Do You Find Gyms Daunting or Inviting?

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Amelia Phillips

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A government initiative to encourage older adults to exercise in gyms has recently been launched in Australia. It will focus on gyms and the changes they can make to become more attractive to the baby boomer market. This poses an interesting question about the attitude, tone and programs of gyms, health clubs and PCYC’s.

If you talk to most gym managers they would vehemently argue that their gym is age and gender friendly but could this be a complete furphy? Ask any non-gym goer what they perceive fitness centres to be like and you may not get a pretty picture. However gyms have tried very hard to evolve from the Arnie body builder, Jane Fonda lycra clad stick-insect cliche, so why doesn’t it seem to be working?

What can be done to make gyms more inviting? Is it friendlier front desk staff, classes that cater for entry level fitness, banning of muscle-heads or reduction in the head-banging music often encountered? Or maybe the solution has already been found but not marketed correctly to the baby boomer population. How many over 50′s do you know who tried a gym once and will never go back? Maybe there needs to be a mass marketing campaign aimed directly at the baby boomers. If Winnebago can get that many grey nomads to up and move, so can the fitness industry!

What do you think can be done to attract such an important, growing segment of our society into gyms?

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  • Brett

    Hey Amelia, interesting post. I was really surprised over here in Jakarta to see how many older gym goers there are. In the gym where I work out, Celebrity Fitness, the majority of members are over 40 – and a good chunk of those are over 50.

  • Peter J

    I find that the staff of a gym set the tone. If they are friendly and enthusiastic I find that this translates to the members, and it becomes an enjoyable place to work out for everyone!

  • Amelia Burton

    Hi Brett,
    I am pleased to hear Jakarta and Celebrity Fitness have got the age mix just right. Do you think it is because the older market has a better perception of gyms or do you think gyms have better understanding of what the older market wants?

  • Brett

    @Amelia: I think it’s both. In terms of perception, it’s an emerging market, so it is probably easier to market successfully to older people.

    Peter J made a good point: good staff are the key. I would have to say that is the principal difference between my gym experience here and elsewhere: the staff are really engaging.

  • Amelia Burton

    Yes I agree staff need to be engaging and gyms should focus on getting the right staff on board with the right attitude, and that will encourage our beloved baby boomers to keep on booming!

  • http://www.ameliaburton.com.au Freaky

    freaky has left a new comment on your post “Do you find gyms daunting or inviting?”:

    I also think the whole “ritual” of the gym can be very scary to people. It can be daunting if you aren’t used to getting your kit off in front of others in a changing room – particularly if you are already self-conscious about your body image – or deciding what clothes you will be comfortable in and help you ‘blend in’.

    I think people feel afraid of being flagged as a newcomer, when they want to fit in. Although there will always be a period of adjustment, regardless of whether people want it or not.

    And then, in my opinion, the big one: It’s no use to someone who is completely new to a gym environment, or scared of it, to walk into a gym and be told what equipment names are but not what they do. Forget about learning decent technique, starting weights or fitness assessments. I ashamed to say it often doesn’t happen, or at the very least, not professionally.
    So what does someone do? Either too much or not enough. They go too easy and don’t get results and become demotivated; or they go too hard, injure themselves and vow never to return.

    I know that Amelia’s gym is different in this regard, but there are many who don’t offer a comprehensive fitness assessment (and not in the revisiting-school-vein of push ups and sit and reach tests etc.) before you start a program to determine what you are capable of right now and what you want to be capable of. Just starting can help shape goals,and they undoubtedly change over time.

    I’m young, relatively confident and have worked in the industry, but I am not competent to design my own program. I’ve walk into new gyms and am often given a half-hearted “program” from someone who appears to not really be interested in what I need. I always imagine my Mum being in my position. She’s never liked gyms and although I would like her to get fitter (and she will) I know she would have a very negative view if she had experienced some of my experiences.

    So I think a number of things matter to make gyms more inviting to people in general, let alone baby boomers. Friendly, energetic and encouraging (not pushy and hyper) staff, definitely. Thorough fitness assessments prior to exercise are a must, with a focus on safe technique.

    As for changing people’s perceptions, that’s the real challenge. It’s the challenge of getting people in there to change them. Perhaps getting testimonials out there from older people to promote the clubs. Having people from all ages and backgrounds to promote our clubs, not just the uber-fit crew. And maybe a buddy system to get people coming and motivated.

    Just some thoughts…

  • Julia

    For me, the biggest deterrent to going to a gym is the noise. The last gym to which I belonged had piped in overhead music in the workout areas, different music in the locker rooms, entirely different music in the pool , and the thumping bass coming from the spinning and aerobic rooms, Not to mention the other clients who listened to iPods at earsplitting volume ( thereby sharing their music with those around them). I would often go home shaking with stress and with a migraine.

    I wish that there could be someway to limit the music to ONE source or, even better, to allow those who like music during their workout to use ipods and let the rest of us enjoy our thoughts during our workout. Another alternative would be to have a few hours each day when the noise is limited to the overhead Muzak.