Fighting Over 15%

White Goodman

I’ve said this before, but when I started out in the fitness industry I was a total whore. And not in the “I know who I am and what I’m doing” kind of way that takes advantage of the system for my own personal gain. No, I was that wide eyed girl from Kansas who’d never seen the big city before and got taken in by that slick pimp Willie who got her hooked on heroin and out turning tricks in less than two weeks.

I became addicted to the idea of what I “could” look like. As if somehow with chiseled abs, pronounced cheek bones and pecs all of my insecurities and self doubts would magically disappear.

I started working at our local Jewish community center and began teaching group classes. At first I just taught my Tai Chi class and had a few personal training clients. After a few months the center bought into Les Mills group programming and I was asked if I would train to teach BodyPump. With absolutely no idea what I was getting into I agreed.

Somehow I managed to get certified. I was a disaster as a BodyPump leader. I have never taught aerobics, my sense of rhythm is tenuous at best and I’m far too self conscious to dance in public. In fact if you do see me dancing in public I’m either heavily self mocking myself or drunk. Besides the music absolutely sucked.

The one class I did teach after getting certified was so sad the group fitness director actually left the room. In my defense they had just rearranged the speakers so they projected from behind the instructor “stage” and there was no monitor for the instructor. I couldn’t hear for shit and just kept losing my place and time. Nevertheless, I haven’t taught BodyPump since.

Which is good for multiple reasons. But there’s something else I learned during my weekend of BodyPump training that has stayed with me ever since and is, I think, of vital importance. That cute, petite, coffee-addicted cheerleader of an instructor said that only 15% of our overall population is affected by the fitness industry.

That means that the whole of the fitness industry squabbles over 15% of the population and that 85% of America is turned off by us. The whole point of Les Mills and gyms like Planet Fitness is to tap into that 85%, to make fitness attractive to the vast majority of America.
Because, clearly, despite our spray tans, six packs, booty shorts, glutes, pecs and cheek bones — we are not. To extend the metaphor I started with, sure they’d hire us for an evening of debauchery, but rest assured we’re not going home to meet Mama.

Yes, deep down we all wished we looked “better.” Everyone of us has some part we’d change that would make the rest of our lives so much more worth living. The truth is that’s not so much a testimony to what’s wrong with us as it is how effectively advertising and media have capitalized on our insecurities.

And this is not to say that advertising and marketing are inherently spawned from the deepest recesses of hell itself. No, advertisers and marketers are people, just like you and me, and they just do their jobs as effectively and efficiently as possible. They’re just trying to get by, have some pride in a job well done and to get paid.

Only what works for them is not so good for us. What should amount to little more than an adolescent insecurity has been blown up to the status of a lifetime obsession — for the better part of that 15%. As a fitness professional that actually works for me. It means repeat customers and clients constantly searching for that magic bullet, roving from gym to gym and system to system.

The other 85% largely just lives with their self loathing. They hide behind vicarious living through television and popular culture. The most unhappy drown their insecurities in food. As professionals we can do better.

The general response from the fitness world to this 85% is it’s own self protective version of “They just don’t get it” or “They’re too lazy.” We mock them as a group and use them to help define ourselves and embolden our own resolve.

But the truth is, they get it. No adult walking around in America today is unaware that a diet of fast food, Twinkies and ice cream is bad for you. Fat people know why they’re fat.

The reason they don’t do anything about it is because they’re scared. In fact, only when death appears immanent do many people overcome their fear of rejection and darken the gym door. Get that? People are more afraid of us than the general idea of “If I don’t do something I might die.” It has to get to “If I don’t do something I will die” before they do something.

And we as an industry are responsible for that.

We’re so convinced that sex sells that we alienate that portion of the population that needs us the most. It’s no wonder we as an industry are seen as shallow.

I am lucky to have found myself in a place in my career where I am surrounded by colleagues whose programming is some of the best the industry has to offer. I am a shameless thief and have stolen some of the best ideas these people have to offer. As such I’m quite confident I can guide a person from unhealthy to healthy and even help them improve their appearance — after all healthy is more attractive.

But what the industry promises in an effort to get people in the door I can’t do.

I can’t get myself six pack abs, what makes me think I can do that for someone else? Maybe we get lucky and they’ve got the genes for it, but then I’m just a schiester taking credit and money I don’t deserve.

Isn’t it better, more honest, to change the conversation entirely? Instead of, “Look at this girl. She’s hot. Don’t you want to be hot? Train here.” Why not a discussion about what real health is and pays more than just lip service to the concept?

Perhaps I’m just an unrealistic idealist.

I’ve been called worse.

To our perfect imperfection,


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