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What I’ve Learned in 12 Years as a Gym Owner

Before owning a gym, I programmed workouts for myself only. I absorbed all I could about training and nutrition and spent a lot of time planning my approach to diet and exercise. I was accountable to one person: ME! 

Then, in 2009 a lot changed. I, along with my husband Rob, opened a gym and we became responsible for many others. Anyone who becomes a trainer no doubt wants to positively impact people. We, personally, wanted to also provide the best training program out there while being supportive to our members.

We delivered advice, programming and coaching. We tested different training concepts and sought more information than ever. We made mistakes. We had successes. We learned a lot! We’ve always worked hard to improve our program and, directly, the lives of our members. 

Below, I detail some of the things I’ve learned in over a decade of owning a gym and having direct contact to literally thousands of people who had the goal of becoming the best versions of themselves. 

  1. Simple is better 

Anyone can put together a bunch of movements and call it a workout. Walk into many gyms and the whiteboard can read like a CVS receipt. Will you sweat? Absolutely? Will your members call it a “good workout?” Probably. But, does it have a purpose? 

Like in cooking, it’s harder to design a delicious offering with fewer ingredients. Now, that doesn’t mean you pull from the same few “ingredients” and repeat them over and over. People want to have fun and variety. As a trainer, you should have hundreds of exercises in your arsenal. However, the goal is never to deliver a high volume of mindless reps and call it a workout. Instead, we focus on achieving a balance of appropriate intensity, an emphasis on functional movement quality and resistance training. Quality over quantity. 

2. Mobility and strength matter

The better you move, the more potential you have to build strength. Most everyone enters the gym with some sort of limitation. For instance, in our work culture of sitting at a desk, shoulder mobility issues tend to be something we see a lot. Imagine loading the shoulder, in a suboptimal position, with weight and repetitions. This can lead to not only pain, but injury. 

That’s why we hammer mobility exercises and other drills in order to improve movement. When movement is better, we can get stronger and even leaner. It works like this: 

Better positions -> the ability to move more weight -> the ability to build more muscle -> the ability to burn more fat at rest. 

You can’t skip mobility!

3. Accountability with the support of a community goes a long way 

There’s a quote that reads “accountability is the glue that binds intentions to results.”

When people have a coach who knows their goals and gives them the routes to achieve them, they become more accountable. Our full-time coaches each have a list of members they check in with regularly to offer advice and support. Our jobs don’t end when the class is over. 

Additionally, the support of other members and the relationships forged are powerful…we call this community. If someone is missing from class, people ask where they are. They encourage each other to be the best they can be. Members who state their goals to the world (or in this case, the gym community), as scary as that may be, are more likely to achieve them. 

A side note on community. It’s been my greatest joy as a gym owner to witness people connect. I’ve seen people meet at the gym and form close bonds – they go on vacation together, attend each others weddings, lean on each other in times of crisis. I hadn’t anticipated providing that type of opportunity in opening a gym, but I must say it’s freaking awesome! 

4. A focus on performance goals can lead to reaching aesthetic goals

Mainstream media has a focus on the scale and an emphasis on an aesthetic ideal. A quick scan of social media and all of the filtered images of fitness influencers can make people feel downright inferior. 

I have found that when people focus on performance goals – maybe it’s a sub 10-minute mile or their first pull-up – not only do they become more consistent with exercise, they also tend to care more about what they put in their bodies. 

Aesthetics will come when you honor your body for what it can DO and not what it looks like. Healthy always looks good. 

5. Quick fixes backfire 

We don’t do challenges. Why? Because they have a end date. People, for six or eight weeks, make a 180-degree change that’s not sustainable. Sure, many see short-term success, but after that deadline, old habits creep back in. Losing weight is never the issue, keeping it off is. And, each time we yo-yo, it’s harder to get the weight off the next time. 

Small changes over time are the most powerful. Start with a few changes and, when they become habit, add more. Habits will pull you through when motivation wanes.

So, nix the fasts, detoxes and challenges. The best diet and exercise program for you is the one that you can see yourself doing forever. 

Well, there you have it…things I’ve learned along the way. Health is our greatest gift and I am fortunate to be able to help people with theirs. 

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