the newest method of fat loss than it is to get somebody excited about the tried and tested method.

The contrarian method of gaining exposure is also adding to the problem and its use is growing. Challenging the reader is one thing. Purposely creating controversy as a way of gaining readership is worse than Raffi Torres hit on Marian Hossa last week (two points for the topical reference!)

It’s a daunting task to embark on a fitness quest from scratch. The first steps are the toughest and there are a lot of excuses to “do it next week”. Not knowing what program is best just adds to the list. What bothers me is the “best” program probably isn’t even the best. Are you a beginner? Great, get in there and move! Pick a program… any one. Literally I can fan them out like a deck of cards and have you choose. Just follow it and you’ll do well.

Worse yet are the conflicting theories written as fact. Somebody who has never exercised before will benefit from steady-state cardio. It’s not as evil as it’s cracked up to be. It may not be the most efficient way to exercise but it’s stood as an entry point for a lot of people to get their bearings in the gym. Sit on a bike for a couple weeks until you feel comfortable. Then start throwing weights around.

Be the change you wish to see in the world

I see two solutions to make exercise less daunting to convert the unconverted.

The first is exceedingly simple. I’m the initiated. I’ve been going to the gym for years, have lots of friends where I train, and feel comfortable. When somebody unfit that’s new to my club looks at me I smile and ask them how their day is going. If they seem open I introduce myself.

When they’re leaving I say goodbye making sure to remember their name. The next time they’re in the gym I introduce them to anybody else I know there. If they become a member of the community odds are they won’t fall off the workout wagon again.


The next is to understand the power of social modelling.

Motivational posters don’t motivate people unless they’re already exercising. Self-efficacy is at its highest when the person feels that the example the same as them. For it to be effective the demographic, background, injuries etc. must all be taken into consideration.

If you really want to motivate others in an altruistic sense you’d be passing around success stories of all types of people from all different backgrounds. It isn’t sexy but the goal would be to connect people coming from similar backgrounds.

The idea is to make your self accessible. A new exerciser may not be ready to make the commitment to change yet. Having these stories that they can connect personally to publish will make you the one they go to for support when they’re ready. As a trainer this can be a powerful source of gaining clients, as a fitness fanatic you can call it your good deed for the week to take this person to the gym.

The last way to be the change you wish to see in the World is to stop confusing people. Seriously, just stop it

Know your audience. If you’re writing for personal trainers or fitness fanatics it’s ok to challenge the status quo if you have good intentions. Most bloggers and magazine editors write for the average person. Contradictory evidence will drive readers to your site, I get it. Think of the quality of those readers. If you can really help them they’ll stay and you’ll be their fitness source.

When they’re ready to hire a trainer they’ll hire you. When they’re ready to buy an internet workout they’ll buy yours. Maybe the best way to help people is to communicate what works which, for most new exercisers, is just about anything.

Unless you have a PhD in the subject what you’re saying probably isn’t profound. Understand that other programs work. Communicate that to your readers and start breaking down the barriers to exercise.

The fitness world is becoming increasingly separated. The fit have created a daunting atmosphere where the unfit don’t feel welcome. Take a good hard look at how you’re trying to motivate. Look deeper into the “next best thing” that you’re peppering your friends, family members, or blog readers with and think hard about the effect it’s really having.

I wrote Ignite the Fire to help bridge the gap for personal trainers. This book will help passionate trainers succeed. It contains everything a trainer needs to know to be successful in and out of the gym from finding a job, to getting new clients, to selling, to designing beginner workouts, to working with other trainers, to motivating, and creating passive income. The trailer below is my life as a trainer from my impetus to workout to gaining to confidence to train others and eventually teach trainers.


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Jon Goodman is the creator of the Personal Trainer Development Center and author of Ignite the Fire. He’s a guy who straight up loves personal training. He also loves Facebook friends and would love it if you sent him a friend request