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Attitudes, Fears and Exercise

Please read this page so you understand that there are some things you should never do to your matter how impressive you think they may be.

As well as researching the major motives people have for exercising and joining a fitness club, IHRSA (The International Health Racquet and Sportsclub Association) have also investigated the attitudes people have towards exercise and the fears that stop people from joining fitness clubs (and by association using personal trainers). 

The most important attitudes and fears for you to understand as a personal trainer are summarised as follows:

Attitudes towards physical fitness by age

Here we can see that people’s attitudes to physical fitness change as they age.  Attractiveness seems to be the most resilient belief.  And it seems for the younger age group (18-34) that activity interest and variety is more important than it is to the more mature.


Of particular interest and relevance to personal trainers here is the observation that between 60-70% of all people aged 54 and below would exercise more if they found an interesting activity.  This is why it is so important for trainers to investigate what people like and dislike in regard to exercise.  The simple reality is that if clients don’t like the activity you provide them they’ll be unlikely to stick with it.

Far too often personal trainers select exercises for their clients based on the trainers preferences rather than investigating likes and dislikes with the clients.  This is where we see personal trainers specialising in ‘swiss ball training’, ‘kettlebell training’ and ‘core conditioning’ because the trainer likes these training methods, or believes them to be superior.  What you must understand is that the most superior exercise is simply the exercise each and every client likes enough to repeat time and time again, and by doing so, will actually achieve the results they desire.


What would increase the likelihood of joining a club by age

Building on the ‘common sense’ observation that people will exercise more when they find an activity they like what else can we learn about people’s attitudes towards exercise and joining a fitness club?  Here we look at factors that will increase the likelihood of different age groups joining a club. 


Here we can see that what might make club’s more attractive to potential members includes for the younger group having more sporting opportunities and less intimidation.

This is less of a factor as people age.  The social ambiance (being conducive to meeting people) is most important to the 18-34 year olds. 

Interestingly between 20-40% of people surveyed are worried about being intimidated by people (including staff) who belong at clubs.  So as a personal trainer working at a club you need to realise that people who are joining (that could become your clients) to lose weight or tone up may not be impressed by seeing you training clients in a tight singlet showing of your ‘ripped’ physique – chances are that all you’ll do is provide them with a reason to avoid you…at all costs!

Also of interest is that approximately 30-40% of all 18-54 yr olds would like more emphasis on recreational activities which fits in nicely with the previous graph showing that the majority of people would be more likely to exercise if they found an activity they like.  So it seems pretty obvious – investigate what gym members (and your clients) like in terms of exercise and make sure you provide some flexible options to suit, including recreational activities.


What ‘stops’ people joining fitness clubs

In research commissioned by IHRSA and conducted by Dr. Christine Brooks of the University of Michigan’s Fitness Research Centre the following five fears were identified as core to keeping people away from health clubs:

 personal training falling off treadmill1.  The fear of feeling stupid.  For people that don’t know how a club works, or have no idea how fitness equipment works, they often steer clear of fitness clubs because they fear they’ll likely do something that will have them feel stupid in front of others. 

2.  The fear of feeling isolated.  When people hear the word “club,” they feel the word “connection.”  They imagine that the members know the staff and know one another. Not wanting to feel alone and isolated, they avoid the “club” experience.

3.  The fear of looking and feeling like a klutz.  Many people have had bad experiences with sports and fitness. They have never felt confident or competent playing sport or participating in fitness type activities. These people do not want to enter an arena where they feel they will stand out as being uncoordinated and unathletic.personal%20training%20feeling%20out%20of%20place

4.   The fear of “physique anxiety.  Many people are embarrassed about their bodies. They avoid any arena where their physique could be more visible. They are even more uncomfortable in an arena in which they imagine that everyone else is in perfect shape which is a common (mis)perception of people in fitness clubs.
5.  The fear of being “forced” to join.  Many people have heard stories about clubs that specialise in “high-pressure” sales tactics.  They have also heard stories about clubs that are “only interested in their money.”

These fears (no matter how minor or unrealistic you think they may be) prevent many people from even considering joining a fitness club, and by virtue of this, from ever becoming your clients. 

Invariably the majority of staff at most fitness clubs are very interested, concerned and motivated to help people improve their health and wellness.  It seems somehow that the ‘majority’ are not presenting a clear enough message to current and potential members, and quite possibly a ‘minority’ are creating a significantly poor impression that over time has taken hold.

Fundamentally, as customers are more and more suspicious of companies claiming to be ‘environmentally friendly’, ‘customer focused’, ‘values based’ etc there is more ‘scepticism’ in their approach to our industry.  To combat this, those of us working in the sector trying to make a difference (the majority of us) need to ensure our voices are heard and our actions are seen.

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