THE FUTURE OF HEALTH CLUBS
By David Arthur Walters
THE MIAMI MIRROR
May 18, 2011
Miami Beach – Almost everyone would like to be fit and healthy, so it is hardly surprising that the fitness and health industries thrive in our technologically advanced society given its enormous number of sedentary occupations. Mind you that “sedentary” is not as bad as experts make it out to be since the classic study of London bus drivers and conductors, providing that one eats accordingly and gets a bare minimum of exercise through normal daily activities. But we want a fuller life than that, a more active and joyful life.
We are indeed a society; we are by nature social creature whose physical existence as individuals is transcended by relations with others. We are a house of mirrors. While some of us might work out regularly on our own, we prefer to do so around others. Even if we are loners, even if we are not “team players,” we still like to be seen working out alone and to watch the activity of others. In fact, human beings perform better in front of an audience, each individual furnishing it with a performed version of itself.
For example, even health club members who do not subscribe to personal training tend to perform better when a personal trainer pays attention to them in passing. Personal trainers should be fitting examples of what the members are striving for. They should be Personable Fitness Ambassadors to the entire membership, providing encouragement, and exercise advice where wanted, to all, and they should be paid a minimum wage for every hour they are on duty in between training sessions. Ideally, one training session per month should be included in every membership contract. Personal trainers should never be idle while present at the health club. They should walk the floor and socialize with healthy goals in mind, observing in turn every member and making sure the club is in good order, letting everyone concerned with health know that they care about them and their club.
Likewise should the owner and general manager tour the club periodically, personally greeting the members, letting them know by his presence and demeanor that he cares about his club; namely, every member, his family away from home. And the sales staff should be a part of the healthy performance as well, making sure they are as positive towards members as they are towards prospects; let them be paid a base salary and make sure their commissions depend on retention so that a good sales representative can build up a sizeable quarterly commission income over the years. And the front desk staff should always make a good impression on everyone who approaches, and the club should pay them well for command performances. Let us not forget the key role that mechanics play, and how interaction with the membership can improve the quality of maintenance and understanding of the equipment.
The health club staff should not be seen horsing around with each other a lot, ignoring the membership. There is always something good for them to do for the club even during slow times. That is, the focus should be on the club at all times, on the welfare of the membership. If everyone would only keep a watchful eye on the club and its individual members, performances would be improved all around.
The performances of health club members could be further enhanced by placing motion-sensitive cameras in strategic positions about the club, programmed to feed images of people working out to screens around the gym, featuring one person after another to everyone present. The healthy club’s interactive website should likewise focus on the members, featuring photographs of different members, with their permission, every month, so their family and friends and the whole world for that matter can see their genuine interest in leading a healthy life.
Health clubs are vital to the health of our diseased civilization, which is, quite frankly, terrifying in many aspects. We are discontented by its emphasis on competition instead of cooperation, on violence and hatred instead of peace and love; we long for a haven if not an imagined golden age in the forest. Fortunately, our relatively affluent and economically efficient society enables many of us to subscribe to memberships in health clubs; unfortunately, its deficiencies require us to set aside time to attend to our health. The beautiful and fit bodies presented to us by the media were not obtained by sitting at desks all day. Some of those desks have been sat at so long that they ought to be convertible into coffins upon the demise of the worker – if only those desks could be adjustable for people to stand up at them, white collar workers would be better off. Perhaps our company or condominium complex does not have a gym in the basement, but we are not satisfied by it. We join a conveniently located health club. We might go out of our way to join one where we believe something special is offered.
That something special might be fitness per se. I might be justifiably angry at the violent world and afraid of it, and then take up martial arts to defend myself by beating the hell out of people who attack me. I may want to master KAK (Kick Ass Karate), or combine several fighting arts including street fighting to do whatever needs to be done to conquer opponents with no holds barred. I want to be fit to fight, but I may not want to be a human cock fighter and be thoroughly brutalized, so I learn some rules, rules that are naturally ignored by brutes and savage street fighters. Just knowing that I know how to defeat others in fights gives me some confidence and calms me down, making it less likely that I would overreact to some slight and get into a street fight. So there is a mental component to my fitness to do a certain task, to fight. I may be more physically and mentally fit to perform the task, but am I healthy? No.
What would really be something special today would be a health club that would heal our wounds, would rehabilitate and reintegrate mind, body, and soul into a state of health that would enable us to remake the world into a better place to live. A special health club would be, so to speak, counter-cultural: it would be a model of the ideal world we desire, a utopia in marked contrast to the dystopia we live in. Utopias imagined are scoffed at by gross materialists because they cannot be found on the face of the Earth, but at least they may be approached.
We are being watched, we want to look good; we had better take time out from the production of goods we might not want for ourselves and consider as trash, junk, and garbage but must produce to get what we need. We take time out from work to work out somewhere. A modern “gym” will no longer do – the ancient gymnasium that schooled mind-body-soul was stripped down to exercising matter for the sake of the competitive sport alone. We must belong to a “club,” where we can get along with others, adding joy to our physical exercises. There is something missing at work and home since body and mind, work and home, and health and fitness were almost hopelessly severed; to wit, our personal health, in which many sages say our happiness resides – a person is not a mere individual or naked category of one but is a social being. Wherefore we want the kind of health club that will reintegrate our dimensions and engage the whole person and thus the community at large.
Again, it is healthy to be fit but health is more than the fitness of the body obtained by exercise to perform a certain function. We want a sound mind-body; we want physical and mental health. And let us not forget the spirit or soul, the transcendent nature of what we really are despite the effort to deny the existential supremacy of being. We are sickened by the alienation we have inherited, and by the fast food and violent television that have taken us away from the dining tables and banquets that once glued families and entire communities together.
Simply exercising will not save us from physical diseases nor from our civilization’s psychological discontent. Physical exercises alone may provide a man or woman with an admirable body, and he or she may find some esteem in that, but will not render the isolated individual immortal. The myth that strenuous workouts ensure longevity has killed many people. An extraordinarily fit person or athlete may die prematurely of cardiovascular diseases; the slug who creeps along may not attend his funeral, but someone who walks about and does some housework, and who plays with the kids for a little while, may be there to mourn his hero. Naturally, if the person eats well, s/he has a much better chance of surviving longer, yet something besides diet and moderated exercise are required; something metaphysical that scientists used to scoff at as non-existent but are now taking a close look at.
Competition is stiff, the economy rises and falls, health clubs come and go. We want to join a healthy health club, a club wholeheartedly managed with the best and highest interests of its members in mind, yet we find everywhere clubs whose main interest is in serving investors’ craving for the highest possible returns in a viciously competitive, churn-and-burn economy. To that end the hustlers come out with one gimmick after another to differentiate their brands, and, before you know it, nobody remembers what the brand means except another disappointing “scam.” Since that sort of management cannot engage and keep members for long, the focus is on aggressive marketing campaigns to keep up with and outrun the rapid turnover in membership. That is, the emphasis is on sales and not on service, not on keeping members once they are signed up. Members are usually not rewarded for loyalty to the club. Careless club operators will not even kiss them goodbye. In the long run it would behoove the operators to say, “Thank you for being a member. We really hate to lose you. You have been a member now for three years. Why don’t you stick around for another three months free of charge? If you want to stay after that, we will work out a substantial discount in appreciation for your loyalty.”
It is a fact that people who sign up for annual memberships are on the average not motivated enough by the service provided to show up at the club more than twice a month, and eventually less often, so the company can leverage space-time to sell far more memberships than space would allow if everyone showed up regularly. If the club were actually backing up its currency with gold, there would be a run on the club; it would be swamped by demand.
All too many customers soon realize the gold-backed membership card is fool’s gold, and they do not renew. A tipping point is reached presaging bankruptcy. Due to the waning commitment to their uninspiring business-as-usual, the clubs may even start selling monthly memberships. The few old timers who stick around complain about the declining quality of the membership; the newer members seem to care less for their health and fitness than the management does, and the “club” is ruined.
Next in Series: ‘The Crunch Fiasco’