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Making gyms less intimidating is always being considered

We have all had the fear at least one time during our gym experience. It may have been before you joined, or maybe after stepping through the doors and seeing others working out. 

Being intimidated at, or by, the gym is nothing new nor is it surprising. There are many ways to be apprehensive about what you may think is being or looked at or judged by others. 

Loud music, bulging muscles everywhere you look, in-your-face employees or members pressuring you to finish your set can certainly cause beads of sweat to form on your brow and result in an early exit, and possibly never to return. 

But take solace. Clubs are more than aware of the fear that lies within every current or prospective member. They are working hard to make raise the comfortable factor so entering a gym and working out is like you were doing it at your home in front of your dog or cat. 

Most, if not all, are sure to include an orientation of sorts to new members. Some of these are 1-on-1 sit-downs with employees to go over everything from personal goals to favorite machine and exercises, to how to use the apparatus. Often this affordability comes with a tour of the facility. 

RJ Rice, who works for Rice Industries, owner of 25 locations in the Utah, Tennessee, Alabama and Florida, feels that one reason people might be intimidated in a gym setting is because they don’t know what they are doing. 

“I think the biggest thing is lack of education. Many people don’t know how to exercise, how to use the machines, and once they get in a gym setting they get nervous,” said Rice, who is director of Personal Training at Riviera Fitness in Salt Lake City. “They are walking around looking lost and scared. They don’t want to be in that embarrassing situation.” 

Rice said that at all of his company’s locations there is an introduction to machines. A new member can have three sessions to get them familiar with it, how to use it, and what it will do for them. And if they are still a little apprehensive there is a private workout area that is accessible until they are comfortable. 

Another easing-in approach for members is working first with the staff. For new hires at Wisconsin Athletic Club the orientation focuses on the member. One of the key exercises, according to Derek Deprey, the general manager for the Downtown Milwaukee and North Shore locations, is the Stare Game. Newbies are required to stare at each other for one minute without laughing, looking away or talking. He says it is designed to simulate how a new member might feel walking into a club. 

Also taught at the employee orientation is “the WAC (Wisconsin Athletic Club) walk” – walking through the club with their heads up in order to make eye contact with members and be engaging. 

“Ninety percent of new members are afraid and intimidated,” Deprey said. “We want to get that point across to our employees.” 

Even something as simple as employees having uniforms on, including name tags, is stressed. 

“It makes the member feel at home (and more comfortable),” Deprey added. 

But Latitude Sports Clubs, with five locations in Massachusetts, implements a strategy before a member even walks through the doors. How the club looks is as important to them as orientation of members and employees. 

From the architecture outside to plenty of space inside, members don’t feel cramped. Latitude feels that translates into comfort. 

“We have a lot of space when members walk in so they don’t feel intimidated right off the bat,” said John Bushnell, Membership manager. “Members don’t walk in and already see someone (very close) on a treadmill.” 

With close to 23,000 members in the five clubs, having space is critical when the parking lot might have up to 60 cars. With huge spinning classes, tennis, racquetball, a rock climbing wall and expansive gym floor space it hardly looks like there is anyone there at all, according to Bushnell. 

Latitude also has a virtual tour of its Peabody location on its website. Bushnell compared it to an open house where prospective members already know where everything they need is. 

Tina Nibble, Marketing manager at Octane Fitness, a manufacturer of elliptical machines, points to the reason many now opt to join a gym: fighting obesity and becoming healthier. And she feels clubs are now marketing that way and erasing the intimidating factors. 

“I think many people nowadays are motivated because they are out of shape,” said Nibble. “They might be afraid that they will stick out like a sore thumb but when they get there they notice there are people of all shapes and sizes. The perception of everyone at clubs is in shape and (muscular) is not a reality anymore. It’s about staying healthy, what’s inside.” 

Nibble, a once intimidated first-timer, also points to the variety of clubs that has helped alleviate the pressure she and many others feel upon entering. 

“I think there is less intimidation these days because there are so many offerings,” said Nibble, who said he first gym’s orientation with a trainer is what put her at ease. “Twenty years ago there were only a handful of clubs. Now there are 24-hour (clubs), women-only clubs …. just so many. 

“You can pick what you want and then when you evolve (working out) you can pick another (for what you need).”

Reader Comments (1)

Thank you Brad for a very interesting article. I would like to add that how the front desk greet customers is extremely important. Just the simple "Hey, nice to see you" makes the anxiety drop and the customer more at ease. Many gyms do not recognize the importance of their front desk staffs behavior on customer experience.
May 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterP.Arnesen

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