If there's one thing I've learned after 20 years in this industry, it's that nothing stays the same. Well, almost nothing. What worked to take a health club to the pinnacle of excellence in 1986 may not work in the 21st century. We're dealing with a more scrutinizing consumer. Competition has escalated and we compete not only with other health clubs, but with bookstores selling fitness between two covers, radio ads pushing fitness in a bottle and TV infomercials promising you can rock, swing or think your way to health.

There's one thing that hasn't changed. Despite the onrush of new offerings, the biochemistry of the human body remains exactly as it's been for centuries. What worked in 1986 to help someone develop a lean, toned body works every bit as well in 2003. So how, as fitness professionals, do the fitness directors, health club owners and elite personal trainers assume a position that allows them to find great success by remaining committed to the fitness truth? They can follow the model set by great leaders and commit not only to ascension within the marketplace, but more succinctly, they can commit to “Growth with Integrity.”

Before I further explore the concept of integrity, allow me to share eight other words, words that we've all been exposed to in some form or another.

“It's quick, it's easy, it works like magic.”

Those words pour through the speakers of my car radio. They permeate the pages of every magazine I flip through. They are repeated by swarms of multilevel marketers trying to get me to buy into their product offerings and the promise always equates to “quick, easy, magic.”

In the role of consumer advocate, I've been appalled by offerings ranging from those promising “personal training success” to those promising great abs in minutes. There are, in fact, a handful of high-quality programs and products, but they're swallowed up in a sea of fraud and deception, which leaves consumers confused and discouraged.

We see infomercials generate $100 million…using exaggerated “science.” We see addictive stimulants sold as miracle fat burners, and while some people are injured and others die, product sellers appear to prosper. It seems, based on the state of our industry, that integrity may have to be shoved aside in order to generate the big bucks.

APPEARANCES CAN BE DECEIVING

The FTC is stepping up its battle against fraudulent claims. The Electronic Ab Stimulator sellers have run into a Federal Trade Commission stop sign. Multimillion-dollar supplement sellers find themselves battling lawyers for selling potentially hazardous products. Wrongful injury cases are springing up involving personal trainers who fail to display any legally defensible measure of competence. The voice of reason is gaining power.

If we're going to thrive in a marketplace where deception abounds, our fitness representatives must serve not only as trainers, but also as solid resources for truth. As new offerings tempt health club members and prospective members, we must be prepared to openly challenge those offerings and to counter them with a process involving education. It is not only possible to grow with integrity; it is the course of growth that ultimately leads to the greatest reward.

What is integrity? Integrity is doing the right thing, even when it's difficult. Integrity is standing up for what you believe in. Integrity asks you to speak your mind, even if it's uncomfortable to do so. Integrity in our field requires a commitment to the unshakable belief that “quick easy magic” doesn't exist, and that in order to achieve a positive physical change, there must be a concern for activity and supportive eating.

As long as those with questionable morals continue to challenge and tempt with fraudulent offerings, we maintain an uphill climb in order to muster the widespread respect that we know we deserve. Uphill climbs don't scare those who are committed to pursuance of truth. In fact, we thrive on challenges and relish in the ability to overcome them.

I share my opinions in the hope that ethics will become contagious, and the cream of the fitness crop will rise to the top and stand as the centerpiece of the most noble mission we could possibly aspire to — helping others to better their lives — with integrity.

PROJECT ACES

As the world's largest exercise class, this global event facilitates millions of children exercising together on one day. It is a great way to motivate children to exercise in a cooperative group fitness event. The workout celebrates the lifelong habit of daily exercise and is a symbolic gesture of fitness and unity in a commitment to health and wellness.

Phil Kaplan conducts seminars and workshops for fitness professionals and his book, “Personal Training Profits,” has already launched the careers of top industry performers. Contact him at 800-552-1998 or visit philkaplan.com.