Records everywhere you look

One after the other keeps falling. Something the fitness industry can be proud of. More clubs than ever, more members than ever, more personal training than ever. Yet, other surprising, but ironic, records are being broken at the same time — there are more overweight and obese people than ever and more inactivity in people's lifestyles than ever. And, strangely enough, studies show that all of these statistics will continue to climb.

Yes, the fit are getting fitter, but the fat are getting fatter — at a much faster rate. Does this mean that health clubs are not doing their job? No. It just means that without health clubs our population would be even more out of shape. Massive inactivity due to massive technology is creating a world of slower-moving souls. This also means that the golden age of health clubs can be upon us if we open our minds to a better understanding of the unfit or deconditioned person. Because for most of them, health clubs are still not an option for their unhealthy problems.

A recent study by the U.S. Department of Health and the AD Council showed one alarming fact — most people now have a “what's-the-use” attitude. Nothing seems to be working for them. The unfit feel uncomfortable and intimidated by clubs. The fit make the unfit feel guilty, frustrated and annoyed.

A caricature of health clubs was in the recent movie, Dodge Ball, with Ben Stiller. His club had the motto, “We are better than you, and you know it!” This supports one of the main reasons people don't join a club or don't stay at a club.

The other reason people don't like clubs, and exercise, is that their unused bodies cry out with just a little activity. Plain and simple: exercise hurts, and many are not mentally prepared to deal with this discomfort. So they talk about exercise, they start and quit, and they keep making excuses (such as not enough time) to help massage away their guilt.

One rapidly growing chain is successfully capitalizing on the sentiment of the unfit by proclaiming their clubs as “judgment free zones.” Curves, growing at an astounding rate to more than 8,000 clubs now, has provided not a better club, but a better non-intimidating environment. Talk to a Curves member. They love their simple little club because the equipment is easy to use, it doesn't hurt much when they do it and they are surrounded by others who are also uncomfortable in the “fit-getting-fitter” clubs.

On another front, to attract a much broader market, clubs are finally accepting the fact that they must have inviting environments. Inspiring decor with stimulating lighting and exciting colors is replacing the boring, unmotivating spaces of clubs of old that just required a little equipment. Sure the very fit will exercise anywhere if the equipment is there, but not the unfit. More people are trusting their health and well being to fitness trainers than ever before as trainers are being elevated to fitness professionals. Supporting this trend are accrediting efforts that are starting to accredit the unlimited number of certification businesses. This is positive and similar to what happened in the growth and credibility of the chiropractor industry.

But, let's look at exercise itself. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, something is better than nothing. Clubs need to sell a little bit of exercise to the unfit market and accept that it is better than nothing. Chains such as Curves and Ray Wilson's Healthy Exercise are becoming the stepping stones that many in the deconditioned market are taking to increase their physical activity.

Plenty of room exists for both the fit and the unfit in a club. The fit crowd provides the vast majority of the profits to the industry, so they must be catered to in every proven way. But much of the future growth will come from the deconditioned majority.

Thirty-minute circuits are popping up everywhere. Trainers are becoming more flexible. Club walls are becoming covered with testimonials of the unfit becoming fit. The fitness industry must start trying on the shoes of the unfit, and as a result they will start to truly understand more of what the deconditioned really want and what turns them away. Some chains and individual clubs are already doing so with record profits.


Bruce Carter is the founder of Optimal Fitness Design Systems, a leading health club design and consulting firm that has created approximately $400 million worth of clubs in 44 states and 26 countries. He also is the President of GetCYCED!, a company specializing in providing motivation programs for people to reach their fitness goals.