Creating Elite Fitness Experiences

Kevin Mullins | 25 Oct 2019

One of the coldest, hardest truths that many fitness professionals refuse to accept is the notion that most people don’t enjoy exercise. In our minds, exercise is the conduit to a better life, a better body, or at the very least, a wonderful shot of dopamine. We want to share our passion and knowledge with any and all who will listen so that they, too, love training.

Yet, for the average person, exercise feels like a chore; a painful one at that. For most, exercise is simply something they feel they need to do in order to stay healthy, attractive, or some combination of the two. Many contemplate doing it at all, feel miserable once they commit, and resent the soreness that follows a suitable effort.

If only we could flip a switch and help everyone see the benefits of a progressive, challenging, and long- term training plan.

Unfortunately, we don’t have access to a device that could suddenly evaporate the disdain many feel for exercise and replace with a jubilant desire to be in the gym. Then again, if this were to happen, there wouldn’t be a need for personal trainers, at least not as many. This snap of the fingers would put nearly half-a-million hard-working fitness professionals at risk of losing their jobs.

With that said, we can comfortably rule out an instant fix and instead shift our focus towards a more practical and mutually beneficial solution. We can stop trying to change how people feel about traditional training methodology and instead move towards providing better exercise alternatives that engage them, entice them, and entrance them.

This goal is accomplished by creating fitness experiences. More specifically, it is done by creating elite fitness experiences that drive energy into the training space, attracts the committed and the lost equally, and produces results that most promise but never deliver.

What is an Elite Fitness Experience?

The fitness industry serves its population of customers in one of four major ways:

  1. Self-driven exercise as a member of a gym or facility
  2. Self-driven exercise with the assistance of a professionally designed training program
  3. Coached exercise as a member of a group fitness class at a gym, health club, or boutique studio
  4. Individually coached exercise with a personal trainer at a gym or health club

Each of these four avenues are booming with business, thus making the fitness industry worth billions more dollars each year. This sort of “fifty-thousand-foot view” demonstrates all the ways that a fitness- minded customer can interact with the space, while also pointing out where we are losing the bulk of the population.

It could be stated that the first bullet point, self-driven exercise as a member of a fitness facility, constitutes most fitness consumers. These individuals get memberships, occasionally purchase supplements, engage in dieting behaviors a few times a year, and struggle to maintain a level of consistency associated with results. While these may sound like generalizations, it is important to remember that we are looking at a population of millions in this segment; individual outliers will always exist in a market that is so large.

The second market segment, those who train alone but follow a professionally designed training program, is likely to see more success and results than the first group as a result of the exercise plan itself. Instead of aimlessly stringing together movements, they are following, for better or for worse, a structured training program.

To the contrary, our final two bullet points, those who engage in personal training and those who join group fitness classes at health clubs and boutique studios, are most likely to see results, remain committed, and become an ambassador of a healthier lifestyle.

What is the biggest difference between those out on their own and those who have some level of coaching?

Answer: The tour guide, AKA the fitness professional, who escorts them through a fitness journey. Fitness professionals are very literally responsible for cultivating a training experience. If done correctly, an experience becomes (in the words of Peloton), “engaging to the point of addicting”.

The problem is that many fitness professionals are well-read, properly experienced, and highly capable of delivering the training effects and results that so many seek. However, their ability to cultivate an experience - engagement greater than just a “session” or “class” - is lacking. Many prefer debating the “X’s and O’s” of the trade versus the “gameday experience”.

At conferences around the world, in the belly of internet forums, and within private conversation amongst friends and colleagues, more effort is spent discussing the most advanced 5% of training knowledge than how to engage the 95% of inactive individuals.

See the problem?

The Antidote already Exists: Boutique Studios

Elite fitness experiences are already taking place in major cities around the world in the form of specific boutique studios that specialize in one format or another. Instead of trying to appeal to everyone and every possible interest in the fitness space, they choose to be an absolute superstar at whatever they choose: indoor cycling, barre, yoga, HIIT, boxing, and functional fitness.

Brands such as Soul Cycle, PureBarre, Barry’s Bootcamp, Rumble, and F45 are excelling at drawing consumer interest, creating a unique (and nearly impossible to replicate) experience, while delivering some level of physical results.

Large health club chains such as Equinox, LifeTime, and the new kind on the block, The St. James, are also investing heavily in developing specialized content for their group fitness spaces that create an undeniable energy and attractiveness.

These brands accomplish 5 major things that make them successful as Elite Fitness Experiences

  1. Beautiful, high-energy training spaces that better emulate night-clubs more than a “gym”
  2. A selection of quality equipment that is easy to use, durable, and comfortable
  3. Loud music and supremely talented instructors capable of moving masses of people
  4. Unique, and more entertaining twists on conventional training modalities that deliver results
  5. Swag, branding, and social media presence that creates powerful communities that move together

Each of these bullet points often exist in isolation at other gyms or studios around the world. Yet, only a few brands can, and have, put them together under one roof. While these concepts and their in-your- face feel doesn’t appeal to everyone, they do appeal to enough people to make them supremely successful business entities. Moreover, and more importantly, these bullet points are exactly what gets people disinterested in the traditional gym experience as they move towards a committed fitness lifestyle.

Now, most people reading this won’t have access to the private equity funds necessary to launch their own mega-concept. That’s perfectly fine. Below are the 3 essentials, and a few details, that you can apply to your business right now to immediately move you towards delivering Elite Fitness Experiences.

Your goal, beyond all others, should be to deliver the best service, experience and results possible for those who trust you and engage in your business. Success, whether it is financial or something else, usually follows this goal orientation.

1. Elite Fitness Knowledge

Before you can accomplish anything truly amazing in the fitness space, you must commit yourself to becoming an expert on human anatomy, physiology, biomechanics, bioenergetics, program design, progression-regression, and other sciences.

Now, let’s be clear, you don’t need to become a PhD in these fields, nor do you need to become a walking, talking textbook. To the contrary, you should study enough and be knowledgeable enough to be strikingly casual at work.

The classic quote, “It is what you do in the darkness that defines you in the light” comes to mind here.

Engage in continuing education courses, seminars, and certifications. Read free articles like this one and others, seek dialogue with peers, and actively challenge yourself to experiment on your own.

2. A New Narrative

Every great story we’ve come to know in popular media stems from a widely accepted pool of possible plots. There is the heroic journey, the hopeless romantic finding their savior, the forgotten and pained overcoming the odds, and so many others that have filled the pages of books and movie theatre screens.

In fitness, it is highly unlikely that you’ll invent a new plot. You might, but the laws of exercise science and a responsibility to do no harm often limits the ability to really go off the reservation.

You can, however, develop your own narrative to your concepts, teaching style, training methods, or presentation style. Just as thousands of movies have taken their own spin on the classic “good unites to defeat evil” plotline, you can create your own narrative on top of the existing plots of the fitness industry (boxing, cycling, HIIT, etc.)

3. Unrelenting Customer Service

An experience is something that can go tremendously well or very poorly. Every person remembers the last time they were appalled at the service they were given at a restaurant, at a hotel, or maybe by a personal trainer.

Ultimately, the one thing a fitness professional is always in control of is how they treat other people. No matter how frustrating a case may be and no matter how much you don’t feel like going the extra mile, do it anyway. This doesn’t mean that “the customer is always right” either. In fact, customers are very often wrong. But your customers should leave interactions feeling “right” and feeling heard. Take care of those who take care of you and always find the time to honor the quiet crew who comes in, does their workout, and leaves without much noise or interaction. Be known for how you make people feel as people and not just how you make them feel during your training.

4. A Loyal Community

In the modern age, the most effective marketing is a powerful community that does the work for you. Hashtags are just one example of how a brand can create a rallying cry for a community that galvanizes them and empowers them to “become” the brand.

Social media is full of advertisements for the big brands in health and fitness. Ironically, most of that ad work is done by loyal customers who feel a part of something larger than themselves.

Whether you are teaching group fitness or training individual clients, aim to galvanize your community and unify them under a motto. Introduce them to each other, create interaction points, and shake off the idea that “business is business”, and that you can’t become personally engaged with clients. There are limits of course, but it is expected that you know those.

5. A Unique Identity

When all is said and done, what do YOU stand for? Why are you the right choice for your community?

People eventually buy the trainer, or instructor, and not the format or results. At some point, people become loyal to the individual and not the brand. With this truth in mind, you must work to cultivate your best self – that being the most authentic, energetic, realistic, and understanding version of yourself.

You can’t try to appeal to everyone either. Be you, unapologetically, but respectfully, and watch as people like you flock to your business.

Be different enough that you are new and exciting, but “same” enough that you are honoring the rules of exercise science and customer service.

The Wrap Up

An entire lecture series could be done on specific ways of manipulating your music in group classes to better match exercise intensity, how to use visuals to entice new audiences, and so much more. We could discuss external and internal cueing, giving back to your clients, and building a network of trusted professionals across a variety of fields.

Yet, for this growth opportunity to take hold, we must focus on the tenants of this article. We must accept that some in this industry have figured out the magic formula to engage a population that would otherwise not be engaged. In addition, we must own that we can do more to elevate our fitness experiences and deliver meaningful, memorable, and results driven moments to our populations.

Take ownership of these core concepts and watch as your business reaches new heights in short time.

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Kevin Mullins

About the author: Kevin Mullins

Kevin Mullins, CSCS is the Director of Product Development for The St. James in Springfield, VA. The author of Day by Day: The Personal Trainer's Blueprint to Achieving Ultimate Success is a former EQUINOX Master Instructor, Personal Trainer, and Group Fitness coach. He has presented for the NSCA, SCW Mania, and contributes content to PTontheNet, other websites, and his own page:

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