I’ve been wanting to write this for about two years. With 2020 drawing to a close, it was the perfect opportunity to reflect on what’s quite frankly, a difficult industry to be a part of. With so much potential for good, I’ve had enough of seeing the 'cowboy nature' of an industry that’s screaming for accountability and education. I don’t expect this to be popular, but it’s the raw truth. If you feel triggered, that’s okay – that might be a sign to rethink how you’re operating. There’s a lot of good in this industry, and the right people will understand my sentiments. It’s up to us to continue on and strive to make it a better place.
I’m often embarrassed to be a part of the fitness industry. This year marks ten years in the game for me, and I marked it by writing a book on a methodology that spawned out of everything that wrong with the industry from a client’s perspective – yo-yo dieting, rebounding and an inability to take control to finally be in shape for life.
Whilst a great milestone, this year also marked the year I truly learnt the damage that’s been done to this industry in a professional sense. I use the word professional loosely because this year exposed just how much this industry is lacking in education, accountability and credibility.
The Covid-19 pandemic has had an interesting mark on this industry. Thousands of gyms have shut down and/or closed temporarily, and thousands of personal trainers have either lost their livelihood or had to totally change their way of working and enter the wonderful world of ‘online training’.
When I started working with my first client ten years ago, it was online. I didn’t call it online training, nor did I charge. I was just helping people transform. Little did I know what a behemoth of an industry it would become ten years later. When quite literally, anyone and their dog is now an ‘online trainer’. What’s most scary is ten years later, there’s still no barrier to entry. I jokingly told my partner recently she should change her Instagram name to ‘online coach’ and tell the world she’s now open to taking on a number of ‘lucky’ clients, because that’s the reality of this industry. No client would ever know better, and because there’s no accountability, people can get away with murder. That’s scary. As an employer in this industry, it’s extremely worrying.
I’ve made my fair share of mistakes over the years, for which I’ve publicly apologised for and I am not proud of. When I made these mistakes, I was taught a lesson for which I’m eternally grateful because it exposed me to the mess of this industry, something you only truly witness when you run a business that manages a team (not the one man band ‘entrepreneur’).
The mess is deeply entrenched in the culture of the industry, in particular, with how commercial gyms have operated for years. It’s now sprawling into the online space but the problems are rooted beyond. The biggest issue is that the industry is set up for self employment, profit at all costs (think the trainer on the gym floor judged by his session count) and an individual ‘dog eat dog’ mentality.
In an industry that has so much opportunity to do good in the world, this is disappointing. Every defining moment in the history of mankind has happened because of teams of like-minded people have come together under a bold leadership. The fitness world is anything but this, which is why the commercial gym model is broken, the online space is the new wild, wild, west and ultimately, why government and society doesn’t take fitness seriously.
Every company and professional in this industry should be first and foremost, purpose driven. We are responsible for people’s health, well-being and fitness, and anything but being purpose driven is a disservice and danger to the client. You can see those who aren’t aligned here from a mile off. It’ll be the ‘look at me’ type who either sells snake oil to fellow fitness professionals as a ‘business coach’ (which in almost all cases, are either failed fitness coaches, and/or opportunistic salesman aware of the vulnerable trainer’s problems), or the trainer who when the chips are down, will act out accordingly.
Running a purpose driven company is hard. Trying to bring a difference of perspective in trainers has been near impossible. Every time I announce a change in a way of working, or a strategy, you immediately identify the purpose vs profit driven individuals: the ones in it for themselves.
When some of these people go off into the wild, wild, west, they’ll often believe the industry norm to be correct. That the way of working is normal. That having no accountability or ethics is normal. That carrying perceptions around gender in the industry (and world), narcissism and general distaste is normal. This is a constant battle any purpose driven company will be able to relate to. I know of a few highly successful people in this industry who’ve had enough of it. I feel the pain. But it’s our duty to persist and transform it over time.
Ultimately, those who are in this for the right reasons will prevail. The cream always rises. It’s why we’re in a constant battle when we hire anyone from the industry as it is. It’s a huge risk we are willing to take to ensure we transform their mindset on an individual level. That risk is an opportunity for them more than us, because it allows them to find their own 'why' the purpose that pushed them into the industry in the first place, and that there is a safe space for them to thrive in. This ‘why’ is always tested, and I’m unapologetic about it. Because purpose prevails, and I can’t allow quality standards to ever dip in my control. We have accountability internally that would scare the cowboys of the online world if we found a way to apply it across the industry.
In my quest to ‘normalise’ the workplace of a fitness company, I’ve had to learn this the hard way. When our purpose filters out the wrong people, this can be turbulent for our members because our model (for now) is based on a coach-member relationship. What’s more powerful though for any client in this industry is the faith in the journey itself, which removes any coach bias. Your search within to learn, grow and transform is what’s paramount. By embodying this perception, it drives transformation through the journey. I’ve come to learn this year that for any client, it has to be an internalised drive where the actual value is in responsibility, education and community.
This industry is poisoned, but we will continue to strive for better. We will continue to hire those who wish to reignite their purpose, make an impact and transform lives. We will continue to show clients the power of responsibility for their journey. We won’t always be popular in our endeavour, but the truth is that this is the best journey you can ever embark on.