What if I were to say to you that joining a gym could be the worst possible idea... you'd tell me I was talking out of my bumhole probably.
Except having worked in various gyms (and been members of others) I can honestly say that most gym set ups are ineffective in helping you lose weight, and in some cases will have you in worse shape than when you started.
Before I get started, I should point out that this isn't every gym, and the number one determining factor in your success of failure is YOU, the individual. So if you have had great success in the gym, congratulations... sit back, have a read and tell me if you think the gym 'helped'.
I’ve split the post into relevant sections and I’ll bring you my take on signing up, staff, equipment and programmes and next week I’ll bring you nutrition, classes, environment and bring some balance in the good things gym’s provide too.
I have worked in gym sales (at the Cambridge Belfry, Cambourne), as well as the gym floor, so I feel I've got a pretty good understanding of how this works and where it all goes wrong.
You walk into the gym and see a member of the sales team. By walking in, you're pre-qualified as someone who's interested and probably wants to sign up. The sales team will take you round, get to know you and tailor their spiel to suit that things you've just mentioned e.g. weight loss - "the treadmill is great for that, see here where it shows you how many calories you've burned." It’s worth remembering here that this person often know MINIMAL about health and fitness, and as a good rule if they’re not in great shape themselves I would question everything they say.
In my opinion sales are missing a trick here, because they need to find out WHY this person feel they need to lose weight, "holiday, get fit to play with children, want to find a partner etc..." This is the underlying motive behind why they feel they need to lose weight, and is much more valuable information that just "weight loss". Some GOOD sales persons will get into this, but that information is normally lost by the time the customer reaches the gym. The result is that you, the customer, don’t have any emotional bond to the gym.
It also worth remembering that sales is a very competitive sector of any industry and targets are often set high. In every gym I've been to I known sales workers to be more interested in getting their numbers than giving the customer the best possible service for them as an individual. I should know... I've been there.
Once you're signed up, the gym has your monthly subscription whether you get what you want or not.
As a gym instructor, your main focus is the customers in the gym, but as a gym employee your focus has to also include cleaning, operating procedures, attrition numbers, setting up / taking classes and much more. As an instructor and personal trainer myself I would always strive to pack my diary so full of appointments my bosses couldn't say anything if they felt I was falling behind in other areas because I felt face-to-face time with customers gave them the best chance of achieving their goals (and it was more enjoyable than cleaning).
The point I'm making here is that the perfect gym would have instructors ready on hand to help you through the session from start to finish, but they're far too busy. At a good gym, your instructor will have some basic information about you when they first meet you (giving to them by hopefully a competent, thorough sales person). They will use this to assess your needs, design a programme (more on this later) and get you started and they will try their best, but there’s not enough time available to get personal and build an emotional bond between the client, the gym and the goal to get the most out using the gym.
Unfortunately these days it's very easy to become an instructor and I've met some really bad ones in my 5 years in the industry (not just in Cambridge). I've seen people who know nothing about nutrition, proper training, basic anatomy and injuries dolling out advice to customers who can only assume they know what they're talking about. If you do find a good instructor then they're always too busy to be on hand 24/7.
The solutions... Educate yourself on whichever issues you're struggling with, or pay someone to do the thinking for you. It sounds harsh but I'm really trying to make the point that if you don't look after you, then no one else will.
I've purposefully put an image of a typical modern gym at the top of the post, which many of you will recognise as the 'cardio block/theatre'. In modern gyms this comprises of between 50% and 80% of the gym floor. Most people's idea of going to the gym is treadmill, bike, cross-trainer, rowing machine etc... But why? 95% of people going to the gym are there to get a leaner, more muscular body and pounding out weekly hours on any of this cardiovascular equipment will not provide these results.
You will burn fat to an extent, but you're not stimulating muscles to the level they require and you end up over-using poor movement patterns, leading to injuries, or simply not working hard enough to achieve any proper results, after the initial honeymoon period.
I see plenty of gym users who come in after 8 hours sat at their desk, and then spend an hour sat on an exercise bike... hello poor posture and back problems.
I see people who are overweight running on treadmills for half an hour, which is a commendable effort, but not great for their joints.
Many gyms lack the proper equipment for effective full body training. As a huge advocate of strength training, I'm often shocked at the lack of proper barbells, plates and lifting areas in gyms. With this basic equipment you can have a balanced full body workout and stimulate muscle growth whilst burning fat.
The issue here is that equipment is expensive for the amount of use it's going to get, and gyms will tell you that there's not enough demand for it... but, the gyms can change this by being the ones who decide what's being done. If you joined a gym with 10 squat racks and only 1 treadmill, then you would expect to be using the squat rack much more than the treadmill.
There are a few gyms in and around Cambridge that have this sort of equipment, and I personally am happy to travel a little extra distance to use these proper training facilities.
Your gym instructor will probably take you round the gym and plan your first programme. This is great, otherwise you might not have a clue what you're doing. Unfortunately what you're going to get is a 'stock' programme designed to suit a general person for a general purpose, and I should know because I've done hundreds of them myself. Are you just a 'general person' or are you an individual?
It's not that an instructor wants to do this - normally they want to spend as much time as possible with you - it's just they're limited by time, company policy, insurance liability and some are just not that good. I've even seen companies recently move towards stock programmes available on cards, so the instructor has even less to do, other than show you how to do what the card says.
What you need is a programme designed to your individual needs. Something that strengthens your weak points, stretches your tight spots, provides fun and PROGRESSION so you don't get bored doing the same thing for 3 months. My advice here is to use your gym instructor - the better they know you, the more they can help you. With my personal clients I find by the third session I've got a good idea about which exercises are going to work best for them, and what to put in their warm up, but until then it's trial and error to see what's going to work for them.
You shouldn't perform the same programme for any more than 4 weeks (6 if your a novice) and even within these 4 weeks you should be progressing by increasing weights, reducing rest periods, or going faster / further distance. You have to do this yourself though, as most gym programmes won't be detailed enough to provide you with this.
Why not ask the personal trainers at you gym if they’d look at a programme with you? Most trainer’s are happy to give away some time for free as it’s good practice for them, and if the client is likely to have some personal training in the future, it’s gonna be with whoever gave them that great programme.