For a lot of people, the gym floor can be a boring and potentially intimidating space.
Not for me, obviously, but for some people, the gym can be hell!
I understand how such people feel and the reasons why they feel that way. After all, it took me years to become comfortable on the gym floor, even though I was already a rugby player when I first set foot on it.
To my mind, working out is not in of itself a fun thing to do. This is especially true when exercising at a gym, where training is part of the process of getting fit, even if it does enable people to play sport.
When I first started training, I thought my feelings about this would change over time, but after more than 10 years in the fitness industry, they remain the same as they ever were!
Over the past decade, I have learned that many of the people who contact personal trainers such as myself are not especially confident about engaging in physical activity and that part of my job is to build up the confidence of such people.
This lack of confidence does not necessarily come from such people being overweight - a popular misconception. In my experience, many people who struggle with obesity tend to stay at home, rather than face the challenge of a modern gym.
When I started training I could not have imagined that one day I would be a personal trainer and loving my job, together with the daily contact it gives me with my clients. I was also wary, when I started, about what the gym could offer and, in some ways, I retain a degree of that scepticism today. It is what drives me to continue learning about fitness and people and it keeps my mind active, which is important because when you become complacent about fitness you lose your drive to succeed in the sector.
Which may seem a curious statement for someone like me to make. After all, the fitness industry, together with its associated workout programmes and brands, promises its customers a healthier, better life. Plus, exercising itself has been proved in various studies over the years to offer a boost to our emotional, physical and cognitive health.
Exercise is thus good for us, right? It makes us feel and look good and helps us to get through our potentially productive days.
I think there is a certain amount of truth in these kinds of statements, though I also believe there is a quid pro quo where fitness is concerned, as the modern gym environment is also a place for selling products as well as the services of personal trainers.
Against this backdrop then, are we as gym-goers objective where fitness is concerned? Or are we just a different kind of consumer, navigating our way through another segmented marketplace? You pay your money, so you decide!
When I was at school, teachers were popularly held up as a source of knowledge and as role models for young people (and especially for those children whose parents were unable to raise them effectively). As students, we were encouraged to look up to and emulate our teachers and respect them.
A similar opportunity is available today to fitness professionals. However, in the current social media-dominated culture, are personal trainers (such as myself) reliable advisors as to what is best for our clients; potentially educating, training and instilling knowledge and best practise in them? Or are we simply front men and women for manufacturers and service operators looking for a profit?
Again, you decide.
The issue for me in this equation is that of empathy. Or, to put it another way, it is about how we listen and respond to the individuals who contact us for some direction where their health and fitness is concerned.
In my opinion, it is important to walk people through the health and fitness maze step by step and to explain what physical and associated mental disciplines are involved in getting fit. This is because fitness training is not simply a means to an end, it is also therapy in itself and a cost-effective defence against the stresses we face daily. It is a way to cleanse our body of the toxins of life (alcohol, narcotics, environmental pollution) and a proven way to boost self-esteem.
It is also a route to a long and productive life and a means to find personal happiness (a potentially liberating experience in itself) and an opportunity to appreciate the wonderful physical and mental mechanism that evolution has bequeathed us.
One piece of advice a teacher gave me years ago has stayed with me after all these years.
“At university,” he told me when I was in my twenties, “our job is to give students the tools they need to find the information they want.”
Today I believe that fitness professionals such as myself have the same responsibility.
It is our job to give people the confidence they need to find the right level of fitness for them and to fully enjoy their fitness lifestyle.