Name: Jon Goodman
Occupation: Founder of the Personal Trainer Development Center, The Mighty Trainer, and Viralnomics.
Author Of: "Ignite the Fire: The Secrets to Building a Successful Personal Training Career," "Race to the Top: How to Take Over the Social Media Feed."
"I need to work my way up to the gym." I hear this phrase more often than you might imagine, and it sickens me. Have we really created a fitness environment where people feel like they're not ready to get into shape?
The gym should be a sanctuary where all are welcome. Watch "Pumping Iron," and you'll see a scene where a new exerciser is pumping up beside Arnold and the legendary bros. If the Mecca in Venice Beach was a welcoming place, your gym should be too.
So ask yourself: Is it? Do you shoulder smaller people aside on the way to the drinking fountain? When someone is using "your" equipment, do you give them looks you don't think they see? Do your actions when you're in the middle of an intense workout match up with who you think you are the rest of the time?
The gym has changed my life. The iron gave me confidence and purpose. As a result, I've dedicated my life to improving the quality of fitness instruction. And let's face it: People aren't comfortable in our gyms, and all of us—not just trainers—share the blame.
The first step to fixing this is recognizing that there is a problem—or a couple of problems, as you'll soon see. Then we can start working on solutions.
Problem 1: Too much showing off
Motivational sayings superimposed over half-naked, photo-altered bodies have been around for decades—longer than Photoshop, and definitely longer than the Internet. But sites like Facebook and Instagram have now brought them into everybody's homes and phones with a unique level of pervasiveness and intensity. When you click "Post," you may envision your gym rat friends checking out your latest share right before they walk into the weight room. But it's far more likely that your friends and relatives—fitness status undetermined— are the ones being subjected to it.
While these photos are nice to look at, I'm pretty sure they aren't helping anybody discover fitness. More often, they're just a way for the already-in-shape to show off—and for big companies to get a few thousand likes and views on the cheap.
I could talk—like many, many people have—about why people share material on the Internet. We could dig into selective self-representation, sharing to boost self-esteem rather than express it, and how people who rank lower on scales of emotional stability share more often. But long story short, whether you like it or not, that motivational quote you're sharing isn't altruistic. You're doing it for you, most likely to appear a certain way to people you want to impress.
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 a clichéd slogan to bully them into doing it. On the contrary, it just makes fitness seem more out of reach—and more obnoxious.
Problem 2: Too much information
It seems like new training dogmas— or kinda-new versions of the same old dogmas—bloom every year like flowers. But on the Internet, where everyone seems to be an expert and nothing ever really disappears, it can be very easy to think you've stumbled upon the "next best thing"—or just as likely, the only thing—that could work for you.
Maybe you think you're a discerning consumer at this point, but somebody who is new to the gym has no idea who or what to listen to. For them, the task of deciding who to trust and which program is best can be incredibly daunting. More options often equals more indecision, confusion, and intimidation.
Only after they've struggled for months—or years—and weathered the gauntlet of carnival barkers do people usually realize there is no "best" program, and that many different approaches can work. It was consistency that mattered all along. If only they had known sooner!
Let's break down the barriers
These problems are real—and they're growing. Luckily, there are solutions we can all implement—both the already fit and the wanting-to-get-fit. Here are five ideas you can put into action right away.
Solution 1: Build community
This is simple! If you've been training in the same place for years, you probably have lots of friends and acquaintances there, and you feel very comfortable. That is your community. When you see somebody who is clearly new, bring them into the community. Smile and introduce yourself—but definitely smile, at least.
When they're leaving, find something about their workout to compliment, if it makes sense, and say you're looking forward to seeing them again. In the coming days and weeks, stay friendly and maybe introduce them to others in your gym. If they become a member of the community, odds are better that they won't fall off the workout wagon again.
Solution 2: Understand the power of social modeling
Motivational posts, as I discussed earlier, don't motivate people unless those people are already exercising. Self-efficacy—the belief that one can achieve—is at its highest when a person feels that the model is the same as them. So if you're trying to reach someone, consider who that person is and what might truly speak to them.
If you really want to motivate others in an altruistic sense, pass around success stories about all types of people from many backgrounds. I'm not talking about sensationalistic stories about bogus, unsustainable weight loss; I'm talking about real people, real struggles, and real successes. They're out there!
Solution 3: Stop Bickering With Other Enthusiasts
While you're thinking about what makes an inspiring social media post, consider leaving the ones about the "best" and "worst" types of training on the site where you found them. The judgment game only increases confusion and intimidation.
Somebody who has never exercised before will benefit from steady-state cardio, as an example. It's not as evil as it's recently been cracked up to be—nor, for that matter, is bodybuilding-style training, CrossFit, yoga, using "pink dumbbells," or pretty much anything else you'll hear getting bad-mouthed. They're all better than sitting on the couch eating Doritos.
Sitting on a bike for over an hour definitely isn't the most efficient way to lose weight, but as an entry point while you get your bearings in the gym it's just fine. Sit on that bike until you feel comfortable. Then start throwing a few weights around.
Solution 4: Minimize confusion whenever possible
You're strong, fit, ripped, athletic—whatever you choose to call it. (To someone who's not, the differences are minimal, by the way). People have probably asked you for advice, and they'll continue to. When they do, be honest, but recognize that everyone else's goals aren't necessarily as specific or advanced as yours. Most people just want to feel better, move better, and look better, in no particular order. Don't lead them to believe that the fit life needs to be demanding or torturous.
If you're a fitness professional, focus on high-integrity lead generation, and stop marketing based on fear, emotion, and dependence—whether it's dependence on you, on specific high-difficulty movements, or on the shelves of products your gym would like to move. In the long term, you'll built up trust, real results, and referrals.
Along the way, keep your expectations realistic. Unless you have a doctorate in the subject—and perhaps even if you do—what you're saying probably isn't that profound. Understand that other programs work, and your way isn't the only way. Communicate this!
Solution 5: Begin with action and movement, pure and simple
If you're someone who is confident and not intimidated in the gym, keep going back and improving yourself. You're on a wonderful journey, and even if you don't say a word or write a single post about it, you're probably inspiring someone simply by embracing challenges. On the other hand, if you're a beginner and feel intimidated, examine your feelings—and go back to the gym again! It's crucial that you get in there and move. Pick a program—any program—that's remotely related to your goal. I can fan them out like a deck of cards and have you choose. Just follow it—that's the crucial part—and progress will replace the intimidation.
However you define it, fitness is a reward that everyone deserves to experience. Do your part to break down the barriers of exercise!
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