The International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association is the fitness industry's only global trade association representing over 10,000 for profit health and fitness facilities and over 600 supplier companies in 75 countries.

 

 



From educational tools and events to promotional programs and public policy initiatives, IHRSA brings you success... by association!

Join | Renew
Pledge Your Support

 
Search IHRSA Blog

Welcome to the IHRSA Blog

The Online Home of IHRSA.org news.

Blog Home |  Subscribe to our RSS Feed

Entries in Jean Suffin (13)

Thursday
Dec012011

“22 More Ways” to Improve Your Club’s Bottom Line  

Miramont Lifestyle FitnessIn the October issue of CBI, Contributing Editor Jean Suffin described a host of ways in which two IHRSA-members clubs—The Weymouth Club, in Weymouth, Massachusetts; and the Gainesville Health and Fitness Centers, in Gainesville, Florida—had managed to significantly trim their overhead costs. (See “38 Ways to Slash Your Club’s Expenses,” pg. 43.)

Suffin, an indefatigable researcher, had spoken to other clubs and industry suppliers with valuable ideas to share, but space restrictions had prevented us from covering them in CBI.

Dealing with little problems such as that is one of the reasons that CBI Unbound was created.

So, without further ado: “22 More Ways” that three club companies have utilized to improve their bottom line.

Cliff Buckholz

Miramont Lifestyle Fitness, Ft. Collins, Colorado

Cliff Buckholz, owner

1. Refinanced building and personal property: “We did a better job of going through our personal property and making sure that legal life had run its course,” says Buckholz. Total savings were about $8 million.

2. Hired a real estate agent to negotiate loan terms for the club and paid a flat fee, rather than a percentage, producing a $700,000 reduction in costs.

3. Didn’t replace middle managers; department heads assumed responsibilities.

4. Replaced lighting fixtures at a cost of $250,000, with a 40% rebate; payout was a year and eight months.

5. Switched to ICE energy, which generates ice at night that melts during the day to cool things off.

6. Utilized energy-efficient tankless water heaters.

7. Implemented system to track labor.

8. Reduced benefits package from fulltime at 30 hours eligibility to 38 hours; health insurance offering moved from 24 hours to 30.

9. Changed how the club charges for personal training based on the trainer’s level. High-level trainers charge more, while lower-level trainers make less: produced a 35% increase in training revenues.

10. Saved $5,000 a quarter by putting “everything” on line and not printing collateral materials.

11. Switched to more efficient direct lighting on tennis courts at a cost of $150,000; paid off in two years.

Westmoreland Athletic Club, Greensburg, Virginia

Dennis Doyle, president

1. Made compensation performance-based.

2. Shared responsibilities to reduce staff.

3. Club buys in volume and utilizes all discounts offered by vendors.

4. Reduced utility costs by making use of more efficient materials and better sources; improved insulation will produce payback in 3-4 years.

5. Negotiates with vendors and makes use of extended terms.

6. Takes advantage of computer options, including hand-held devices, social media, etc.

7. Reevaluated benefits package.

Pura Vida Fitness and Spa, Denver, Colorado

Keith Moore, general manager

1. Filtered water system eliminates plastic bottles and cups, and the club makes money selling sustainable water bottles.

2. Hand towels by locker room sinks replace paper towels.

3. The blind/shade system at the club was developed to reduce energy costs. The shades are on all windows, and, as the sun moves from east to west during the day, the blinds are lowered to reduce the heat load.

4. Recycling bins installed throughout the club at members’ request. A large cardboard compactor compacts all cardboard boxes used by housekeeping and maintenance; recycling company picks up a tidy square cube of recycled cardboard.

Pura Vida Fitness and Spa

 

 

Thursday
Nov172011

“What’s the Deal With Dues?”

By Jean Suffin

What’s the deal with dues?

Speaking as a lifelong patron of health clubs, and not as a CBI writer, I have to say that I just don’t understand the fuss about dues. It doesn’t make sense that such a no-brainer is the No. 1 obstacle to signing up members. A decent dinner can cost anywhere from $30 to $75. A massage costs $80 an hour. Therapy costs $150 an hour. And, yet, people are looking for the cheapest way to spend almost an hour, four or five days a week, doing something to make themselves feel better.

Surely, if a person can afford to go out to dinner, or go out for coffee every morning, they can afford a gym membership. Would they pay an extra $60 a month in rent for a place that they love? Do they spend $60 a month on extended cable, a DVR system, and new apps for their iPod? I think of all the things that I spend $60 on, and, to be honest, I could live without most of them.

Could I live without a gym membership? Absolutely not! It’s my lifeblood. It’s my sanity.

When I’m feeling down, I go to the gym; working out puts me in a better mood. When I’m feeling happy, I go to the gym; I’m energetic, and my workout is more rewarding. When I’m feeling isolated or lonely, I go to the gym; there are people there. When I’m tired and don’t feel like it, I go to the gym; even the little bit that I do helps me feel better.

The only time I can say that I don’t go to the gym is when it’s closed because of bad weather.

I know that I’m an exception, but I don’t know why. There’s nothing outstanding about me. Thanks to a terrific personal trainer who helped changed my life, I’ve reaped the rewards that come from working out, and I made a pact with myself long ago that, no matter what was going on in my life, working out would remain a priority—maybe even at the risk of something else falling by the wayside.

I figure you carry your body around with you everywhere. You live in it 24 hours a day. To not feel good is a sort of torture. I feel bad about enough things in my life. Working out is one thing I can feel good about. And, for heavens sake, $60 a month is a very small price to pay for that satisfaction.

I think club operators place way too much importance on dues when they’re selling to potential members. If someone is looking for cheap, they’re going to find it. It’s out there in droves. What people want when they join a club is to be motivated and to make fitness a part of their lives. If a club can offer that, I think a person will forego one dinner a month.

The price of a membership is an excuse. What salespeople need to do is treat a prospect as an individual. When you give the club tour, spotlight the areas of the club that they’ll most likely use. Talk to them about personal training. Talk to them about fun classes. Talk to them about the things outside the club that you offer: e.g., social events, races, Internet-based workouts, rides and runs. Get them excited about trying something new. Tell them success stories. And, oh, by the way, explain that they get all of this for a measly $60 a month. If they hesitate, ask them what other things they spend $60 a month on—make them dig deep and figure it out. They might surprise themselves.

A membership at a health club can change your life. Don’t let a prospect tell you that $60 a month is too much for them. Isn’t their body—the place where they spend their lives—worth it?

Jean Suffin is a contributing editor for CBI and can be contacted at jean@fit-etc.com.

 

Monday
Jul182011

Triathlon Trials and Tribulations

By Jean Suffin

I have a bucket list like everybody else. It includes skydiving, traveling in Africa, and singing in a rock band.

It does not, however, include doing a triathlon.

Jean, center, with Pam and Alison, the Merser sistersSo, much to my chagrin, three months before the event, my friends talked me into the Boulder 5430 Sprint Triathlon at the reservoir—a half-mile swim, a 17-mile ride, and a three-mile run. I still don’t know what possessed me, but I couldn’t say no to my friends, and I figured even though it wasn’t something I ever wanted to do, it would be good for me to be able to say I did it, because really, that’s what any physical challenge is about. Being able to say you did it, right?

So I’d like to bring you with me on my mental and emotional journey to the finish line.

There’s a woman named Elisabeth Kubler-Ross who’s famous for defining the five stages of grief that most of us experience over a loss. Strangely, I passed through them all during the triathlon.

1. Denial. The idea of a triathlon started out as a joke, as in, “This is a joke.” I swim, I bike, and I run, but I do none of these things well, and I do none of these things sequentially. I didn’t care. I just wanted to finish the stupid thing.

2. Anger. Who do Pam and Alison think they are, talking me into this madness? It’s all their fault and I don’t want them as friends anymore.

3. Bargaining. I’ll do anything! Just let me live through this!

4. Depression. Why am I bothering? There’s no way I can do this. I’m not an athlete.

5. Acceptance. I’m doing the stupid thing. I might as well prepare for it.

So, to the club I went. I swam laps once a week, cycled a few times a week, and jogged on the treadmill a little. As the date started to loom out there and reality started to sink in, I thought it best that, in order to finish the race, I kick things up a bit. So I swam twice a week.

This went on, this regular “training,” for a little over two months. Three weeks before the race, it occurred to us all: “We’re doing a triathlon in three weeks!” It was as if we’d been in a coma for the past two months and didn’t notice that time was passing and that we hadn’t, for all intents and purposes, trained.

Not to mention the complicated logistics of transitioning, which I quickly learned is the key to a successful triathlon. For an average triathlete, this takes approximately three minutes. It took me eight.

A week before the triathlon, we participated in a “stroke and stride” which mimicked the swim and run portions of the event. It was the first experience any of us had had swimming in the open water, and, it was horrendous. Suffice it to say that I panicked and cried, as in, “I can’t do this. I’m out.”

So here comes the Oprah-esque motivational and empowering part of the story that will persuade you to jump out of bed and swim in the freezing cold open water at 6 o’clock in the morning. That’s exactly what I did. I jumped out of bed, drove to the reservoir, and joined the swim group that convenes there two days a week. I can’t say I did well, but I did it. I was finally able to swim and breathe simultaneously. Something that had been impossible at the “stroke and stride.”

Despite the fact that the few days prior to the race were spent in a perpetual anxiety attack, it all kind of worked out. I finished, my friends finished, and we were all there for each other at the finish line cheering one another on. Most of us were in tears over the joy we experienced at having done something challenging.

So back to my eight-minute transition. I guess I just took my time. I can’t really figure out what was going on. It was hypothesized that perhaps I was debating my wardrobe. Perhaps I too delicately removed my wetsuit. Perhaps I was still recovering from the swim. Perhaps I was taking a nap, or getting a cup of coffee. I don’t know, but I’m convinced that that’s the reason I came in last of all of my friends.

But whatever. We’re doing another one at the end of August, and really, I don’t care. I just want to finish the stupid thing.

Jean finishes her first triathlon

Monday
Jun272011

Social Media Scrapes

By Jean Suffin

Recently a friend informed me that email is “obsolete.” For someone who communicates primarily through email, this is a devastating indication of how old I am. My phone is just that, a phone. It doesn’t text, play songs or access the internet. Where have I been?

The new age is social media, and for good reason. “Online social media is a two way conversation. The type of insight companies can gain from being in on the conversations is invaluable,” explains Kelly Gray, a social media consultant for health clubs. The “two-way” conversation allows clubs to hear what their members think and want.

Kelly Gray, Social Media Consultant for health clubs

Facebook, Twitter, and countless other social media sites provide instantaneous communication, the ability to share information that we otherwise couldn’t have, and, for health clubs, a huge marketing and retention tool.

“With over 500 million on Facebook, 200 million on Twitter, and over 350,000 bloggers on Wordpress alone, the importance of participating in social mediums is substantial,” Gray emphasizes.

Some clubs might shy away from publicizing their members’ comments, and potentially, grievances. “Clubs need a social media spin doctor. Some clubs will delete messages, but I don’t advise that. A good PR person will know how to respond and give it a positive slant,” Gray advises.

But be careful. Not fully understanding how social media works can lead to several pitfalls, not the least of which is hiring someone who may be proficient in utilizing the tools, but is not a marketing expert.

“The person managing your social media for your company should be proficient in the mediums and understand messaging and relationship building.  I've seen so many cases where a person willing to volunteer to champion the page is put in charge. It quickly becomes painfully clear that they are not a marketing expert, but a Facebook or Twitter expert.  They are certainly not one in the same,” Gray maintains.

Another pitfall that she sees is treating the social media outlet as a static extension of the website or a sales site that ultimately, ineffectually, pitches to your existing customers.

Relationship building is the crux of social media. Clubs can communicate special deals, additions to the schedule and special events to members. Then, the beauty of the network is that your members’ “friends” have access to this information and you may just win over a potential customer. Social media is an extension of what happens in the club, and a creative marketing person can develop contests and events that are specifically geared toward social media outlets which then spread virally.

“Companies need to start building relationships in the socialsphere.  People take their time in making long-term decisions such as high cost products or memberships.  The more you gain someone's trust by educating and inspiring people to become part of your family, the more likely it is that your company will be top of mind when he or she is ready to make a decision. With social media, you should now be pursuing the lifelong value of your customers and their friends.” Gray posits.

And the beauty of it is that the cost of implementing a social media campaign is negligible in relation to the ROI garnered from attracting new members and retaining existing members. The only cost incurred is a salary or consulting fee for the right person to manage the campaign. The reward, though not necessarily measurable, is huge.

At the very least, show up to the party. Lack of social media presence may leave you behind the eight ball and out of the loop.

Thursday
Apr282011

Small Group Personal Training

By Jean Suffin

What you can expect to see in the July issue of CBIMembers love it, trainers love it, clubs reap financial reward from it, and it increases retention. We’re talking about a relatively new form of training called Small Group Personal Training (SGPT).

 

SGPT continues to grow, and there’s no end to its potential. For an article on the topic in the July issue of CBI, I consulted several expert presenters at the IHRSA conference, and they all agree: SGPT is a must for clubs.

“SGPT really lowers the price point for the client and allows the trainer to generate more revenue per hour,” explains Pete McCall, Exercise Physiologist and ACE spokesperson. “It creates a tribe: a unique little subset within the club.”

It’s that “tribe” or camaraderie that entices members back to class repeatedly.

Rich Bradford is a certified personal trainer in Lafayette, Colorado who conducts four different SGPT classes a week, each offered three times per week. He touts the benefits reaped from the friendships that form. “We had a baby shower for a participant recently. We’re like a family.”

Rich Bradford, personal trainer

SGPT classes have anywhere from four to twenty participants and are held two to three times a week. They differ in format from group exercises classes because one class accommodates any level of fitness, and each participant receives individual attention.

“We get a wide range of participants in each class from young athletes to seniors. Small group training allows us to individualize the workout and cater to each member of the group,” Bradford attests. “If a participant can’t do an exercise, I give them an alternative.”

Classes typically utilize props such as balls, bands, Bosus and kettlebells, and are usually conducted in a circuit-like format to keep participants engaged.

“Compare an individual track event to a relay race. Competitors feel a sense of accountability towards the other members of their team. It’s not just them competing. Group training is similar. They don’t want to let each other down by not showing up or not participating in an exercise,” explains Bradford.

One of the biggest challenges for clubs is identifying the right trainers. Often, one-on-one trainers are not comfortable with a group. Conversely, group exercise instructors may not gravitate towards training individuals.

“The instructor has to be enthusiastic. Members draw from that energy, and the excitement is contagious,” Bradford attests.

But like anything successful, conducting a SGPT class is a lot of work, and takes very specific skills.

“Most certifications offer education on training various populations. Knowledge on training different populations is critical,” Bradford advises. “These classes are instructor-driven so the trainer really needs to love what they’re doing. There’s a great deal of satisfaction in seeing participants get excited about working out.”

Clubs need to screen trainers carefully and look for the winning qualities. Often that means conducting internal training for existing instructors. Other times it means hiring from the outside. Whatever effort the club puts into finding trainers, it will be well worth it.

“We want everyone to walk out thinking they got a great workout. That’s a home run,” enthuses Bradford.

Monday
Mar282011

Eating Disorders at the Club: Is It Your Place to Say?

By Jean Suffin

We’ve all seen it. The woman (or man) at the club who is painfully thin and working out frequently, for long periods of time and with obsessive vigor. A person who is so thin that your heart goes out to them and you wish you could say something. Of course, that’s not realistic or effective. So what can a club do, if anything, to intervene and help members who suffer from complex eating disorders like anorexia nervosa and bulimia?

First, the experts believe, don’t assume. There’s a lot more to an eating disorder than meets the eye.

Dr. MaryJayne Johnson

 Dr. MaryJayne Johnson, an exercise physiologist with countless achievements under her belt, including the international IHRSA/CYBEX Fitness Director of the Year award, explains that sometimes disordered eating or exercise is hard to identify because the profiles and symptoms are not cut-and-dried. In addition to the behaviors described above, there are people of normal weight who exercise compulsively, people who weigh themselves compulsively, and those who swear they don’t eat much and never lose weight. “You can see how complex this can get because these signs are not definitive,” she says.

Eliza Kingsford

 Eliza Kingsford, MA, LPC, a licensed professional counselor specializing in eating disorders, agrees, and emphasizes that there are objective criteria by which an eating disorder diagnosis is determined. “As much as it may pain you to see someone so obviously thin working way too hard, it’s still something we never want to pass judgment on.”

Both agree that it’s almost never appropriate for another member to approach the individual. “Telling someone who has an eating disorder that you think they have an eating disorder and that they shouldn’t be working out will not help that person recover,” Kingsford explains.

But club staff, Dr. Johnson maintains, can. “The first line of action is a new member appointment with a personal trainer. Often, as the personal trainer is interviewing the client, verbal cues indicate that a referral to a dietitian, mental health practitioner, or physician is in order. If we have existing members that we have concerns about, a qualified member of the staff can approach the member in a caring, concerned manner.”

But first, she advises, clubs need to define their role as a health/wellness facility, as opposed to a workout facility. “If we profess to be health/wellness professionals, then I feel we have a responsibility to reach out to the member.”

Kingsford advises club managers to have resources on hand to refer members to in case they reach out for help.

Dr. Johnson explains, “Nationally certified personal trainers and group fitness instructors should understand that helping our members to live a healthful lifestyle is part of their role as professionals. As a health club manager, I would want my staff to talk to their fitness director and/or to me if they have concerns about a member. Together, I would want to establish an appropriate way to approach the member in a caring, nonthreatening way.”

For more information on how to train staff to deal with these situations, the American Council on Exercise (ACE) has published a resource called Lifestyle Weight Management Coach that speaks to signs and symptoms that a personal trainer should be aware of, and suggests appropriate actions to take. 

Friday
Dec032010

What NOT to Wear at the Gym

By Jean Suffin

In October, our lovely and talented Mia authored a two-part series on “pet peeves” at the gym (click here to read Part One; click here for Part Two). Mia, being younger and less curmudgeonly than I, was extremely nice. I submitted my rants to her, which she chose not to include, probably because, admittedly, I’m a particularly cranky gym-member. But seriously folks, let’s talk about what we really can’t stand to see at the gym. Let’s talk about “What Not to Wear.”

I frequently see a woman at my gym working out in her running clothes that she might wear were it 90 degrees outside. You’ve seen running shorts. They’re very short and loose, to keep us cool when we’re running. They’re not meant for the gym, where we twist and turn in precarious positions. Aforementioned woman has a very interesting workout routine during which she vigorously flies her spread-eagled legs in the air—in her short shorts that don’t cover anything. It makes me want to cut my workout short and LEAVE the gym. Same is true for the man wearing his running shorts while doing leg presses. I happened to have been directly across from him on the squat rack the other day, and it was not pretty. Other members notice, too—I know it’s not just me—and I just don’t think this promotes membership retention.

I think people forget when they roll out of bed in the morning and show up for their workouts that they’re going out in public. I mean, presumably most people in the gym care what they look like or they wouldn’t be there in the first place, so why—oh why?—do they forget to look decent while they work out?

There are a number of brands devoted strictly to making us look good when we’re working out. They design clothes that cover us up while wicking away odorous moisture. They cover, and yes, even enhance, our butts. They support and shape us. Designers spend a lot of time and energy trying to make us look good while we work out. It is their raison d’etre and yet too many of us don’t take advantage of them. Granted, many of these brands can be costly, but if they are sapping your budget, check out discount stores.

Here’s my top-5 list of what NOT to wear at the gym:

  • Short shorts

  • Spandex

  • Threadbare tights—they don’t hide anything

  • Little, itty-bitty sports bras

  • On men, sleeveless “wife beater” T-shirts

Mostly, just remember that the gym is a public place where other people congregate. And like it or not, they’re looking at you.

Next rant: Smelling clean at the gym. It’s not hard to use deodorant.

Monday
Nov292010

Cultivating New Trainers

By Jean Suffin

It seems like everyone is vying to be the next Jillian Michaels or Tony Horton these days. With the rising (we hope) interest in fitness in our country, it follows that there’s an influx of people looking to work as fitness instructors, and there are a plethora of training and certification options for them to obtain. So how does a club weed out the really good ones? As we are about to learn, it’s not about weeding out, but nurturing and growing the good ones. So how can a fitness director determine who is going to be best for the job, the members, and the club?

Shannon Fable—whom you’ve seen on this blog before and in various issues of CBI as a source for invaluable information—is the Group Fitness Director at the Colorado Athletic Club - Boulder, and she brings years of experience running her own consulting business and working with hundreds of group exercise instructors to the table. I asked her about her interview process for hiring trainers and learned that it’s quite intensive. It takes more than your typical résumé solicitation and interview process to find the really good ones.

Here’s what Shannon had to say on the topic:

“Hiring good people starts with finding them, so I put the word out in as many venues as possible—craigslist, Gym Jobs, Healthclubs.com. But word-of-mouth and networking are often the most effective ways of finding people. My business, Sunshine Fitness Resources, maintains a database of instructors all over the world, and I can refer to them for people in the area.

Once I find potential candidates, guess what? I don’t even look at their résumés. It’s easy to put together a seemingly impressive résumé but, surprisingly, sometimes the very best instructors do not have the best résumés, and sometimes the best résumés don’t reflect the best instructors. You never know until you see them move. So I hold open auditions every three months at the club and allow anyone to participate. The initial audition process—3-5 minutes is all you get—is to gauge stage presence, professionalism, and preparedness only.

Certifications and credentials are very important, but they can also be obtained and maintained pretty easily these days. I do look for NCCA-accredited certifications, such as ACE and an IDEA affiliation. However, I’m also looking for real-world experience, professionalism, loyalty, and the desire for ongoing education. I look for good people who are willing to continually evolve.

Once I find my initial picks during the preliminary audition, the interview process takes over and it’s fairly long and intensive. 

The following are the interview steps:

  1. Candidate completes paper application.
  2. Candidate participates in an “All Call” three-minute audition. During these auditions, I’m looking for the “it” factor; i.e. that special something that makes a class engaging, fun, and effective. Some of that comes naturally and can’t be taught, and we all know it when we see it and participate in one of those classes.
  3. If the candidate makes it through the audition stage, I conduct a phone interview during which I review their application, résumé, references, and experience.
  4. If they make it through the phone interview, I conduct a live interview. Now that I already know their background, I begin digging deeper to find out how they would handle dealing in our particular environment. I question them regarding ethics, leadership, and teamwork based on previous experiences leading a group. I also give them a real view of what’s to come to see if they’re up for the rest of the challenge!  
  5. If they make it through the interview, they’re invited to ‘play with our team.’ That is, they come in for a month to take classes and review classes. They are essentially trying the job on for size: assessing me and if they’d like to work with me, assessing our current team and seeing if they’d fit in, and getting to know the members and the culture of the club to see if it would be a good experience. Basically, we’re interviewing each other. In their review of classes they take, I’m evaluating what kind of team player they would be. Is their review all glowing? Do they recognize places where they can learn and grow or are they competing with my current team? This is probably the most crucial part of my process.
  6. When all of this is complete and they have finished their “assignments,” they participate in a formal audition lasting 20 minutes or more. Now, I can really see how they would perform. They’ve had enough time to see the format they wish to teach in action, and to get to know how we do it at our club and adapt. This audition allows me to see if they would be able to jump in and teach on our team.

I’m looking for the right person, with the right talent at the right time, with a willingness to learn. We’re not interested in ego; we want instructors who are there to help people.

Those selected are placed in waiting for a position in the future if there is none available at that time. But the key is, I don’t collect résumés and hold auditions only when a position is available; I hold them on an ongoing basis so I’m sure to have talent available when we need it. I think this is the best way to “catch” the good ones and not miss out on new people coming into the area who might be terrific. I actually create an ongoing pool of people who will be available when there’s an opening to increase my network. 

It works well as a test of commitment to put people through a long interview process with several phases. If they stick around to make it through, chances are they really want to work for you and they’ll put their best foot forward (figuratively speaking). I have been so blessed to build up such a talented network of instructors whom I can call upon at a moment’s notice.

Once someone is hired, there’s very little training that needs to take place because they’ve already experienced, in a way, working in the club. They’re pretty much ready to go. I have them shadow and team-teach prior to taking over formats/classes so they can get familiar with the team and vice versa. It’s a good three- to six-month process—even though I know this is unheard of in the business—before an instructor is out there on their own teaching a class.

I’ve been using this method for years and we keep refining it, but the basic premise has worked extremely well. CAC has some of the best instructors in the Colorado area. Beyond that, we have a true team of instructors versus several individuals who come in, do their thing, and then take their ‘thing’ to another location down the street. When you use a process such as this one, the current instructors have more pride in what they do and respect for the new folks who make it through the process. It cuts down on folks feeling threatened, keeps them from competing with one another, and allows them to focus on the task at hand: making people fit! The process I described takes time, tons of time. But, what it does for you in the future cuts down on wasted time elsewhere.” 

Friday
Nov052010

A Healthy Obsession with Exercise

By Jean Suffin

The first time my writing was ever published was during my freshman year of college. I was upstate at school and, when I came home to Long Island for a visit, I bumped into a neighbor on my run who had seen my writing published in Newsday in the health column. I was ecstatic. I had never been published before and this, I was sure, was the start of my career as a satirical columnist for the New York Times Magazine. Alas, almost 30 years later, that dream eludes me.

I had submitted my answer to a contest several months prior. The contest asked: “How do you keep exercising even after it becomes boring?” Being, back then, an even more neurotic exerciser than I am now, I wrote my satirical answer in column format elaborating on, in great detail, the process that led me to become a daily exerciser. The health columnist found my answer funny and entertaining and—a generous man he was—printed it embedded in his column. I didn’t win the contest, mind you, because admittedly I didn’t have the best suggestion, but just getting my writing published was prize enough for me.

My answer basically stated that in order to continue exercising after it gets boring you have to be neurotic. I went on to describe said neurosis—how I got anxious if I didn’t exercise, how I felt like I needed to burn off every calorie I consumed and how, after no fewer than three cups of coffee, I would end up with so much nervous energy that I would have to exercise to burn it off. I elaborated on how I hated every minute of it (look, let’s be honest, it doesn’t feel great) but that despite the weather and an injury, I was so driven that I would bundle up from head to toe and, resembling a purple (it was in style then), limping marshmallow, would jog through the snow around my neighborhood. The health columnist stated in print that my answer was nearest and dearest to his heart, even after having awarded prizes to the other winners.

Those who did win the contest suggested getting a paper route, or encouraging your kid to get a paper route, and getting a dog (or getting your kid a dog). Healthy things like that. After digging up this column to reminisce, I wondered, did those people really sustain their regimens? Did the parents end up driving their kids around to deliver the paper? Did the dog get chubby?

And, I wondered, don’t you really have to possess a certain level of neurosis to force yourself to go to the gym or for a run every day of your life for the rest of your life? I mean, don’t we get some time off for good behavior? Don’t we get a break? A REST? Oh no—time off means we lose muscle tone and have to work even harder to reclaim it. So yes, I’ve concluded, you do have to be slightly neurotic—as well as slightly obsessed—to exercise as much as they tell us (or we tell them, as it were) we’re supposed to.

My disclaimer: This writer lives in the bubble of Boulder, Colorado. We don’t have any obese people in Boulder, Colorado. Everyone is thin and healthy. It makes me want to smoke a cigarette and eat a steak. After my run, of course.

So what’s my point? There has to be one; this is a publication and an organization that is rallying to get everyone in the world moving and fit, and I want to keep my job. Every day I submerge myself in subjects related to fitness. I research fitness regimens, weight issues, various workouts being offered. I interview clubs on how to get and keep members. I try out the latest and greatest equipment and I participate in the latest and greatest classes. I’m surrounded by fitness and fit people. But my job, what I actually do, requires me to sit at my desk for hours on end.

After I’ve been sitting at my desk working for hours on a story that tells me that I should be running or hitting the gym, I find myself caffeine-induced and anxiously compelled to go for a run or hit the gym. Then, I do that, and I see other fit people doing the same.

What I’m seeing are like-minded people. Those of us who may lean toward the other end of the spectrum. Those of us who worry too much about their fitness. Unfortunately, those people are the majority of our dues-payers. Not the people who we say need to be there. That is our challenge. And I know you all know that. How do we get the people who need to be there, there?

Overweight people who have lost weight are our best salespeople. They know that exercise produces results, and there’s nothing like results to keep people motivated. These people are obsessed with their workouts. They know that if they stop, the weight will come back…and as a result, they—can I say this?—become a bit neurotic. They possess the drive to work out every day, despite bad weather or a foul mood.

So I think my answer back in 1984 was the same answer I’d give today in 2010. How do you keep exercising when it gets boring? Try to make exercise as fun as possible, try to get people doing things they like. But even then, EVEN THEN, it’s painful and undesirable most of the time and we don’t love it. So yes, the way to get people to exercise after it’s boring, is to encourage a healthy level of obsession and neuroses. It’ll do wonders for our collective waistlines.

And me? Personally, I’m anxiously awaiting the day when a bigger waistline, bigger hips, and chubby cheeks become fashionable again. I’m exhausted, and I need a rest.

Monday
Oct042010

Refreshing Business Approaches

By Jean Suffin

I recently had the honor of interviewing two of the keynote speakers for the 2011 IHRSA convention in March. Daniel Pink is a former speech-writer for Al Gore, a best-selling author, and public speaker on motivation. His most recent New York Times bestseller is Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, which purports that—unlike traditional approaches that reward people based on a carrot/stick approach, or an if/then scenario—people are motivated intrinsically by achieving goals, being challenged, and having a purpose outside of themselves. Indeed, he maintains that tangible reward can hinder motivation.

Patrick Lencioni is an author, speaker, and the founder of The Table Group management consulting firm. His most recent book, Getting Naked, teaches us that it’s okay, even beneficial, for business executives to be vulnerable, honest, and exposed, and that a management style that fosters a healthy environment for its employees and rids the organization of politics is the key to success.

As someone who struggles with the “grind” of work (and by work, I don’t mean writing for CBI which is always a pleasure; I mean the kind of work that puts me in an office and a structured environment), I found both Pink’s and Lencioni’s approaches to be exciting, enlightening, and hopeful. Historically, businesses have not been concerned with their employees’ happiness or well-being, only their level of productivity, which is measured solely by the bottom line. This has been going on forever and, as a result, most people we know are pretty miserable at work. We watch the clock, we dread getting out of bed in the morning, and we live for the weekend.

That’s why we call it “work,” right?

We’ve seen some transformations over the years: the ability to work remotely, more flexible hours and arrangements, softer management styles, and banned smoking in the workplace, but these changes have been slow and often met with resistance by managers and investors.

We in the fitness industry are a lucky exception in many ways. We are a people who, presumably, devote our lives to well-being and self-actualization, and therefore, our places of employment tend to foster a more healthful lifestyle. Health clubs, by nature, employ people who are passionate about what they do, and also, by nature, provide flexible schedules and accommodate lifestyles and family situations.

As Pink attests, in the health club industry, one of the critical components of motivation is mastery, i.e., the realization that one has to work really hard to get good at something. In our industry, he says, “You have a clientele that is actually trying to move toward mastery, so you can have your employees become essentially ‘mastery coaches,’ help people move toward mastery, and, as a result, learn, themselves, how to move toward mastery in their own lives. There are a lot of things you can do in this industry that are difficult in other industries.”

But still, Lencioni reminds us, health club managers need to be cognizant of their management style and foster their employees’ growth and satisfaction. We are not immune to the pitfalls of management. A manager’s first priority is toward his or her employees. Then, with happy, productive employees, the club will attract and retain members and grow the business.

On the topic of corporate incentives and wellness programs, Lencioni explains, “When you have a healthy organization, people will attend to their bodies; when people are miserable at work, they are less motivated to be healthy.” Because of this, he says, it doesn’t matter if an unhealthy company offers the best fitness facility in the world. Employees won’t take advantage of it if they are miserable and if their rigid schedules don’t allow them the flexibility to use the facility.

I’ve been there—I know. In the past, I’ve worked for fitness equipment companies that, surprisingly, seemed more concerned about me showing up at my desk at 8 a.m., taking my one-hour lunch break, and still being at my desk at 6 o’clock in the evening than they were with the results of my work. Being a fitness junkie, I, against the rules of the company, took full advantage of the showrooms and worked out during all hours of the day. Frequently, I was the only person in there, and the “fishbowl” arrangement allowed all my miserable co-workers to wonder why I, too, wasn’t at my desk. Needless to say, I didn’t last long in any of these jobs, despite the fact that I got my job done excellently and received good reviews. Management probably thought I was setting a bad precedent.

We were in the business of selling fitness equipment, I was utilizing the products and yet, I was setting a bad precedent. Does that make any sense? So now, I work from home as a freelance writer so I can take my two-hour break during the day and run and lift weights, and I’m much happier—albeit poorer—as a result.

In Drive, Pink illustrates how a new, autonomous workplace model deemed “ROWE” (results-only work environment), which was developed by two former human resources executives at Best Buy, is revolutionizing the way people work. There are no designated office hours. Employees work at their own schedules, wherever and whenever they want, and as long as they’re getting their jobs done effectively and meeting their goals, management doesn’t care if they are at their desk at 8 in the morning. Of course, this doesn’t work in some situations, like checking in members at the front desk, or meeting clients for personal training sessions, but it illustrates that most people aren’t motivated by the rigid structures of the traditional corporate environment.

In Pink’s book, A Whole New Mind, which was also a bestseller and even prompted Oprah to invite him as a guest on her syndicated radio show “Soul Series,” he explains that the “right-brained” people are the future, and that “left-brained” careers are at risk of being outsourced or automated. This is encouraging news for some of us whose empathy and creativity have hindered us in the workplace. Take note, fitness professionals: your intuitive, empathetic, and caring personalities may finally be valued in corporate America.

And again, as a sensitive person who was always told to have thick skin and toughen up, I consider this uplifting news.

It’s going to be an exciting convention with these two men delivering their progressive messages! Don’t miss it!

- Jean Suffin is contributing editor of CBI magazine and can be reached at jean@fit-etc.com.