Health Club Hospitality/Hostility: The Power of a Smile, a Kind Word, a Helping Hand
I’m very excited to rejoin the Spinning® community blog team after a one year hiatus. For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Raquel. I’m a native of western New York and am a professor of special education at State University of New York College at Buffalo. I’ve been a Spinning® Master Instructor since 2005, an instructor since 1998, and first started teaching group exercise classes (step and dance aerobics!) in 1988. In addition to travelling the world, both indoor and outdoor cycling are my life’s passions.
One of my favorite questions to ask new instructors at Orientation is “Do you remember the very first Spinning® class that you ever took?” I ask this because I believe the first 10-15 mins of class are a critical period during which newbies will either flee, suffer, or triumph. I recall my first class as a participant clearly. It took me quite some time to work up the courage to even venture into the scary dark sweaty cave with pounding music. When I finally did, I did not own up to being a new student. 5 minutes into class I was squirming in the saddle, convinced I was going to fall if I stood up, and struggling not to hyperventilate (I was a very fit 25 year old at the time). I hated it but I was determined to keep coming back until I could at least keep up with the 60 year old grandmother/Spinning® class superstar who’d (peeled me off the floor at the end of class) taken me under her wing. 3 months later, I was hooked.
Which leads me to the topic of this post. January can be one of the most reviled months for veteran fitness club members, aka the “regulars”. Throngs of new members with newly minted resolutions descend upon the parking lots, the locker rooms, the classes, the machines. While this is wonderful for facility owners and the nation’s growing waistlines, it can be torture for those of us who are at the gym the other 11 months of the year. Packed classes, time limits on cardio machines, and novice members who have the nerve to take YOUR favorite parking spot, YOUR favorite bike, YOUR favorite locker, etc., can lead to gym rage in even the most centered yogi. As someone who has worked out at a health club since the mid 1980s, I can appreciate the perspective of being a seasoned member who knows that with the typical ebb and flow of new members, many of the faces seen in January will start to disappear by Valentine’s Day, and all will likely be back to the status quo by St Patrick’s Day. Studies show that “big box” fitness clubs need 10 times as many members as their capacity in order to be profitable, and January is the busiest time of the year in terms of acquiring new clients (45% of those will not maintain their membership). As instructors we understand how important it is to welcome new students and make sure they are set up properly and review the safety drill (to review this see Josh Taylor setting up an eSpinner®:
On the other hand, as a member I find it a little harder to maintain my friendly smile when shuffling around a packed & sweaty Zumba class trying not to bump up against wiggling hips and cha-cha feet. I have to remind myself to (wipe the dirty look off my face) take a breath, and remember that I was once one of those new people and the folks who were nice to me helped to keep me coming back. Some of my closest friendships have formed as a direct result of being a gym member. Most people join a health club to lose weight, and those who continue to renew their membership cite the club’s social network as a value added source of support and motivation. I have a Spinner® at home which is wonderful, but I like the social milieu of the fitness facility and group exercise classes. This time of year is also a great time to try some different classes. Yesterday I arrived at the gym to find out I was already closed out of 3 back to back sold out Spinning® classes. My back up cardio plan is usually the elliptical or treadmill, but all of the machines were occupied. On top of that, highly motivated members stood vigilant guard behind each machine, eyeing how many minutes were left until the 30 min. limit and poised like cheetahs ready to pounce on the next available machine. That’s definitely not how I roll, plus waiting around at the gym somehow seems ironic to me. I decided to trade my cycling shoes for sneakers and try a (get worked over like a farm animal) boot camp style class that didn’t look too packed. It was a blast, something completely different from what I usually do (which is a good thing when it comes to exercise!) and is the primary reason why I’m sipping my lunch through a straw today and typing with my index fingers, the only part of my body that isn’t sore.
So, my humble recommendation is the next time you feel like scowling, rolling your eyes or harrumphing because your club is so busy & new people seem to take longer to do everything!—STOP: Take a deep breath, smile, and remind yourself this is a great opportunity to try something different in your workout routine AND offer a novice exerciser a kind word or look of encouragement: “Yes, it will get better and you will look better too!”