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Major Motive(s) for Exercise

If you want to train athletes and do rehab then chances are your wishes will conflict with what most clients want. And conflict is bad...real bad!

The title of this article indicates what one of the most fundamental requirements of a personal trainer is.  Quite simply, you must understand what each and every client of yours wants to achieve through exercise in order to deliver the greatest possible value and tailor the experience to each of your clients unique needs and wants.

personal%20training%20dinosaurSo what are the major motivations people have for exercising and joining fitness clubs?  Do people join gyms because they want to ‘condition their core’, learn how to do kettlebell training, or to improve their posture? 

In many years of personal training I’ve never encountered these motives amongst new gym members, yet so many personal trainers specialise in areas just like this.  So the question really begs asking – are personal trainers failing to understand their clients at the most basic level?  In too many cases the answer is quite simply…yes!  You see, very few (if any) people walk past a gym and join on the spot because it looks like fun – by the stage most people join they have built up a significant reason(s) for doing so.  As personal trainers we must find out what this reason(s) is if we are to help them and by virtue of doing so - build and sustain a successfull PT business.

At the turn of the century IHRSA (the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association) published an extremely valuable report entitled ’50 million members by 2010’.  The report detailed the challenges faced by the international fitness industry and offered numerous solutions to these challenges.  The report is just as valid now as it was 10+ years ago.  The report details the major motives people have for exercising and joining fitness clubs, motives that should be used to help shape every personal trainers business.  

Note - these motives certainly haven't changed in the last 10 years!

Why do people exercise and join fitness clubs?

As a result of the surveys conducted by IHRSA the major motives for people exercising and joining fitness clubs are summarised in the following graphs.  When you are looking at these graphs you should note that there can be more than one reason for joining/exercising which is why the percentages can be high – e.g. a person may join a club to improve muscle tone, lose weight and increase their strength.


Here we can see that improving muscle tone and strength are significant motivators for people and this is consistent for both men and women.  In fact almost 70% of the total gym population will join to improve their muscle tone and over 50% join to increase their strength.  As members get older you can see there is a slight decrease in improving muscle tone / strength as a motivator.  Also, the aim of ‘developing muscles’ starts lower and drops off sharply with age.

Now what about weight loss as a motive to exercise and/or join a fitness club?  The weight loss industry is massive and numerous media (television, celebrity magazines) certainly emphasize weight loss more than they emphasize increasing muscle tone, getting stronger or improving fitness.  But how does weight loss rate as a reason for people commencing exercise and/or joining a fitness club?


It appears that overall weight loss is not as big a motive as increasing muscle tone and increasing strength.  There does however tend to be a differentiation between the genders though.  Here we see that for women between the ages of 18 and 44 over 50% of the motivation to exercise comes from wanting to ‘lose weight’.

It seems for men that the ‘bulge’ starts after they are 25 and for the next 30 years forms around 30% of their motivation to exercise.

Now what about the specific health or ‘aerobic fitness’ motives for exercise?  The following graph looks at the major health and aerobic fitness related reasons people have for exercising and/ or joining a fitness club.


As you can see here the older the potential member, the more likely they are to be seeking cardiovascular improvements and aiming to overcome a health problem.  And in comparison to increasing muscle tone, building strength and loosing weight, only a small proportion of people exercise or join a fitness club to overcome a health problem.

It interesting to note that IHRSA's huge volume of research in no way highlighted 'sport-specific training' or 'injury rehabilitation' as major motivators for people joining a fitness club or commencing an exercise for thought perhaps!

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