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Breakfast with the Obesity Epidemic

By Jennifer H. McInerney

Over the weekend, I traveled with my family to Virginia and stayed in a hotel that offered an all-inclusive breakfast buffet. First thing in the morning, it truly was an eye-opening experience.

After perusing the abundant offerings of high-calorie, unhealthy food, my husband quickly remarked that the buffet was more like a buffat. And I had to agree: sausages, scrambled eggs, bacon, home fries, pancakes, French toast, buttermilk biscuits with pork sausage gravy (apparently a staple in southern breakfasts), omelets made-to-order (I overheard several requests for ham and cheese), donuts, Danish, and other pastries. That left only a handful of “healthier” options: cantaloupe and honeydew melon slices, a basket of bananas, yogurt, cereal. And that’s about it.

Now, I realize that the hospitality industry is just trying to give the people what they want, to satisfy a range of tastes and appetites. However, hoteliers are not doing their guests any favors in the health department—especially since the nature of a buffet gives diners free rein to go back for seconds and thirds of this high-cholesterol menu. And these diners weren’t shy.

As I watched the swarms of hotel guests pile fattening food onto their plates, I noticed that many of them were in their element. There I was: up close and personal with the national obesity epidemic. Sure, we’ve written in CBI about the alarming stats and the awful ailments that result from obesity, but it was quite another thing to see this phenomenon…in the flesh.

Somehow, we managed to navigate the buffat without gaining a single pound, but I’m not sure I can say the same for the other diners…They had so many choices, but not enough to make a healthy choice.

Let’s face it: breakfast isn’t exactly the healthiest meal of the day. A step in the right direction would be to try to replicate what some of the health club industry’s leaders are serving in their cafés. Check out the following menu, which offers healthy alternatives to bacon, sausage, pastries, etc.:

Canyon Ranch

While I’d like nothing better than to explore—and salivate over—healthy menus all day, I’m unable to check out every club’s offerings. If you have a fresh take on breakfast that you’d like to share, please post a comment in the box below.


Trainers Getting too Personal?

Dr. Haley Perlus, Nicki Anderson and Darren Jacobson discuss where to draw the line when it comes to personal trainer/client relationships:

Q: “What are the guidelines/best practices policies, if any, to give newly hired personal trainers so they understand the boundaries they must establish between themselves and their clients? I am particularly interested in professionalism and separation of work and personal lives of their clients.”

Personal training places participants in an intimate zone of physical proximity usually reserved for close family and friends.
A: The best practice for your new personal trainers is to keep communication contained within the boundaries of health and fitness. The purpose for this is twofold: (1) to prevent unnecessary ethical issues and (2) to build effective rapport.

(1) Prevent ethics issues: Personal training places participants in an intimate zone of physical proximity usually reserved for close family and friends. Often, personal trainers and clients get too comfortable in this zone and begin to discuss intimate details of their lives. Ultimately, someone can cross the line and create an uncomfortable environment that forces either party to terminate the working relationship.

(2) Build effective rapport: From a Peak Results standpoint, the purpose of building rapport with a new client is to help the client to feel that he/she belongs in the club’s community. When new personal trainers keep communication within the boundaries of health and fitness, the following is achieved: (1) the personal trainer remains the professional expert throughout the session and the duration of the program, (2) the client develops trust in the trainer’s ability and desire to help him/her achieve fitness-related results and (3) the focus of both parties is centered around the client’s training program. Consequently, the client exerts more effort in training, achieves positive results, has a rewarding experience and comes back for more. Now that’s rapport!

Dr. Haley Perlus, Peak Performance Consultant

The minute you blur the lines between business and friendship, is the minute your credibility is questioned.
A: I believe that professional client interaction, communication and service are paramount when training new staff. I have an entire portion of my personal training manual dedicated to customer service, ethical practices and proper communication. I truly believe that you can have the most beautiful gym, studio or club, but if you don’t have a staff that delivers professional service and polished social interaction, you will not be as successful as you could be. That should be part of every managers training protocol.

As for the separation of work and personal, here is what I share with my potential trainers. “The minute you blur the lines between business and friendship, is the minute your credibility is questioned. Sure, there are some great friendships that can come from training clients, but there are more disasters that have been the result of those relationships. In 25 years, I have never become “friends” with a client beyond professional. If I did, it was after they were no longer a client.” It’s the best way to keep business professional and a trainer successful and credible.

Ms. Nicki Anderson AFP, CPT, President
Reality Fitness

A: There are a number of organizations that have stipulated guidelines for Scope of Practice and professional and ethical behavior. One that I have adopted and implemented across our base of trainers is the IDEA code of ethics, you can find this on the IDEA site at It is vital to highlight the importance of a solid reference check prior to taking on your potential trainer. This "gatekeeper" attitude has saved us many headaches later in the process, when the true colors of your rouge trainer may come through. I have always maintained that if you hire the right trainers, then you as the manager/owner can sit back safe in the knowledge that your members will benefit from your new recruit. The days of hiring on physique or interviewing on personality only are over. By taking seriously this gatekeeper role, you dig deep to ask the pertinent questions, such as business motivation, dealing with financial pressures and the ability to engage strangers. This is then followed by an engaging personality and a member-centric attitude. Once you have gone through this process and recruited correctly, the code of ethics and other professional standards are a given.

Darren Jacobson, Head of Fitness and Product
Virgin Active South Africa

Seven Steps to Savings!

By Mia Coen

I was talking recently with Laurie Cingle, one of our industry’s most sought-out business consultants. She’s known for creating successful club programming and has worked with several top-notch facilities, including the Houstonian Club, the Maryland Athletic Club & Wellness Center, and Fitness Formula Clubs.

Having interviewed her in the past on the topic of successful weight-loss programming, I thought of her again when I was researching an article about how to cut costs without sacrificing service or staff. As I’d hoped, she had some very insightful ideas.

Here are Laurie Cingle’s cost-cutting tips:

1.  Review your programs and eliminate the ones that aren’t working. Low-attendance classes should be the first to go.

2.  Use part-time support staff whenever possible. They don’t require benefits and usually have more flexible hours.

3.  Consider “trading” a club membership in exchange for volunteer work at the club. For example, a volunteer who provides eight hours per month of work on a set weekly schedule—such as cleaning—would be eligible to receive one month of membership privileges. Be sure to assign one person on your team to schedule volunteers just like you would schedule staff.  A good source of volunteers is people who have to cancel their membership due to financial hardship. They already love your club and may be more reliable because they appreciate the value of the membership.

4.  Rather than sending a large group to a seminar, have one person attend and then, later, “show and tell” the information to the rest of your team.

5.  Another way to eliminate travel costs is by attending local seminars or Webinars. If a seminar you want to attend is out of town, contact the sponsor to find out if DVDs will be available for purchase afterward.

6.  Create a “Cost-Cutting Team” made up of one representative from each of your key areas and have a cost-cutting brainstorming session. You may get several ideas you never would have thought of, but be careful: sometimes reducing costs in one area may increase costs in another area. Involving representatives from each area of the club helps avoid negative consequences.

7.  Generate low-cost publicity for your club by offering expert advice in your community, such as teaching a class, speaking at a community meeting, or writing an article for a local newspaper.

Laurie Cingle is certified through ACSM, NASM and the Coach Training Alliance. She was the recipient of the IHRSA Fitness Director of the Year award, and has mentored three industry award-winners—the 1998 and 2001 IHRSA/ACE Fitness Directors of the Year, and the 2003 ACE Personal Trainer of the Year.

She also wrote an article about how to market and sell personal training programs. To check it out, click here


Trainer Talk: Is It Bad Form to Correct Bad Form?

By Patricia Glynn

“Never give advice unless asked.”

The old German proverb certainly proves sage advice in a number of hairy circumstances. But what about in the health club setting? Should you offer unsolicited recommendations to misguided members—those who are perhaps using equipment in ways it was never intended?

Is it bad form to correct bad form?

According to Jonathan Ross, owner of Bowie, Maryland’s Aion Fitness, and also one of Men’s Journal magazine’s Top 100 Trainers in America, reaching out is always appropriate. It’s absolutely necessary when the member is at risk of injuring themselves, but also, too, when they simply insist on slouching lazily on a machine’s handrails. The key, he says, lies in choosing your words carefully. “What you say can make or break your effort.”

He offers his own freshmen experience as a warning: “When I was just a few weeks into my fitness career, I noticed a gentleman performing an exercise incorrectly and so I offered to show him how to do it the right way. He didn’t appreciate my bold, critical interruption, to say the least. The verbal beating I withstood still lingers with me to this day.”

While many club clients might graciously accept criticism, others might turn heel and ignore it. And there are some, as Ross’ example demonstrates, who will react quite negatively to any sort of instructive intrusion. The latter, in fact, often leads health club associates to adopt a permanent hands-off policy. But that, explains Ross, is a mistake. He admits the possibility for negativity is, unfortunately, a constant. Yet there are ways, he notes, to handle the situation that decrease the likelihood of an unpleasant outburst.

“How you approach someone makes all the difference in the world. In my example, my comment came across as insulting and abrupt. There I was, some young twenty-something trainer, telling him he was doing his workout all wrong. It’s no wonder he reacted defensively. Thankfully, I learned from my faux pas.”

Now, Ross says, he first introduces himself and establishes himself as a qualified fitness professional. After exchanging brief pleasantries, he politely asks if he might make a suggestion. “Ask them, ‘Do you mind if I show you how to make that exercise more effective?’ Asking permission is often overlooked, but it’s really quite critical. Language is powerful. In this case, the way the question is phrased suggests that you just want to help them improve what they’re already doing. You’re not singling them out, not correcting an error and thereby making them feel incompetent. The probability that they’ll be receptive to your overture is then much higher. Of course, they still might be unwilling to listen. In that case, you simply go your separate ways—no harm done.”

Ryan Halvorson, a personal trainer at San Diego, California’s Wave House Athletic Club and an expert for the IDEA Health and Fitness Association, has similarly dealt with what he terms “an all-too-common gym scenario.” For him, as with Ross, reacting, rather than turning a blind eye, is the only option. But more than that, the member’s misstep is also, he explains, an “opportunity to deliver exceptional customer service. Providing guidance on how to maximize the effectiveness of an exercise can create a better experience for the member.”

Halvorson, like Ross, recommends avoiding “phrases that make them feel they’ve done something wrong. Instead,” he says, “use a simple, pointed comment such as ‘I know a great technique that may help you get more out of that exercise. Would you like me to show you?’ Keep it short, sweet, and friendly.” And if the member objects? “Don’t take it personally,” he advises. “In that case, just thank them for their time and let them know that, if they should ever need help, you’re happy to provide it. Then, simply move along.”

What are your thoughts on this touchy topic? Please let us know in the “Comments” box below.


Ghosts of Health Clubs Past: Weighing the Value Proposition

By Jennifer H. McInerney

In his soon-to-be-published July Editor’s Welcome, CBI Editor-in-Chief Craig R. Waters calls me a “demanding, discriminating, and uniquely well-informed” consumer of health clubs. Since they’re coming from Craig, I’ll take these high compliments—and milk them for one more blog post about the club-shopping experience.

Now, I’m certainly not an expert, but I’d like to think that my six years working on CBI and my consistent club patronage over the years hold some value and merit. At the very least, you can view this as an invitation to peek inside one club consumer’s mind…and see how your own club measures up.

In the last 10 years, I’ve belonged to four different health clubs—all for quite different reasons (and I recently joined a new one…scroll down to read the blog post titled “In With the New!”). They’ve each had their strengths and weaknesses, some of which I didn’t even realize until it was time to go:

Close, but Impersonal: The first one I joined was a newly opened, full-service facility in Boston, and it was so close to my apartment at the time that it would have been silly to go anywhere else. It was the one period in my life when I actually went to the club at all hours of the day/evening/weekend—whenever—because I could walk there in under two minutes. I didn’t even have to fight for a parking space! But…it was really busy (long wait times for cardio machines), the classes were always over-packed (making cardio-kickboxing a little too dangerous), the emphasis seemed to be a bit too much on physical appearance, rather than on health and fitness, and I felt like just a number (no personal attention/the staff barely acknowledged members’ existence).

‘Driven’ Away: I enrolled at my second club shortly after I moved to a new residence. The club was almost everything I wanted, on paper: brand-new, women-only, lots of fitness classes of all kinds, soothing, laid-back atmosphere, a friendly, caring staff. The only problem was that it wasn’t near my home or my office. At the time, it seemed worth it to drive so far out of my way to work out but, as my life changed, I could no longer justify or endure the long drive to its inconvenient location. Plus, the dues were higher than I wanted to pay for the amount of time I was able to spend there.

Tennis, No One: While I was a member at the women-only club, my boss offered our staff a corporate membership to a coed tennis and fitness facility that’s right around the corner from our office. I wasn’t about to refuse, even though I don’t play tennis. The fitness center was nice enough, though small and cramped. It served a purpose on days when I wanted to squeeze in a quick, no-fuss workout. But it certainly wasn’t worth the high dues and, ultimately, we did not renew our membership.

Getting What I Paid For: My last club membership was also the cheapest, and for good reason: the machines were old, the amenities non-existent. But at least it wasn’t pretentious or exclusionary in any way, and it never pretended to be anything other than what it was—a place to pump iron and get the heart thumping. This utilitarian, no-frills atmosphere sufficed for about a year, until I gave in to my heart’s desire at a brand-new facility, closer to my office.

While it’s impossible for a club to be everything to everyone, I would suggest that the following considerations, at minimum, are on most prospective members’ checklists:

  • Friendly staff
  • Clean facility (including locker rooms!)
  • New(er), well-functioning equipment, and plenty of it
  • Creative programs, fresh offerings
  • Fairly/competitively priced dues
  • Central/convenient location

Would your club receive full marks?


Selling Online

Bill McBride and Chris Gallo give advice to a club operator that is debating whether or not to sell memberships online:

Q: “We're in the process of overhauling our website and are wondering: is it now an industry standard (or at least an accepted practice) to sell memberships online? And how much does it cost to implement an e-commerce tool that will do the job?”

A: I once learned about Creating Value and it was described this way – it’s the intersection of Useful – Usable – Desirable. So in serving consumers, I try to think about everything within these parameters.

Do consumers want to join online and not have to deal with a sales person? I think some do. If you agree, then online enrollment would be Useful.

How easy is the process to do for the consumer once you have it set up? The more basic and easy to use, the better your results will be. Make it easy to use – Usable. The location and graphic presentation as well as ensuring that the online enrollment options are not priced higher than your in-club memberships will lead to the Desirability of the function. This can be done through a variety of ways. Working with a web designer who knows PCI compliance (credit card / credit card information) and basic e-commerce would be the next step after you have identified your strategy around online enrollments.

Are you going to sell Trial Memberships as well as your normal full memberships? Do you have an easy to use printable guest pass option on your website? Once you have outlined your objectives – talk to some web designers. There may be a very cost effective solution for your needs.

Good luck with this more consumer centric direction.

Bill McBride, Chief Operating Officer
Club One, Inc.

A: Selling membership “options” online is something we would recommend every club setup and execute. The process is so efficient that it can more than double your ROI on certain options and certainly satisfies a sector of the population looking for a convenient, “hassle-free” sign-up process.

The more important question is: “what are the best membership options for your club to sell online?” As part of our 2009 IHRSA-LMI-HCD Member Survey Research, we learned that a club can only “present” the value proposition inside the club – most effectively with an outstanding and professional staff and secondly with a high quality and a “variety” of services offered in a “motivating” environment. This requires a face to face presentation. Hence, if you are selling “value” and are priced at over $40 per month, posting your membership prices online for your regular membership options is a poor idea. You are better served to use your website to capture leads so you can sell your true value and services at the club level where the focus is placed on features and/or solutions that excite the customer.

In this case, if you are a value driven club with a higher price point, your standard membership options (One Year, Month to Month) will always be “sold” at the club. However, using your website to capture leads AND to sell “short-term” & “goal driven” membership plans is a great idea. Selling temporary memberships, such as 3 month fitness challenge can be a nice way to get someone to “partially” commit to the club while breaking the barrier of “fear of failure and commitment”.

Clubs that are based in larger Metropolitan markets will fare better with online signups to satisfy their busy, computer savvy, professional crowd then those in rural markets. More importantly, clubs offering low price points ($10-20 per month) with no commitments can absolutely excel with online signups. It is now a staple of the “low-price” model.

As far as the cost and ability to plug this into your website, it is not costly. Your webmaster or billing company can help you out easily. It is more important to focus on the legality of the online membership and if the customer’s agreement is truly “finalized” online or if they need to fill out paperwork at the club level to authorize billing. This should be researched on a state to state basis.

Brad Denton, Co-Founder of the International Web-Based Club Management Solution, ClubReady, Inc. states, “It is so cool what we can now do as a management solution to make things more functional for our customers – scheduling classes & sessions; re-signing for PT agreements, supplements and programs. However, 95% of our clubs maximize the use of our solution to drive, attract and manage their online leads while still converting them by presenting their club’s true value at the door.”

Chris Gallo, President
Health Club Development Company


Let the Summer Games Begin!

By Mia Coen

Hello, CBI readers... Can you feel it? Summer’s nearly here! It’s time to gear up to feel the burn!

O2 MAX fitness, the youth fitness media company based in Santa Monica, California, has some new sizzling summer programming that’s not only creative, but fun!

The company kicked off the season with the O2 MAX Prom to Pool, an easy and affordable way for teens to get fit in time for their night of magic—and also get them swimsuit-ready for the pool! There are three easy steps:

1) Sign up: there are three package choices: $5 for a one-week trial, $25 for five weeks, $50 for 10 weeks. Pick one! 

2) Do tell: O2 MAX wants to know what participants’ fitness goals are, what equipment they have access to, and what their schedule is.

3) Work out! Teens get a personalized weekly fitness program, online support, discounts at affiliated gyms, feedback from professional trainers, and weekly coaching sessions.

Next up is O2 MAX’s latest addition to youth fitness programming—it’s called MAXracing, and it’s specifically designed to help members improve race results in cycling, running, and swimming for specific events like triathlons and 5k and 10k races. Members get:

1)           Five starter workouts

2)           Discounted workouts with affiliated gyms (offered daily)

3)           Discounts on local race event fees

4)           Free MAXracing shirt and swag bag

And finally, my personal favorite, there’s Max U, also known as U Fitness, which has been developed by college students for college students, providing them with an affordable and easy program, designed much like Prom to Pool. The enrollment is online and the plan is delivered directly to teens’ inboxes, so they’re not pulling all-nighters just to get a workout in. O2 MAX trainers constantly check in to see how participants are doing and offer tips and support.

Also, in related news, O2 MAX recently welcomed a special guest to its studio: Shawn Johnson, gold and silver medal Olympic gymnast and Dancing With the Stars champion. She was invited to O2 MAX to do a photo shoot for Teen Fitness magazine, and reports indicate that the Olympian was a very humble and gracious guest. 


In With the New!

By Jennifer H. McInerney

I must confess: I was seduced.

It happened innocently enough. After years of writing about beautiful, brand-new fitness clubs with pristine, top-of-the-line equipment, I finally walked into a place that fit this coveted description.

I hadn’t really been in the market for a new club membership—until I saw what I’d been missing. The club I belonged to was large enough and had plenty of equipment, but some of it was close to half my age and would often bear “Out of Order” signs for the better part of a week. And I don’t even want to talk about the locker room. Let’s just say that it was for “emergency use only,” and that I was out of there before my quickly scrubbed hands could dry.

Said club certainly served its purpose: cardio workout on tired machines followed by strength-training routine via the worn-out universal and scuffed free weights. But my workouts had become exactly that—routine. There was no variety, excitement, or even any difference from one day to the next.

But, committed as I am to my healthy-lifestyle goals, I kept going, week after week, month after month.

Over the years, I’ve heard numerous club operators and equipment manufacturers say that working out doesn’t have to be a chore. I would nod and agree with this statement in theory, though I didn’t truly understand what they meant—not until I walked into this new club, and the seduction began…

As soon as I passed through the entryway, my eyes were drawn into the expansive, airy space, with its clean lines and gleaming equipment. Even though the front desk staff were greeting me, I could hardly tear my eyes away from the club’s striking interior. Sunshine poured through the floor-to-ceiling windows lining the long front wall of the club, spilling onto the HOIST Roc-It machines spread out before them. The three rows of Precor elliptical trainers, treadmills, stepmills, and cycles stretched nearly the length of the oversized room. Beyond them, glowing like the holy grail of the fitness floor, stood the new Adaptive Motion Trainer (AMT), rumored to burn 120 calories in just 10 minutes. At the far end of the room, I could make out an array of all the latest and greatest selectorized, plate-loaded, and functional units, as well as racks of free weights, and a stretching area. I might actually have been salivating as I considered the multitude of workout possibilities—hopping from one new machine to the next, equipment I’d seen only in the pages of CBI and F.I.T. The official club tour revealed a sizeable group fitness studio, a well-equipped cycling studio, and a cheerful childcare room. 

And then the locker room! (Cue the choir singing, “Alleluia!”) It was a revelation of granite countertops, beautiful full-sized wooden lockers with their own key system, individual water closets with actual doors (as opposed to a pair of industrial metal stalls), spa-like showers, and a steam room. Need I say more?

Well, I will anyway. Really, it was no contest—my old club just didn’t stand a chance against this sparkling new gem. So for all you club operators out there who’ve been thinking about freshening up your facility with some new equipment or amenities: what are you waiting for? A few more members to walk out the door?


Neil Rhodes Rides Again!

By Rebecca Maverick

Neil Rhodes, 52, has become an e-mail friend since CBI first wrote about him in 2006. His story is truly inspirational. He changed careers in 1992, leaving the hospitality industry to become a personal trainer. He was healthy and fit as a fiddle until, one day, he suffered a brain aneurism while working out in a club. Because friends and club staff were nearby, and because he was amazingly fit, he recovered completely, and soon went back to doing what he loves best—exercising—and breaking records in the process.

When we wrote about him in 2006, he’d just returned from the North Pole with his Concept2 rower. The following year, he reported to us that he’d run across two mountain ranges, on two continents, in succession. He also set records for climbing on a VersaClimber machine.

Recently, I caught up with Neil via e-mail…

BECKY: I haven’t talked to you in a while. What have you been up to?

NEIL: I’ve been running my own health and fitness business since 1992, but I’m doing very little personal training these days. I’ve been focusing on writing and talking about health and fitness. I also advise companies on setting up corporate health facilities.

Last weekend, I ran 42.5 miles along the Dorset Coast Cliffs, through the night. Due to recent rain, about 20 miles were ankle-deep mud. Imagine Bambi on ice—that’s what runners looked like. When we finally hit solid ground at a place called Portland, the fog was thick, which made our head flashlights useless, as the light just reflected back at us!

The last World Record I set was for “distance covered, continuously cycling for 24 hours on a stationary bike.” I received a phone call from an old friend one Thursday, asking if I was available on Friday, one week away. I checked my diary, said yes, and inquired what he wanted me to do. He replied, “We wondered if you’d come and set this new world record.” I laughed and told him that seven months’ notice would have been better than seven days’.

I also recently had an operation for an indirect inguinal hernia. I chose to have the operation under local anesthetic (awake), as the after-effects of a general keep you tired for weeks. Since I was awake, I ended up talking all the way through the surgery. At the end, the surgeon said that it was the first time he’d had to take "laughter breaks" during a procedure. I walked out of the hospital three hours post-op and went back to training four days later.

Last year, I ran the GORE-TEX TransRockies run (120 miles), then flew back to Europe and ran the TransAlpine race (150 miles). This made me the first person in history to run across both mountain ranges, back to back, in both directions. (I did east to west in 2007).  

BECKY: What motivates you set such ambitious goals?

NEIL: Many people and many things motivate me. I have been very lucky in my life and had the privilege of spending time with some amazing people.

Often when I’m exercising, and it hurts, I think of my mum who is 83 and suffers from severe arthritis. I know that, from the moment she wakes up, every move she makes hurts. So what excuse have I got, how can I give up, when I know she doesn’t and yet she’s in more pain than I am?
While I was in the hospital, recovering from the brain hemorrhage, I knew I had two choices: either get on with living, or get on with dying. Having chosen Option One, I simply focused on the way forward, not once thinking about the "why mes" or "what ifs" and not once considering myself unlucky or an invalid. Recovery was a target, another challenge, approached no differently than as if I was preparing to race and complete a marathon.  
Older people frequently motivate me. During last year’s Gore-Tex TransRockies race, my running partner became dehydrated. After I’d helped him get to a checkpoint for medical assistance, I continued the race. Up ahead was someone in a bright yellow T-shirt, whom I used as my first target to catch. When I caught up with this runner, I ran and talked with him for a while, and discovered that he was 70 years old. Yep, 70 years old, running 120 miles across the Rockies at altitudes of 12,500'! Each time I think I’m doing OK, I think of the people older than I am who are sometimes beating me—that motivates me.
And 70 is still young. At the 2009 British Indoor Rowing Championships, one competitor rowed the 2,000-meter distance in 12 minutes, 20 seconds. Now some will consider this very slow, but let me tell you that he’s not much taller than 5', is lightweight, and…99 years old. He only started rowing in his 80s!
I’m also driven by a question I often ask myself: what is my body capable of? It’s a question I don’t feel I’ve fully answered yet.

I’m driven by the desire to inspire/motivate others to make the right lifestyle choices, as, working in hospitals, I’ve seen too many people go through major suffering, simply because they made the wrong choices. I’ve also seen the fantastic change to people’s lives that recovering their health can and does make. Take, for example, a lady I trained who was severely obese, weighing 308 pounds. After 14 months, she was down to 168 pounds and very fit. What made her happy was the fact that she now felt able to go on holiday—something she hadn’t done in years. Prior to shedding the weight, she was embarrassed to get on a plane, as she struggled to fit in the seat. Fitness and weight loss gave her her life back, she told me.

And finally, negative people really, really motivate me. Those people who say, “You can’t do that”—well, God Bless ’em, I love ’em because they drive me all the way to the finish line.

BECKY: And, finally, what’s on the horizon? What’s next for you?

NEIL: Someone recently broke my world record for indoor cycling, so I’ll try to reclaim my title some time in the next 12 months.

I’m hoping to do both the TransRockies and TransAlpine races again this year, which will be tougher as this year’s TransAlpine route is 183 miles, through three countries, with 58,410' of elevation gain. I’m tired just thinking about it.

Also, I’ve been asked to write a book about my life. I haven’t said yes to the project yet. My problem is that I sort of feel that my life is ordinary. I think, “Who’d be interested in what I do and think?”

- Rebecca Maverick is managing editor of CBI magazine and can be reached at


Cash Conundrum

Scott Lewandowski, Bill McBride, and Jarod Cogswell offer their help to a club owner who is struggling to predict membership revenue in a cash based society:

Q: “The health club industry thrives on predicted revenue streams from contracts. Unfortunately, for us, this is not possible due to absence of a national E-commerce platform coupled with a society that still prefers cash over credit. We offer open-ended, pre-paid duration based memberships with the highest duration (annual pre-paid) offering the highest discount. This is a very uncertain and crude collection method in the sense that we don't know how many clients will renew next month since 80% plus prefer monthly package over the annual one due to lump some payment. What can we do to improve our receivables base?”

A: Start with a membership agreement that includes personal information, length of contract, risk of liability, and the cancellation policy. Since you mention most members pay with cash, I would discourage month-to-month memberships and encourage no less than 6 month and no more than 12 month agreements with the membership rolling over into a month-to-month agreement until the member cancels in writing.

Additionally, here are two tools to manage your account receivables and minimize the time from when you send bills and receive payment unless you hire an automated billing company.

Create a sales analysis report that lists all of your membership types. Breakdown each membership type listing active members, membership adds, deletions, suspensions, and estimated dues for the month. Compare the report on a monthly basis watching for favorable and unfavorable trends.

Another report is an aged trial balance listing outstanding balances of members by length of time. The report should include name, contact, amount owed, and how long since last payment.

Lastly, a policy for your company needs to be established on when access will be denied until the unpaid balance is collected.

Scott Lewandowski, Regional GM/Fitness Director
Fitness Formula Clubs

A: The easiest way around this would be to creatively design various membership options that allow for installment payments (even via cash) while highly encouraging longevity. One way would be to do an annual membership with the first and last quarter paid in advance and at the end of the first quarter, they would pay for Q2 and then at the end of Q2, they would pay for Q3… the last Quarter could be used for Q4 or they could extend (but always having their last quarter prepaid as a deposit to encourage the install payments or risk losing the “deposit”). This would allow for more payment flexibility and still increase at least Q2 and Q3 renewals. Coming up with an incentive to renew for subsequent years (either using the above system on a two year basis) or adding in service incentives upon 2nd year renewal. I would suggest you brainstorm with some of your staff and some of your customers various consumer friendly options that incentivize longevity and allow for the cash payment system currently in place while honoring all laws in the jurisdictions in which you operate.

Bill McBride, Chief Operating Officer
Club One, Inc.

A: This is a challenging one. Not having all of the information may be needed (# of current members, type of club, etc.), I will do my best to offer suggestions.

First, I agree with Thomas Plummer's philosophy on monthly revenue... It does help pay the bills. However, if your attrition rate is as high as 70% (for monthly agreements), then you need to be flexible, which seems like you are doing. With that said, I'm not sure if I would offer too many options. I would suggest offering monthly and annual packages only.

To address your attrition issue with this group, evaluate member usage carefully. There are a lot of programs that will help with this. We use Retention Management. If a member hasn't used the club in 4-6 weeks, the program will automatically send him/her a fitness tip and we follow up with a courtesy call and ask them if they would like a complimentary Personal Training session (or two) and/or invite them to a special event. Most members are very appreciative of the call.

Do you have a strong new member integration program? Solid retention begins at the start of one's membership. Our hope is that a new member utilizes the club 8-12 times in the first month. We're also looking at giving their joining fee back if they utilize the club 30 times in the first 90 days. Once they are serious about their program, they are least likely to quit.

The bottom line with monthly agreements is that you need to tighten up your retention, so that it does less damage to your business.

This is a little difficult because you stated that your society prefers cash over credit. I suggest giving them a little more incentive. Call it a "VIP Package". Don't charge a joining fee, give them 15-20% off dues, x number of personal training sessions and perhaps other complimentary ancillary services. Make it as attractive as possible.

I think if you delete the quarterly and half-yearly options, you will be OK. I'm guessing that these individuals are not making a long-term commitment (same as your monthlys), therefore their retention isn't great as well. Quarterly and Half-Yearly agreements seem like short-term cash options vs. a commitment.

Jarod Cogswell, General Manager
ClubSport Oregon