What Is A Gym?

I belong to several professional groups comprised of fellow gym owners–it’s one of the most important things I can do to ensure that we are keeping our skills and approach sharp.  When likeminded folks get together, we keep each other focused on treating our prospective and current members with kindness and professionalism.  And as someone who perseverates over decisions, often mooning over perfect (and failing to take action) when very good would do just fine, the accountability is incredibly helpful.

One of the things we talk about often is the need to remember that for prospective clients and members, “the gym” can be a a scary prospect fraught with potential dangers and traps.  To us–the gym owners and coaches who have been there for quite some time–of course our gym is a great community, safe for everyone, and bent upon meeting folks where they are.  But for newer folks, we can talk until we are blue in the face about how great we are but ultimately the proof is in the pudding: it’s like what your old writing teacher would say–“show me, don’t tell me!”

We’ve been at this for ten years now and in our experience, most prospective members who are nervous about joining a gym are telling themselves one of three distinct stories about what “a gym” represents:

The first is the most common–“the gym” is the place where fit people go to be fit with each other, make some muscles in the mirror, and generally lord their fitness over the rest of us.  The underlying fear is that we won’t be in shape enough to do the workouts, or to be around the fitness superstars.  Thankfully most gyms aimed at serving a wide range of clientele in private or semi-private settings now employ some version of a beginner curriculum (Ours are called On-Ramps and Fundamentals) which allows folks to go at a steady pace while enjoying the accountability and fun of a group setting and community.  This should be a non-negotiable if you are looking for a results and community-oriented gym: being thrown into existing group classes without training and a plan is a recipe for a bad gym experience.

The second story is that “the gym” is a place where you just show up when you feel like it, do what comes to mind, and quite naturally lose steam when motivation flags and you are left without a plan or measurable progress.   There are gyms built upon this business model–that of access rather than training–and naturally their price points reflect a far lower level of engagement and oversight.  That, of course, is completely fine if you know what you are getting into when you get started, but as more and more folks are viewing their health and wellness as an investment rather than an expense (you are not a car payment!), the need for gyms with clear programming, professional coaching, and measurable standards is becoming more acute.  Fortunately for most gymgoers, there just isn’t a need to reinvent the wheel: slow strength progressions and intelligent conditioning protocols make it easy for athletes to make and track progress–this eliminates the fear of walking into a storehouse of equipment 3 times a week to spin your wheels for 20 minutes and helps folks stay on track after the honeymoon period wears off.  I always tell prospective members that our training is simple, fun, but of course not easy.

The third story is the toughest one–this is the story that “the gym” is a place where we have failed in the past, as though lack of attendance, progress, or enjoyment at another location in the past has been entered into our permanent record and is meant to retard all future attempts at self-improvement.  We tell ourselves that we have failed, that “the gym” didn’t work and isn’t for us, and this tends to push people towards a feeling of unease when the New Year rolls around, or when a friend mentions a new fitness experience.  But, at least in our view, the wonderful thing about fitness is that it is available to almost anyone at any station of life–at Woodshed it is about getting better one step at a time, with the help of diligent, kind coaches and like-minded classmates.  We look at every day as the beginning of a new chapter, because it is.  You may have had a bad gym experience, you may have even had some subpar workouts at our place perish the thought, but every new day is a chance to succeed again and that’s how we look at the beginning of each training session: how can we get a little bit better today?

This isn’t an exhaustive list, of course, but if you’re thinking about “the gym” and cringing, or getting down on yourself, or authoring a story that has you trying and failing to make changes you’d like, I hope this piece has been helpful in demonstrating that there are places in the exercise sphere who are willing to take a few extra steps to meet you where you might be and help you get where you’d like to go.  Good luck and if we can be of any help, drop us a line in the comments!

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