Evolution or Revolution in the Fitness Industry

Evolution or Revolution in the Fitness Industry – Written by Susana Abreu

Twenty years ago, when I began my career as a fitness professional, it seemed clear to me what the fitness industry was all about: sculpting bodies, boosting societal status and being on the forefront of new trends that made fitness more fun and “exclusive.” As a young woman new to the industry, all that truly mattered to me was staying physically fit and finding the coolest sports outfits (or so I thought when I wore those uncomfortable thongs!) and the latest music to inspire my high-intensity group fitness classes. It was all very simple.

I never gave much thought to what the industry would look like twenty years later and, to be brutally honest, I didn’t really care. It is only with the years that I have come to understand the necessity of a more holistic approach to fitness.

My business partner Donna Hutchinson and I spent the last two weeks in the United States on business. We went to one of the largest fitness conference/trade shows in North America, Club Industry in Las Vegas. As we walked though the trade show I realized that the fitness industry has not evolved in the same way as the needs of the population in North America.

It is obvious that the fitness industry has greatly evolved in terms of technology; however, as Donna said during dinner that evening, it feels a little lost. So how do you, as a fitness professional, perceive our industry? What about your clients and/or participants? How do you think non-exercisers view us? Is there something missing?

Over the last two decades, my perspective on fitness has changed significantly. Today, when I think fitness, I think overall fitness. That is, overall health. Fitness goes beyond the physical appearance of wellness, beyond losing that last twenty pounds or trying the latest fitness trend to finally “get the look you have always wanted.”

I believe that it is fair to say that being healthy goes way beyond the perfect beach body. What does that look like anyway? Is the idea of “the perfect body” realistic? Do any of us really believe that there is a magic workout or procedure that will restore someone’s health?

You probably already know that the answer is “no.” You also almost certainly know that the improbability of achieving perfection is one of the main reasons why people give up early in the process of a lifestyle change, such as adopting physical exercise as a new practice.

After Las Vegas we went to San Francisco, where we had stimulating conversations with Graham Melstrand and Chris Goudeseune from the American Council on Exercise (ACE), and others. All of them expressed great concern about the fact that, according to US health statistics, by 2030 sixty-five percent of the US population will be obese. The financial impact of such an epidemic runs into the trillions of dollars. In essence obesity may very well bankrupt the country.

The Public Health Agency of Canada reports that one out of every four adults is obese, and between 1981 and 2009 obesity has doubled. It estimates an increase of $7.1 billion in health care costs associated with eighteen chronic diseases linked to obesity. How is it possible that we are facing such a deplorable future, given that we have more facilities, trainers, equipment, fitness programs and fitness applications than ever before?

At On The Edge Fitness Educators, we ask our students to think about all the factors that might be behind poor lifestyle habits. If the only issue we needed to address was that people don’t work out because they are “lazy” and it is just a matter of getting them to the gym, our job as fitness professionals would be very easy. And we’d all be making a lot more money!

In reality any imbalance in our mental, spiritual, social or emotional wellness has direct physical repercussions. Therefore, we have to keep in mind that helping clients restore balance in their lives will increase their chances of making healthier choices.

We need to educate ourselves, develop more personal awareness, be open and empathize with individuals who seem to struggle with adhering to a fitness program. For many people laziness or lack of desire aren’t at the heart of the matter. It may be financial limitations accentuated by the recession, mental health issues such as depression or anxiety, lack of support—or any and all other reasons. These barriers are real and cannot be dismissed.

Although it may sound altruistic, I am convinced that we in the fitness industry can make a huge difference. We can help turn things around—one client at a time, one participant at a time.

We can educate people on the importance of working toward improving their overall health by identifying factors that may keep them from being more physically active, such as helping them build a stronger support network. So how do we do that?

Understanding the importance and complexity of behaviour modification is the key to helping our clients. It would have been so refreshing to see a booth at the fitness trade show educating fitness leaders on topics that embrace a more holistic approach to fitness. Our clients need more than just an exercise program.

I believe that as fitness professionals we have a great opportunity to help others and, in doing so, help change many misconceptions about our industry. We are not just all about beautiful bodies, the latest workout or the fanciest equipment.

Our industry is about health and balance. It is about promoting education of the human mind and body. I believe the fitness industry is where we find professionals like you, who are trying to find more effective ways to help build healthier communities.

On The Edge Fitness Educators is lucky to be partners with ACE because it is integrating behaviour modification techniques into its curriculum. If you have not had an opportunity to learn about cognitive behavioural modification, I encourage you to begin by Googling it. You will be amazed at how intimately the mind and body relate.

I also encourage you to look into the ACE Health Coach program that we offer at On The Edge, which teaches many behaviour modification techniques. Such techniques will broaden your scope of practice by equipping you to help your clients recognize (and change) counterproductive cognitive patterns that translate into detrimental behaviour.

What a wonderful purpose and mission!