Five Things Gyms Don’t Want You To Know - From a Former Award-Winning Trainer
I was an award-winning, successful, highly sought-after personal trainer for 8 years. I specialized in weight loss, body transformation and in later years, injury prevention and recovery.
I was exceptionally good at it and when I first started, I loved it but I ended up quitting when the truth behind the industry finally became clear.
In this post, I'm outlining five things that gyms don't want you to know and as a bonus, one major point the diet, fitness, and health and wellness industries in general, don't want you to know.
They know you’re probably not going to lose weight (or get stronger)
This is one of the many reasons I quit being a trainer. When I first became a trainer, I truly thought that information and motivation were the problems people faced with “getting fit and healthy” and transforming their bodies.
But the more people I worked with (and the more I got to know the industry and its norms) the more I realized, it had nothing to do with either.
And how high the dropout rate is. For clients and personal trainers.
Clients drop out because they can’t stick with it, and trainers drop out for similar reasons as me.
Of those who join a gym, the vast majority quit attending within a few months. Those who do stick to it long enough to have any chance of changing their bodies are few and far between.
Of the rare few who do stick with it, only a fraction of them lose weight or change their bodies.
And of those who do lose weight, only an even smaller fraction actually keep it off. The majority of them regain all the weight they lose within 1-5 years.
The longer I did that work, the more disillusioned I became. I became a trainer because I wanted to help change lives, not be an industry with such a high failure rate.
And make no mistake it’s the industry that’s failing people, not the people failing at their goals.
They know you’re probably not going to attend
Before people actually quit, they usually continue to pay membership fees for a while without attending. And gyms love that. Why do you think they work so hard to lock you into year-long memberships? As long as you keep paying the membership fee, many of them don’t even care if you attend. In fact, it’s in their best interests if you don’t because the more people who use the equipment, the faster it wears out and needs to be replaced. And they rely on you not showing up. If everyone who was actually a member showed up every day, there wouldn’t be enough space or equipment for them all.
And it's no big deal when people quit because they prey on fear so it's easy to fill the slots with new members.
Most supplements being sold are a waste of money
The vast majority of the protein drinks, snacks, supplements, etc. some sell do little to nothing, they’re horrendously overpriced, unregulated, and poorly studied. Sure, some pre-workouts can help with energy and focus but they’re just stimulants, nothing magical and if you’re just starting out, you’re better off skipping them. When you first start training, it’s easy to make strength-based progress as long as you are consistent and push yourself a little more each workout. Because your body can develop a tolerance to stimulants, you’re better off waiting until you’ve been lifting for a fair amount of time and start struggling to make strength gains. Protein shakes may have their place as well but their benefits are extremely exaggerated.
Beyond a couple of those basics perhaps having some benefit under the right circumstances, the vast majority are a waste of money.
Most instructors and trainers are frighteningly unqualified
It’s scary-easy to get certified as a gym/fitness instructor. Most personal training certifications are a little more work but not by much. Most only require a couple of weekends of classes (the one I took--one of the most recognized & respected in Canada--was two weekends and only included a single hour of training in the actual gym with equipment and zero instruction on form or how to train). Then they usually have a theory test and a practical test. Luckily for me (and my clients) when I took mine, I’d already been training, learning on my own, and working with pros for several years so I had a firm foundation of knowledge already in place but many in my class did not.
They came out of it barely even knowing how to put a program together and I remember being horrified at the time because I had been doing it long enough to know how much we didn’t learn, how much they didn’t know.
For example, none of us were taught anything about understanding and recognizing muscle imbalances or the potential for injury in clients. I ended up somewhat specializing in that sort of thing after a while because I spent a lot of additional time learning about it after my own injuries. But we were not taught it. I learned about it after the fact, on my own.
We weren’t how to tell the difference between a weak muscle or a tight muscle, nor why it matters, either. That’s really important information if you want to prevent injuries in your clients.
Nor were we taught anything about weight stigma, how unhealthy and harmful it is, and how to mitigate that harm to create a safe space for people in all bodies.
Absolutely there are some really great, well-qualified PTs out there but they are rare. If you have one, hang on to them for dear life because the majority are varying degrees of terrible and carry enormous anti-fat bias that makes them unsafe for working with clients who struggle with weight.
Getting fit isn’t as mysterious and difficult as gyms make out
You can learn all you need to know from free youtube videos, though admittedly discerning who to trust in those spaces is an enormous challenge in and of itself. This is a generalization of course but generally speaking, personal training sessions are only worth it if you want someone to watch your form and make sure you’re doing a lift safely (just make sure you find one who actually knows good form because as I said, most aren’t great at it themselves), if you need a safe spotter, are training for something specific and they’re a specialist in that, or don’t feel safe entering a gym and having someone comforting by your side helps you feel more secure and supportive.
More equipment isn’t always better
I became Canadian Trainer of the Year and a nationally qualified champion figure athlete with dumbbells, a barbell, a power cage, a bench and a treadmill. That’s it. And the power cage and treadmill were helpful, but unrequired extras.
Creating or maintaining a body that feels good to live in, and is strong enough to help support us (in your life and as you age) requires little to no equipment, or even a gym.
And let’s be real, that’s all most people really need - bodies that feel good to live in and are strong enough to support them in their lives.
Whether or not a gym has a dozen different types of machines for each muscle group or some massive “functional training” area isn’t what determines whether or not a client will reach their ultimate goals--though those things are usually as a justification for higher membership costs.
Bonus point: The entire paradigm is fundamentally broken and failing people
The fitness industry, really the health and wellness industries in general, are fundamentally broken.
We’re taught, as professionals in those industries that our job is to teach people what they need to DO to change their lives or achieve their goals.
As consumers, we learn that’s what we need - we need others to teach us what to eat or do and motivate us to do it.
But the longer I was in that industry, the longer I struggled under it personally and watched clients struggle in the same ways, the more I came to understand how broken that paradigm really is.
It creates an obsessive focus on the externals (what to do in the gym, what to weigh, how to look, what to eat) and trying to “fix” the symptoms of “unhealthy lifestyles” by ignoring and band-aiding the causes.
None of it addresses WHY clients struggle to get to the gym to workout consistently, why they feel like they need a gym, why they struggle to “eat right”, or with “motivation” in the first place.
Generally speaking, when clients start out at a gym, (or as trainers when we give clients detailed food or exercise plans) it’s all focused on what they’re supposed to DO, to “fix” the problem of their bodies - a problem they often blame and shame themselves for because they feel like they “did it to themselves”.
And they’re trying to follow it all from a place of fear.
They’re trying to force themselves to adhere to these new modified behaviors because they’re terrified of gaining weight, being unhealthy, being judged, or not being good enough if they don’t change the package they come in.
Predictably, they “slip up” because it all ignores the things that are driving their current behaviors (their brains/emotions/conditioning). And making choices from a place of fear is almost never helpful or healthy.
Fear keeps us disconnected from ourselves and our bodies. It shuts down the decision-making part of our brains (along with many other major bodily functions), keeps us repeating conditioned auto-pilot patterns, and creates uncomfortable emotions we’re more likely to try to soothe with food.
Not only are those industries missing the point of WHY people are struggling so much but they’re setting people up for failure and then telling them it’s their fault they failed.
They’re turning a blind eye to the fact that the revolving doors of on-again-off-again gym-goers, dieters, and healthy eaters, are a huge red-flag that the promises, quick fixes, or even "lifestyle changes" they’re selling do not work long-term.
They’re costing consumers billions of dollars per year without providing any measurable, lasting or meaningful change in the grand scheme of people’s lives.
And no one is talking about any of it.
A different way forward
I want to finish with some of what I believe to be essential shifts required if the health, fitness, and wellness industries have any hope of actually providing any real value in terms of supporting people's health.
We need to focus on the cause. Understanding and shifting the underlying cause of our culture’s collective struggle with inactivity, food, and weight are the key. These are internal issues that need an internal focus and solution. Why are we not prioritizing ourselves enough to want to move more? Why do we keep expecting others to tell us what we need rather than trusting our own bodies to tell us? Why do we keep turning to food to numb out and distract? Why do we keep feeling like we need motivation? What conditioning, emotions, beliefs and underlying needs are driving our behaviors?
We need to trust and reconnect with our own bodies. When we reconnect with and relearn to trust our own bodies, we become really great listeners. We learn that our own health and well-being have never been about hours spent in a gym. It’s about honoring our feelings, healing old wounds, and shifting unhelpful or unhealthy conditioning. It’s never been about the workouts, the food, or the weight. Clients need tools that help inspire them to empower themselves to make their own choices for their health and well-being.
We need to stop obsessing over looks and externals & focus on overall well-being instead. Our entire culture, especially fitness, health, and wellness cultures, perpetuates this idea that one way to live and look is good and everything else is bad. It’s creating so much pressure and is actively harmful. People are different. Our bodies are different. Our needs are different. We need to take the focus off those things and go deeper. It should be about how we feel. How well we’re meeting our own needs - not just physical but mental, emotional, and spiritual as well - and WHY we're not if we're not.
We need to learn to love ourselves unconditionally so we actively want to honor our own needs in those ways. When we do that, the behaviors we engage in naturally shift on their own. We naturally start wanting to listen to and honor our own needs and when we start honoring our own overall well-being, everything shifts in the most healthy ways. We naturally start moving our bodies more, in ways that help them feel their best, and we naturally start eating in ways that help us feel our best.
We need less doing and more wholehearted being. Rather than treating our health as though it’s just another goal to achieve we need to start leading with being, with feeling from a foundation that's firmly grounded in our own worthiness. Who am I being today? How am I feeling today? What matters to me? How do I want to feel? How do I want to show up for myself and my life? How can I support myself and my well-being?
If you're like most people, you're probably quite frustrated with your own inability to “stick to” anything when it comes to your health, fitness, and weight loss goals. You're probably wondering why nothing seems to be working and keep blaming and shaming yourself for failing.
The truth is that for most people, a gym membership or seemingly fit-looking new personal trainer are not the answer.
Gyms know you’re not likely to use them, they know you’re highly unlikely to make the progress you want when you start, their trainers are almost always largely unqualified, and they know you don’t even need all the fancy equipment.
They’re in an industry built upon people’s fear and desperation.
I want to provide you the benefit of some of what I’ve learned so you can make informed decisions about your own well-being and hopefully start thinking about shifting your focus away from the externals and turning it inwards, instead.
Because the truth is, our bodies are communicators and healers. We know what we need to feel our best, we just need to listen to our own bodies and value them enough to give them that.
That’s incredibly difficult to do when you’re deep in the trenches of gym, diet, health, and wellness cultures that are determined to control you and profit off the fear and distrust it creates.
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