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Why Are We Failing?  

By Patricia Glynn

Sedentary lifestyles are officially still going strong.

According to a study released by the Physical Activity Council (PAC), a partnership of six major trade associations in the sports, fitness, and leisure industries, including IHRSA, the number of inactive persons in the U.S. increased from 67.2 million in 2010, to 68.2 million in 2011.

The pervasiveness of inactivity isn’t news to those in our industry, but one pro, Scott Hodson, wants to know why the rates are still so discouragingly high—and why they’re still rising.

Scott HodsonHodson is a Dartford, U.K.-based Internet entrepreneur for the health, sport, and leisure industry, as well as the founder of Train the Nation, a movement to get the U.K. to assume responsibility for its citizens’ health, well-being, and happiness. Hodson posted his query, earlier this year, on the IHRSA group discussion forum on, a page on the professional networking site that fitness pros can use to interact with one another, pose questions, and share ideas.

Hodson’s contribution was direct and pointed: “Why are we failing?” he asked.

The group’s members had much to say on the subject—there were approximately 140 replies.

The full-length discussion is still available online, but here are some highlights from the debate:

• The shift will occur when monetization of outcomes and quality overtakes membership sales as being the key driver. —Bryan O’Rourke, consultant and speaker, founder and CEO for Integrus, LLC, a provider of business development and technology solutions and services, and CSO & principal for Fitness Marketing Systems (Fitmarc), LLC, the South Central U.S. Distributor for LES MILLS group fitness programming

I agree on the need for wellness coaches. If we really want to help, we need a multidisciplinary approach. We need to look at the whole person—their thoughts, feelings, and beliefs. When that happens, I believe we will be able to bring about permanent change. —Brenda Gottlob, youth fitness specialist for Plattsburgh, New York’s Mountain Riders Fitness & Wellness Solutions  

Our industry needs to figure out how to make exercise pleasurable to the masses. And, man, is that ever a BIG challenge! Michael Scott Scudder, managing partner for Fitness Industry Group, an open learning cooperative for fitness industry suppliers and consultants 

You need to make your club fun. Fun for “all” ages. Kathleen Kuryliw, marketing coordinator at International Play Company, the Langley, British Columbia, Canada-based designer, manufacturer, and installer of indoor and outdoor playgrounds

Until we can find a way to incorporate personal training in an inexpensive way, we will continue to fail. The dichotomy we face is that personal trainers have invested thousands of dollars in their education and deserve to be paid appropriately. But the average person can’t afford it. We need a real shift. Karen Klaess, owner and founder of Brea, California’s Fitness 1Express, an independent health club

• At the end of the day, the fitness industry is a hospitality business. The value for participants is in the experience. It is critical to offer programs which consumers are looking for—as opposed to those we in the industry might be excited about. Also, we need to address an issue nobody talks about—staff engagement and retention. Turnover averages from 50%-100% annually. It’s a significant barrier to building long-term relationships with members. What’s more, current compensation practices foster a culture wherein employees are vested in as few as 10-12 clients who pay for personal training. We can’t blame staff—it is simply expected human nature at play here. Perhaps it is time to look at compensation and member service models that would place a higher value on engagement for employees and members alike. —Graham Melstrand, vice president of business development for The American Council on Exercise (ACE) of San Diego, California, the world’s largest nonprofit fitness certification, education, and training organization.

The solution rests in the open-mindedness of top executives and their willingness to welcome true preventive initiatives (e.g., educating, allowing for interruption of sedentary behavior, making healthy food accessible and affordable, reducing stress by improving interpersonal communication, etc). It’ll happen in due time. I’m personally very optimistic about it. Happy employees = efficient employees. Renee Nasajon, president for The Wave Corporation, a Florida company which offers a software program intended to improve the physical and mental health of people who use computers 

Simon Sinek (the author of Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action, and a keynote speaker at the 2012 edition of IHRSA’s International Convention and Trade Show in Los Angeles) told us that, as club owners and operators, we need to understand “Our Why.” Very seldom do we address why we do what we do. Working out can be fun, but it’s usually not (fun) for those who are out of shape. So why are they going to get off the couch? I think we’re asking the wrong questions when we ask “why” or “how” will they become a member of our clubs. Josh Donovan, general manager for Body Xchange Sports Club, a chain of full-service clubs in California

Facilities wanting to increase their membership have to move away from a sales-driven approach and instead focus on delivering a better experience. We must understand what prevents people from committing to exercise and then offer them real results (sadly, it’s something we fail to do). Tamara Bailey, retention coach for The Retention People, a team of leading researchers in leisure customer retention with offices in the U.S., U.K., and Australia

Most instructors chose a career in the industry because they are interested in their own fitness. This does not always translate into an interest in helping people achieve their goals, the interpersonal skills to inspire, or the desire to acquire knowledge beyond their own interests. It’s a tough question to ask, but—do your instructors possess a genuine interest in your members? Do your instructors really know how to motivate someone? Also, there is too much focus on making the body beautiful—it’s all about fat loss, toning, etc. … I have never once heard these terms in a martial arts club. It’s all about gaining strength, gaining confidence. It’s gain, gain, gain. I train now to GAIN not to LOSE. Finally, bring it back to basics—does new technology really impress people? If so, then why are people out doing boot camps in the wind and the rain? Linda Donegan, researcher for the Dublin Institute of Technology, a technological higher education provider in Ireland 

People don’t exercise anymore because they have no hope. They’ve lost a belief in themselves. They would rather take a pill than make any effort. People who are out of shape only start to exercise out of fear—fear of losing something of value to them. Education is not the solution as much as instilling in the individual the belief that they are worth it, and that there is actually hope. Greg Ryan, a Kentucky-based author, speaker, life coach, and personal trainer

You are all missing the point. The goal is not to get them to move, eat better, or, heaven forbid, join a gym. The goal is get them to understand why they don’t want to eat, move, or take care of themselves. Jeremy Wheaton, coach at The Studio, a fitness and coaching facility, in Kalamazoo, Michigan 

Hodson, of course, chimed in with his own thoughts. At one interval during the discussion he shared the following:

The big elephant in the room here is … has anyone asked what the people want? The value proposition of the health and industry is so far off the mark … and the way we deliver results and provide experiences needs updating to suit the consumers.

On his Website, shares further details on the inactivity epidemic and explains how he is working to combat the problem. He also invites other pros to make a pledge to join with him as part of his Train the Nation endeavor. 

What do you think? Why are so many people choosing to remain inactive? And how might we change this dangerous paradigm?

- Patricia Glynn,

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