Smashing Fitness Industry Stereotypes

I was contacted last week by a fellow who is in a local networking group with me for a meeting that our group calls a BBI or Business Building Interview. These interviews are supposed to educate other members of the group about our businesses so we can figure out how to give each other more referrals and generate more business for everyone. Sounds great. What does that have to do with this blog?

Well, this particular fellow is the founder of a fitness oriented company in Milton, Ontario called Arm Training Systems. He wanted to meet with me to talk about how to integrate offering my services (Psychotherapy) into his client programs for people who are having difficulty reaching their goals.

I have to admit that at first, even though I’ve known him for a while and have even trained with him, I was a bit afeared of what he was going to ask me to do. Why? I’ll tell you my friends; if the goals that the people weren’t reaching were weight loss goals, I was prepared to, as my friend Ariel likes to say, “FEMINIST HULK SMASH” that idea right into the bed rock where it belongs.

animated-she-hulk

We sat down to lunch where I was very pleasantly surprised by his opening statement. It went something like, “I’ve been in this industry a long time and I’ve seen what happens when we narrowly focus on exercise, nutrition and weight loss. The results don’t stick and people don’t change. I’m not interested in people losing weight or reaching any particular metric. I’m interested in transformation. I’m hoping you can help me with that.” Talk about blown away… who talks like that? Well, Adam does. He’s a dreamer, and, frankly, a bit of a madman. But the other thing he is, that lots of other fitness industry types aren’t, is flexible and resilient in his approach to life and his business. As our discussion went on, I realized he seemed not to be attached or bound to the orthodoxies of the industry, where selling a program by preying on our fears and insecurities is a guaranteed quick buck. That approach actually makes him a little sick.

He is interested in service, which includes facilitating referrals to other wellness professionals like Osteopathy, Naturopathy, and Psychotherapy. We spent quite a while talking about how to get clients to actually call me. We talked about how many times his clients experience old traumas reemerging as a result of hard training. We talked about how issues of self worth interfere with his clients’ ability to believe they deserve to be stronger or more well. I continued to test him around the weight thing and he continued to give me answers that didn’t turn me all angry and green.

He also talked about the structure of his group sessions. After each round, his team picks a stand out member or two to become a “mentor” to the next group. Mentorship accrues the people reduced rates and other benefits but it requires them to also recruit friends and help facilitate the class. While there is certainly a business element to this, he really lit up when he talked about the community that started to emerge as people invested in not only the program, but the social/emotional benefits of leadership and facilitation. They left behind their insecurities and self-judgment and started to invest in the success of others.

This started me thinking about my fitness journey and what got it going in a consistent way. It wasn’t really about my goal setting or my standards for myself. It was about my friends and their support. I enjoy the strength and the endurance and the aesthetic for sure. I have a lot of fun. But I also have all these people and they lift me up. It was when the critical mass of community hit me, that all my other “metrics” accelerated. Without community, the metrics are a little empty.

So I’m now super excited to support his clients in their goals because I know, at least in principle, that the work won’t be undermined by a training program that relies on clients’ self loathing to get them to hand over the credit card. I so very much want him to be super successful so he can prove that fitness training and support can be done this way. I want the awesome women I know who have demanded respect for their accomplishments in ways that do not highlight the concurrent diminishment of their physical frame, to have more safe places to do the things they want to do. Health, flexibility, strength, stability, endurance and inner peace. . .it’s not actually too much to ask. A scale won’t give us that. Hopefully, this may be a step towards it in the fitness industry in my little corner of the world.

About Susan Tarshis

I am a full time Psychotherapist practicing in Milton, Ontario. From time to time, I post thoughts about my practice and the human condition to my own blog but mostly, I'm a regular contributor to my friends' blog (Fit is a Feminist Issue). . .because that's more fun.

6 thoughts on “Smashing Fitness Industry Stereotypes

  1. Ariel has given me the full attribution…https://mobile.twitter.com/feministhulk. So, that’s, like, the best thing!!

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  2. longviewhill says:

    This really resonates with me. I love the training that I am doing – but a huge part of the motivation comes from the community of friends I have made. Having them helps me get to the gym, and once I am there, do my best work. I really hope this partnership works out – it sounds like a cool program!

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  3. Tracy I says:

    Yay for trainers who aren’t focused on metrics and especially weight loss as a metric. Sounds like an exciting collaboration.

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  4. I love this post, I love this collaboration, and I love YOU Susan! 🙂

    To clarify do we want people to have a decent body-fat percentage? To be able to complete a perfect pull-up? Of course we do. But what about their stress level? Their mental sharpness? Their dynamism and adaptability when troubles arise? These are also aspects of fitness—more important to their success and longevity than whether or not they look good in a swimsuit.

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  5. Christine says:

    What an amazing, much-needed approach to long-term, sustainable health and fitness. Those 90 day shred programs and 21 day quick fixes, for most, do not inspire a transformation!! People lose a few pounds (mostly water usually) the 90 days expires and they’re back where they started! So glad to hear that he’s taking the holistic approach — and best of luck to you as well!

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