Compromise I: Marketing vs Fitness

I like working on a gym. I like having access to weights, TRXs, and foam rollers, and I particularly like being paid for it. I especially like – no, I love meeting people who are willing to set and achieve high standards through honest effort.


The problem is that most people aren’t like that.


A gym is a business. It needs income to survive, even if much of the start-up and development capital came from our own pockets. Thus, we have to spend considerable time and effort convincing people of the value of our product.

I definitely think there is sense in much of what we say, but one of the things that frustrates me is how much we need to work to avoid alienating people with words (or ideas, I suppose) such as “inadequate”, “weak”, and “lazy”. These, I feel, can accurately describe the physiques of many of our clients – and more important, they describe the mentality as well. Because we never – well, rarely – tell clients that they need a lot of improvement, they become convinced that they are either perfectly fine where they are, or are making progress when in fact they are stubbornly refusing to do so. Thus, the lazy pear-shaped mother thinks she is strong and hard-working, despite her inability to maintain a straight body when cranking out the half-rep high incline push-ups that she has being doing for years. The chubby “ultramarathoner” thinks she holds a high degree of strength endurance even though she has to give up half the time.

Another aspect is the refusal to push. One of my favorite clients is a 40-something-year-old father and lawyer who is willing to be challenged: he will attempt to shift the heaviest weight set out at least once per workout. However, once he determines that it is “too heavy” (I use quotation marks because 30kg squats should not be that difficult for a well-trained person who weighs more than twice that), he drops it and moves down with little or no flak. He is not forced to grind away at it and grow in strength, both mentally and physically. To me, this is a waste: this guy has the potential to be quite physically capable, but the general avoidance of pressure beyond what people are comfortable with, holds him back. We don’t want to risk losing his business – his two sons train with us as well – so we don’t do anything that might produce a negative effect in that area.


At what point does the marketing of the product exceed the quality of the product itself? Do the results of our training match the claims we make? Sure, we have some impressive students – the slim, quiet girl who can match many new guys at push-ups is one of my favorite examples – but many have not reached this level of capability. I thus wonder whether these few would have succeeded regardless of where they trained, which would invalidate our claim to produce fitter human beings.


I understand the necessity of marketing and client relations. I get that we need business to make money, especially because otherwise I don’t get paid. I still wonder how much more we could do for people if we weren’t shackled by that necessity. People can’t be scared. They can’t be alienated.


So how much can we actually challenge them, and how much will it mean when they meet those tiny challenges?


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