A new member ventures into your club with dreamy yet skeptical intentions of losing 25 pounds. He or she is frantic in their initial visits, pushing hard — almost as if they only have a month to get the job done. You tell your client to slow down, take it easier and stop pushing too hard, but the new member has been fully indoctrinated in the concept that exercise only works when it hurts, and the more it hurts, the better and quicker the results.

Most people are aware of their lack of success with exercise and weight loss. They also know that they can't continue to exercise if they must maintain the pain. So they feel they can only stick with it so long before they are overcome with the discomfort and the inconvenience of fitting exercise into their busy schedule. Once again, they fall back to excuses and disappointment. In other words, they are programmed for fitness failure.

For most people an insurmountable gulf exists in fitness between beginning to exercise and getting to the “good stuff” — noticeable weight loss, feeling better and increased self esteem. To most, this gulf is filled with pain and discomfort during the first month or two of exercise. If they don't get to the other side quickly, they succumb to the “bad stuff” (the aches and pains, the embarrassment, the inconvenience, the slow weight loss). The vast majority of Americans rarely cross the gulf of fitness giving up because the pain wins out before the gain can take hold.

Herein lies a challenge and an opportunity for clubs. Within the first month or two is when members are most susceptible to their programming for fitness failure. What can be done to get people through this to a time where they start to get the strong consistent benefits?

First, visiting a club must be a positive and rewarding experience for the new member. Keep in mind that the initial rewarding experiences will have little to do with weight loss or euphoric feelings. The club environment is critical. A club must be beautiful, energizing, inspiring and clean, yet non-intimidating. If they love what the club looks and “feels” like — a product of proper design and décor — they are not as focused on their discomfort. Colors, lighting, different shapes and finishes can inexpensively yet dramatically help to invigorate an environment and a new member.

Each new member should be treated as a new friend. What if one of your friends joined your club? Wouldn't you always have a smiling hello and goodbye? Wouldn't you check up on them and help them in any way you could?

Yet, so often, clubs don't offer any assistance unless a member pays extra for it. If left alone, how in the world will they make positive changes? They won't, and studies show most discontinue regular exercise within six weeks or so.

However, this leads to another great solution to fitness failure programming: personal training. The more members that end up with the help of a personal trainer the better. More than anything else, a good trainer can hold their hand through the insecure gulf of fitness and constantly remind them of the benefits they are receiving through exercise.

Have you ever heard a new member complain that exercise isn't working, yet when questioned, they answer that they are sleeping better, have more energy, their clothes fit better and they feel better about themselves? People programmed for fitness failure need to be constantly reminded what good changes they are making, especially since most only look at the scale for positive affirmation.

Keep in mind that so many of the new people coming into your club have been bombarded with the “I easily lost 30 pounds in 30 days” before-and-after testimonials found on television and in popular magazines. The new member comes in, loses only 4 pounds the first month and ends up with even stronger programming for fitness failure. So members need continual reminders that each visit is a reward to themselves and a positive step towards a better life. As a popular slogan for a major chain says, “It's not about fitness, it's about life!” Wall posters, newsletters and a communicative staff can do wonders.

For most people, joining a new club is just another experience that reinforces their programming for fitness failure. By understanding this, clubs can become proactive and constructively welcome new people and help them to the other side — where regular exercisers know and love so well — where exercise is one of the most rewarding and positive things they do in their life.


Bruce Carter is the president of Optimal Fitness Design Systems International, a club design firm that has created about $420 million worth of clubs in 45 states and 26 countries.