The Future of the Fitness Industry
I spent last weekend at the Perform Better Summit in Providence, Rhode Island, where I was exposed to more information than I could possibly absorb. There was all the great stuff I expected from Stu McGill, Thomas Myers, and Gray Cook. My coauthor, Alwyn Cosgrove, spoke about fat loss in what I thought was the best presentation of the weekend. (And that’s really saying something.)
I missed a bunch of speakers whose talks would’ve been at the top of my list at any other conference: Dan John, Mark Verstegen, Charles Staley, Chris Mohr, Mike Boyle.
Even with all that talent and experience on the lineup, I thought the most provocative presentation came from Thom Plummer, who spoke about the future of the fitness industry. As I told a couple of friends afterwards, almost everything he said about fitness was equally true of the publishing industry. Maybe it applies to every business today, but those are the only two I’m part of.
His main point was that the gym business peaked in the ’90s and got stuck there. Health clubs occupied massive, warehouse-size spaces, filled them with machines and free weights, and, as I noted in NROL for Abs, arranged all that equipment in neat rows of rectangular plots. The idea, Plummer said, is that clients would use cardio machines for steady-state endurance exercise, which we all assumed was best for weight loss, and that they’d do bodybuilding-style strength training for muscle development.
Bodybuilding, as we know, fits perfectly into those rectangular spaces. You might take one step forward or back for a lunge, but otherwise you plant your butt on a bench or your feet on the floor, and that’s all the space you need, aside from whatever clearance your barbell might demand. The rectangles on the floor are for crunches and static stretching.
Plummer’s goal was to exhort the trainers in the audience to move beyond 1990s-style big-box facilities and ’90s-style training methods. To prove his point, I went to Google Images and typed in “fitness center.” Up came still what a gym or health club should be: a place where your monthly fee rents you time on a treadmill or guarantees a space in the Zumba class.
By contrast, check out Elemental Fitness Lab, my friend Chris Bathke’s new gym. The picture at the top of this post is his main workout floor. That’s the future, Plummer says: small, specialized training studios.
Meanwhile, most of us still work out in old, warehouse-style gyms. And you can certainly get good workouts in big places. I love my current gym, the Human Performance Center in Allentown. I ignore the half of the gym with all the machines, except for a small open space set aside for mobility and core training. It’s easy to get frustrated over there, with people walking into you or cutting your space in half to do their crunches three feet in front of you. But I probably frustrate some of them as well when I do mobility drills that take me in between their machines.
The other half of the gym is perfectly configured, with a row of five squat racks against one wall and the dumbbell racks against the opposite wall. In between you might find someone doing Turkish get-ups next to someone skipping rope and someone else jumping up onto plyo boxes. On any given day you’ll see people swinging kettlebells or Indian clubs, powerlifting with chains, or doing advanced core training with the rotational trainer.
You have to pay attention, but I consider that a feature. I’ve never thought it’s a good idea to zone out during a training session. The more I focus, the more I get out of it.
So where are you on the fitness-industry continuum? Do you work out in a private studio, a big box, at home, or in some other type of facility? Do you think the big boxes can adjust to NROL-style training, or are they stuck with the rectangles? Or, if you work out in a studio, do you sometimes wish you were back in a big box with all that equipment?