Why Passion Makes You a Successful Fitness Advocate

Two studio owners take their passion for fitness and use it to fight for the survival of the whole fitness industry.

For many of us, passion motivates some of our most important life decisions. It can help us determine our purpose, the people we surround ourselves with, and our place in the world.

In fact, Oprah gives this advice to anyone seeking a fulfilled life, “Passion is energy. [One should] feel the power that comes from focusing on what excites you.”

You can certainly feel the power and excitement of two women who not only discovered their passion within the fitness industry but are using it to create a healthier world. Though neither of them ever thought of themselves as advocates, both women have stepped into important roles as fitness industry leaders and role models for other business leaders within this space.

Finding Fulfillment Through Fitness

Their stories begin in different places—for one it’s the gym and one the athletic fields.

The gym was the place where Debra Strougo Frohlich noticed an energy of passion. She would go on to take various classes and ultimately share the benefits of regular physical activity with others as a fitness instructor.

After building an impressive resume, including bootcamp, cycling, and trampoline classes, Debra decided to trust her intuition and turn her passion job into a full-time position.

“I wanted to find ways to continue growing and building the fitness industry because I was so passionate about it,” Debra says. “I saw the huge positive impact that you can have on a group of people whether they are motivated or not, interested or not, experienced or not. To come in and change people’s day, moment, and path is always worthwhile.”

About a decade later, Debra founded Row House with her husband and began focusing on teaching indoor rowing. However, her desire to help more people see the benefits of exercise continued to grow. She would soon find herself serving as a member of the National Health & Fitness Alliance Council and an active advocate for the fitness industry.

Meanwhile, Pam Brown, co-owner of Align Brooklyn, a boutique wellness studio in New York, was having a similar journey. Pam’s love for fitness began in childhood on various athletic fields, and would continue to grow.

After college, she started attending regular spin classes and has rarely missed a week of rides since. This passion led her to open Align Brooklyn with her husband. Offering fitness classes, functional nutrition, and chiropractic services, the studio is a wellness-oriented space that offers a variety of services all under one roof.

Then COVID happened. Once businesses began closing their doors to prevent the spread of the virus, Pam knew her business—and the fitness industry at large—was in danger and she had to help.

In New York City, gyms and studios were closed for more than a year and were—and still are—in desperate need of relief. “The first month of the pandemic was just horrifying because we just ground to a stop in terms of revenue and we still had expenses,” says Pam. “Fighting to reopen in our neighborhood felt like an impossible battle. It was crazy that all of these other industries were getting support, so I started to collaborate [with IHRSA] and generate something around the GYMS Act specifically.”

Passion to Action: Advocacy 101

The need for more voices to be acknowledged and heard caused both Debra and Pam to more closely examine the gravity of the coronavirus situation and the need for relief.

Many years ago, the industry had fewer voices,” says Debra. “Now there are a lot of different voices. We need advocacy to make sure we're pulling together a full representation of who these voices and people are.”

And more voices only amplified their message. That is why Debra and Pam decided to speak up and speak out—setting a standard for other businesses within the industry—by requesting assistance for health clubs that were affected by the pandemic.

“Many years ago, the industry had fewer voices—now there are a lot of different voices. We need advocacy to make sure we're pulling together a full representation of who these voices and people are.”

Debra Strougo Frohlich

Row House

“I consider gyms and studios to be the frontline of preventative health,” says Pam. “We need advocacy to push our industry forward as the bigger solution to our problem because regardless of where COVID came from, it's highly likely that we're going to be faced with other pandemics in the future.”

A Lesson in Changing the Conversation

One of the biggest lessons Debra and Pam have learned during their time advocating for the fitness industry is that a collective voice can be enough to change the direction of a conversation. And there’s no better time to get involved than the present.

“It’s a very, very interesting national conversation. I’ve really enjoyed the different perspectives and the different markets that are represented,” says Debra. “The fitness industry is extremely vast so you have everything from thousand square foot facilities to smaller community-based centers and everything in between. The National Health & Fitness Alliance is truly helping others understand what the market looks like across the country so we can best boil important industry issues to the top that are going to help it persevere.”

A collective voice needs collective action. Debra and Pam both emphasized how easy and worthwhile it was to get involved in industry advocacy and encourage anyone who is interested to follow in their footsteps.

It’s not enough to simply rely on the actions of others to ensure that your message is seen and heard. Pam says, It wasn't in my mindset to sit on the sidelines and think that they [everyone else] have got this. We need to make sure that we've got ways for people to get involved so they're not standing still and lingering on mailing and emailing lists. We need to have an on-ramp and a way to organize our industry.”

If you’re stuck and need tips on how to get involved. Starting with and following your passion is the best place to begin. Debra echoed those sentiments by saying, “It's [your passion] the reason you're in this business in the first place. Reach out and find other people that are fighting the same fight or taking the same path or journey. Be a part of the overall efforts, because when you do, you will feel much more on purpose and on passion.”

Addressing the issues that matter

Anyone who is actively involved in the fitness industry knows that advocacy stems from the desire to bring awareness to the issues that matter most.

Debra believes the most pressing issue is finding more ways to bring acknowledgment to the good work the entire industry performs.

She says, “As we’ve seen throughout COVID, the best thing we could do is to be known for our importance and the good that we bring. We want to always be considered to have a legitimate seat at the table because how issues will be handled across different localities and places will be different. That's also the role of IHRSA and the National Health & Fitness Alliance—to lift the perception of the industry.”

With help from IHRSA and like-minded organizations, both women have been present during conversations happening across state alliances and hold an expert understanding of the power players involved in the constant fight to make change happen.

“I think IHRSA is a great organization and we really need to make better use of it. That's my feeling from being on the ground,” says Pam. “I knew about IHRSA but was not a member and now I'm really excited that I'm able now to participate at the state and national level and really move our industry forward. I think IHRSA is a perfect vehicle for that, and I'm excited about everything that is going on.”

Rebuilding the Industry

It’s no secret that the way we go about our day-to-day lives has been forever changed as a result of the pandemic.

On the fitness business side of things, this is also true. Owners, operators, and fitness professionals need to come together to create a strategy for renewed growth and development as we enter this new era.

Part of this strategy involves a change in the way we are communicating about the importance of regular physical activity. Pam agrees with this mentality wholeheartedly and believes it is the way forward to restore the industry to its pre-pandemic heights.

“We have to figure out how to strategize and work with experts on how we present our own public health message. We as an industry can work together to bring people back and figure out the right messaging around this,” she says.

As we continue telling people to be safe, Pam says the mind-shift the fitness industry needs to go wild with is that we want people to feel resilient.

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Shannon Vogler

Shannon Vogler is an avid fitness consumer who uses her creative abilities to craft beautiful content for health and wellness businesses. She offers a variety of digital marketing services that aim to promote the importance of an active body and mind. When she’s not working, Shannon enjoys lifting, running, and cheering for the New England Patriots.