FITNESS AND WELLBEING CLUBS, THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY.

With modern life, achieving fitness or staying fit has become a huge challenge especially, for most people living in large cities around the world.

For many, several weekly hours commuting to and from work coupled with long working hours, little or no break time and poor  choice of healthy meals for purchase in the heart of big cities, it all conspires to create a recipe for disaster in terms of fitness and health.

If you also add the general public’s lack of education about adequate nutrition and poor training advise , the picture gets even worse for most people trying to improve their fitness or health.

For example, in the UK alone, 61 % of adults are either overweight or obese (source:

Obesity Statistics – Parliament UK

https://digital.nhs.uk/data-and-information/publications/statistical/statistics-on-obesity-physical-activity-and-diet/statistics-on-obesity-physical-activity-and-diet-england-2018 )

In the USA,

This scenario is very similar around large cities around the world and the result is a dramatic increase of people who will very likely suffer from all the baddies that comes along with such physical condition: high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, coronary heart disease, central obesity, brain aneurysms postural problems, knee, hip and back injuries etc and unfortunately, premature deaths as a consequence.

If all  that depressing facts were not bad enough, an ever increasing world population with its correspondent increase of overweight individuals, places a huge strain in  government’s health budgets around the world who struggle to treat the consequences of obesity-related diseases of their citizens.

This has spiraled out of control in the last twenty years to the point that that obesity today is considered epidemic.

In an attempt to tackle the problem, governments started weight loss and health promoting campaigns  decades ago, but it really got hold of people in the last 15 years with the development of social media apps.

These, have had a huge impact in the general population around the globe, especially in the youth and although social media apps convey negative outcomes too, generally speaking, they helped  spread the health message and opened up opportunities which were not available in the past .Such opportunities themselves, have good and bad sides.

Lets break that up.

The good.

As more and more people were drawn into fitness and health, particularly as a consequence  of social media, a huge business opportunity opened up to investors and business people alike.

They wanted to tap into that huge revenue potential and their response was brilliant,they developed a new concept of training facility who was very different from the old performance gyms of the past where mainly power lifters, bodybuilders, athletes or celebrities used to populate:

Enter fitness and health clubs.

With increased overweight populations around the world’s major cities and their related problems that come along with it the fitness industry ,owed and managed mostly by business people not trainers or athletes, took advantage by opening” health and fitness clubs”, some of them at really low monthly cost, to “provide” the possibility of exercise and “promote” a healthy lifestyle. After all, fitness and health are important wright?…

In the last fifteen years,Fitness or Well-being clubs have sprung in major cities like fungus grow in forests but fifty years ago, GYMS  were not as popular as they are today, there were very few in any city.Also, they were full of big guys called “weightlifters or bodybuilders”, some of these old facilities were especially built to host and to be used by professional athletes but very few ordinary people would venture into one of them.

Nowadays however, you find them by the dozens in every major city in the world, providing a place to take exercise during lunch break  if you have the time,or after work hours if you are not too tired,but their layouts and equipment differ dramatically from what they used to be in the past.

 Fitness and wellbeing.

What is fitness? Are fitness and well-being the same?  Why is fitness important? When fitness meets fashion.

First, we need to understand few concepts.

What is fitness? According to the dictionary the definition of fitness is as follows,

  1. the condition of being physically fit and healthy.
  2. the quality of being suitable to fulfill a particular role or task

 

From the first definition we can further elaborate that the components of fitness which are eleven by the way, but for the average weekend warrior or person trying to improve fitness and survive the desk are: cardiovascular endurance, muscular strength, flexibility, and body composition.

The second definition applies more to the athlete which depending on the discipline will tend to dominate more or less in some particular biomotor ability for example, a shot putter will dominate in muscular absolute strength and power.

Or, a surgeon staying fit to operate on patients 12 hours per week will need mental , physical and emotional fitness to perform his or her duties for weeks at times.

Are fitness and well being the same?

Generally speaking when fitness level improves well-being will improve too, if we remember the above definition of fitness, when the average person attending a fitness Center improves his or her body composition, flexibility, muscular strength and cardiovascular endurance his or her well being improves too.

However, the concept of fitness today is totally distorted from what fitness really means in exercise physiology, I have personally coached fitness models and bodybuilders and I know this world very well, even though many of them look fit and healthy believe me, they are far from a healthy state.

So fitness and well being is not always the same.

Why is fitness important?

 When a person is young, let’s say between 18 and 30 years old, the body’s recovery ability is enormous, hormones levels are healthy and optimal, flexibility is not a major worry and joints along with tendons and ligaments are strong and healthy too, that is providing that body composition level of any given person is optimal too and the person  does not suffer from any underlying diseases for example, Polycystic ovary syndrome, a thyroid condition, diabetes etc. etc. etc.

However, after a person turns thirty years old, and as we say in the strength and conditioning world, life sucks. at least from an athletic performance point of view! don’t get me wrong..

You see, after that age the average person’s metabolism starts slowing down or drops, the exact percentage will vary from person to person and depends on several factors but on average it will be from 1% to 2%. More over,between the ages of thirty and forties , most people are engaged with their careers and stop exercising, muscle mass tend to be lost and fat mass starts creeping up slowly but steadily, increasing fat promoting  hormones and decreasing fat burning-muscle building hormones, this physical condition is even worse in already  overweight individuals.

Long hours seating at the desk weeks in and out, will shorten muscles which creates imbalances, that lead to bad posture which in turn creates joint problems  and finally injury.

Add poor lifestyle choices like excessive alcohol consumption or smoking and the result is an excess of 15-20 kg/44lb of body fat at age  sixty or as early of fifties with an increase likelihood of self-inflicted coronary heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and stroke to name just a few. That could be easily avoided with just three to four hours a week of exercise focusing on maintaining/improving body composition, flexibility, some reasonable cardiovascular capacity and some muscular strength.

 

You do not need to become a 250lb bodybuilder,the goal here is to reach a healthy old age lean and active and without having to take 10 pills per day to control diseases and why not, still  able to have sex? Of course, sometimes a person does everything wright and still bad things happen but these are exceptional circumstances not the norm

The bad

When fitness meets fashion.

As many of you know, the fitness industry is a multi-billion-dollar business around the world.

It is also very competitive, and it is hard for business within that industry to keep people motivated month after month to continue exercising especially, if they don’t see results fast.

Inevitably, fitness facilities need to keep up with the latest fitness trends first to remain competitive and second, to retain members’ interests and their monthly fees.

So commercial gyms will equip their facilities every three to four years with what is hottest in the “fitness industry” to keep up.

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Functional Training gym station.

 

When I started as a personal trainer many years ago I was working for a very well-known fitness company, training was oriented to “functional training” so the management spent 1.5million pounds refurbishing the whole gym floor area.

After the refurbishment was done you had PLENTY of equipment such as Power plates, Bousu boards, kettle-bells, several cable machines which you had to use with your own body weight while seating, lying or kneeling .Many other devises with lights gimmicks and balls to” train your core” and several other cable machines to train chest, shoulders etc. etc. etc.

However, the remaining dumbbells’ set did not  go above 30 kg , there was only one squat rack, one incline bench, and one flat bench press., two leg presses machines, one lateral pull down machine and one chin up station  even though the facility itself was, and is still huge, with a member capacity of eight thousand people!

Some years later TRX came into scene and virtually all gyms started buying them and implementing them, then CrossFit became popular, so now most gyms have their CrossFit section crammed somewhere in their venue…but a single feature has constantly remained the same in the last thirty years or so , that is that the free weights section in any franchised fitness centre is almost always the smallest in these facilities.

You are lucky if there are two flat or incline bench presses , usually you have to cast lots to use one of them or it  becomes a fight to the last man standing to use them if you are a member of one of the new low-cost gyms that have opened across the cities in the last 5 years.

Usually there is only one set of dumbbells that will not go above 40 kg, one squat rack and one lifting platform and whatever there is left of good equipment you have to queue up to use it.

Trainers who work in those fitness centers are rarely or never asked or consulted about what they need to deliver better results to their clients who hire them.the trainers instead  have to adapt to what the facilities have to offer at best.

At busy times,I have personally witnessed the horrendous training adaptations  implemented by unscrupulous colleagues to get on with the training session because of lack of equipment.

Sorry, you train correctly or you don’t.The sad reality is that most fitness facilities or health centers are not properly equipped to  improve the basic fitness needs of the members who really want to improve it.

Sure, they offer a wonderful selection of weekly classes, the have the latest bikes or piece of cardio machine novelty or even saunas but almost always half of the training facilities are filled up with cardio machines, the free weights section is the smallest area in the gym and they all follow what is hot in the fitness world to “stay up to date “ and make it easy to sell memberships.

Fitness and wellbeing centres’ population.

Generally speaking people join fitness centers for two main reasons one, to improve their health and two, to improve their appearance, and sometimes these two overlap.

The first category ,the health conscious ones ,join the gym to lose weight and improve their impaired health, they may or may not have  high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes, they may suffer from neck, shoulder and back pain due to bad posture, are recovering from surgery or injury, or are just referred by their GP’s .

The second category of joiners however do so for aesthetic purposes only, that is getting in shape to fit a wedding dress or go on holidays, some to regain shape after the birth of their babies, some to be able to perform in movies or stage, and some because they like to be strong and good shape, vanity perhaps if you like it.

Of course there are more reasons why people may join fitness or health centers but regardless the case, within the two categories mentioned above there are also two different types of people in both groups: the ones that wish or would like to , or the ones that want.

Let me explain.

The ones that wish they could or would like to: lose weight for good, recover from a chronic injury, and improve their posture etc will almost always find excuses such as I don’t have the time, my finger hurts, I will be traveling a lot ( since Skype exists I do not accept that excuse anymore sorry. I have successfully coached people online for their body transformation in other countries through that platform) or the ubiquitous:” it’s too expensive”, only to see the same people splashing 200 pounds on drinks and cigarettes on a single  weekend or 2000 pounds on a two week holiday few weeks  later .

This kind of people,  prefer instead  attending  five free weekly  classes offered in their “health centre” , doing hours of cardio on a weekly basis and use the sauna in the hope that “ if I am taking exercise I have to lose weight right ? “ ,how about training improperly with the same program for months ?  They would rather pay 800 pounds for a new phone instead of sound training advice or a proper nutrition assessment.

I have witnessed that kind of people for years and let me tell you, usually, they look the same year after year.

They simply do not understand the concept of investing in their health, no matter if they are wealthy, successful or are at the lower end of the income spectrum.

On the other hand however, there are people who want the same things: lose weight, improve health or recover from injury, and are faced with setbacks, disappointments, difficulties, may not have a lot spare money to do it or else.

The difference though, is that this kind of people finds a way instead of excuses. They are the ones who understand that they are making a long term investment ,acquiring knowledge on how to diet according to their goals , learning to make better food and lifestyle choices, they learn how to train efficiently  to improve their health and body composition fast  and ultimately, they are  willing to work hard to achieve their goals within a deadline.

Remember,a goal is a dream with a deadline.

And believe me, the later ones are a small percentage compared to the first ones due to several reasons: people do not think that investing in their health is important until something bad happens,some think they can work it out by themselves using social media  such as Instagram or the internet, after all, those two are free.

 

The ugly

Fitness and wellbeing centers business model.

The most brilliant explanation of marketing I ever learnt goes like this: gorillas like bananas so if you want the gorilla you give him  bananas !

Commercial fitness and health facilities take bananas and feed them to gorillas ! No offence to anybody here, ..I hope you understand the metaphor!

 

Let me explain, way back in the 50’s,60’s or 70’s (the 70’s was Arnold Schwarzenegger’s peak ) as I explained before , gyms were equipped mainly with dumbbells, barbells, free weights, weightlifting platforms and very few apparatuses.

Image result for gyms from the 70's

 

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Olympic weightlifters, bodybuilders and powerlifters very often trained all together. Resistance machines as we know them today did not exists back then.

Not until Arthur Jones invented them in the 70’s.

He created a whole repertoire of machines to train the whole body by parts, hence the chess press machine, the pull over machine for the lat muscles were created etc. The knowledge and techniques required to train with barbells and dumbbells (which mimic better the human strength curve) were now no longer needed.

His original brand was Nautilus machines (later, one of his sons created the Hammer Strength line)

That made possible that people without any knowledge on weightlifting, powerlifting or bodybuilding could know take exercise relatively safe and with very little need of supervision from expert coaches.

So suddenly, with proper marketing, people from the general public started to get interested, everybody could now train in a facility full of machines that allowed the average desk employee envision a full muscular body.

The present day fitness facility concept was born.

Also, the world population in the 70’s was around 3.7 billion people worldwide, they were not as overweight as the world population is today and life was much simpler.

Today, the population tips above 7 billion worldwide and it is estimated to reach  between 9 and 10 billion  by 2050 with obesity-related diseases very likely to soar too. This is huge business for such modern facilities, they have taken a different approach toward fitness which they call “safe training” another way to say “training with little or no supervision needed”  and today we know them as “fitness and health centers” where they provide people with lots of options to entertain them after the health disclaimer has been signed rather than coach the masses into health.

As I have already mentioned, almost always half of the space in any of these centers is filled up by cardio machines all with their TV’s screens attached to then, then they have a selection of resistance machines, usually one per muscle group, and a small room fitted with “the functional stuff” Powerplates, TRX bands, VPR logs or the now popular CrossFit frame. But the free weight’s area were barbells, dumbbells and pulleys are found are always the smallest in the facility.

Image result for boring equipped gyms

 

They offer 20+ classes on a weekly basis and at the end of the line, personal training, which usually pay rent to the facility “to access their client base” or are forced to “sell” personal training to meet the company’s monthly target with a payment rate that nowadays does not even cover the rent.

Trainers opinions are rarely taken into account when refurbishing the facility, they are seen just as another mean to increase revenue, that is why trainers turnover in the fitness industry is quite high, if one goes you have hundreds waiting to start work as nowadays you can become a fully qualified personal trainer in three months.

Did I mention that many of these modern health centres  sell sugary drinks and other merchandise onsite? You see, it’s a money making structure, people join these facilities as we said before either to improve health or just vanity, either case nevertheless, fitness or wellbeing centres sell them a  health dream by offering  a vast array of exercise choices, usually with the newest novelty of cardio equipment with the promise that they will succeed.

Not to mention that if you attend at peak times , following a properly designed training program can be a real challenge

black and gray treadmill

They take the bananas and give them to the gorillas ! or another way to put it , they tell people what they want to hear.

Conclusion.

What to do if you  want to achieve a goal.?

For those of you who really want to achieve the goal or purpose why you joined the gym in first place, I strongly suggest you find a GOOD trainer that suits you (some females would not train with males trainers as they feel uneasy for instance)  and discuss in a clear and open way your goal, expectations, training frequency availability AND time frame or deadline to achieve it.Remember, a dream is a goal with a deadline.

The trainer, if good, will know how to lead  and train you to achieve your goals even if the gym is poorly equipped. To quote one of my mentors, I will tell you my dear readers that what you do with the equipment available is just as important as the equipment itself. I have train some of my clients to the point of vomiting( that is not a joke by the way) in the comfort of their homes using just a couple of elastic bands and a bath towel.

You may ask then, how do I know that a particular trainer is good and suitable for me? the answer to that question is beyond the scope of this article and I will cover it fully on my next article: “How to spot and hire a good personal trainer”.

But I will mention a couple of things as an intro.

In my twenty five plus years weight training, I have witnessed trainers with a  powerlifting background who very often trained their clients with powerlifting principles, as this is what they knew best, on the other hand, I also witnessed trainers with competitive fitness background who trained their  clients with lots of “aesthetic ” exercises, in contrast  personal trainers with bodybuilding background  did it with bodybuilding principles and trainers with boxing background  employed lots of boxing within their routines.This in not the case in hundred per cent of the trainers but it comes quite close.

You see the pattern ? each trainer  employs what knows best and feel comfortable with and that is OK if, the client asks for it. However, the vast majority of people who hire a personal trainer are uneducated in fitness and health and even  less on proper training methodology,and will do whatever told.

There are many factors to be considered even before the training process can begin, the training strategy must be based on the outcome of the testing protocol and  training should be oriented towards what the client needs at the initial stage rather than what the client or his trainer wants.

Another thing to observe is that  if you are trying to improve body composition, is the trainer you are choosing fit ? Has he or she got good posture? if the trainer does not meet that criteria, it could be that the trainer is recovering from injury but if the trainer has an elevated body fat percentage most of the time I would personally doubt of his or her knowledge to get you there. If however the trainer is or has indeed gone through a bad patch in life and has been unable to train herself for a while , has he or she at least some before and after pictures of previous clients ?

These are few things to consider when hiring a good professional but not all.  I will cover  the basic criteria to look for in a good trainer and what I consider bad things  in one to warn you in my next article.

Till then.

Marco Berta