Not too long ago, I spent two weeks going to a different gym each morning around Utah county. I worked out, either by myself or in a group, and then spoke with management after. I also made it a point to speak with other members in that gym and ask them questions.
I went everywhere you could think of: VASA, Planet Fitness, Rec Center, Echelon, Orangetheory, F-45, CrossFit, BYU’s football strength and conditioning (interview only), Utah Iron (strongman gym), yoga, high-fitness, and even a country club spin class.
I usually spent 2-3 hours each morning taking notes on my experience.
After working out at and speaking with all of these gyms, I’ve consolidated the fitness landscape into three categories: commercial, franchise, and coaching. I’ve covered the competitive fitness landscape in detail this week. I’ve written about the pros and cons of each option in order to help you make the best choice in a gym.
Today, I’d like to wrap-up that conversation with a few stories.
Commercial Gym Visits
Commercial gyms attract the masses. With tens of thousands of memberships (Orem’s VASA location has 16,500 memberships), they can only track memberships based off off of key cards. Every member is assigned a membership number in their software system where front desk employees are trained on greeting you with a smile while they scan your card.
While there is certainly a market for this, I was actually extremely disappointed in my experience at these comercial gyms. In an honest attempt to understand how they were helping individuals live healthier, one of the senior managers said to me:
“Tyler, you don’t get it. We aim all of our marketing to those individuals that psychologically depend on a gym membership, but then never show up. We want the people that need a membership to a gym in order to feel healthy, but then don’t have the will-power to ever show up.”
He sensed a little bit of my frustration and followed up with, “We have 16,500 memberships at this location alone. We can’t have people coming in! Our space is far too small for that many people.”
I then asked what metrics they paid most attention to in order to measure their effectiveness.
PIF is an acronym for paid-in-full. In essence, their leading business metric were individuals that paid for a year-long memberships. They then hoped these people never showed up. I asked them what percentage of their membership has never showed up.
“61%. That’s why we’re priced at $10/mo. No one cancels a recurring charge of $10/month.”
So, if you have a lot of self-discipline and want to go alone, commercial gyms are the best place for you.
But they’re not for me.
Franchise Gym Visits
I was really impressed with the professionalism of these gyms, especially Orangetheory. They even followed-up with me two different times later in the week asking me how I was feeling.
I honestly think franchise gyms are the right option for many people — especially if you’re trying to get in the habit of regular exercise. When you show up to workout, the trainers are really motivating and the atmosphere is extremely fun.
One of my heroes, Seth Godin, once said: Find customers for your [services] or find [services] for your customers.
Franchise gyms find customers for their services. In other words, everyone is forced into a group workout. There is no customization.
Here’s my summary of some of the options in this category.
Orangetheory: You’re going to measure your performance based off of your heart rate. Most of the intervals are anaerobic, so you will experience great gains. However, they lack variety in movements and heavy weights. You’re going to run, row, and do some bodyweight circuit every single day. You also will never lift more than a 50-lb dumbbell.
F-45: You’re going to squat, jump, push, pull, and everything in between. The workouts never get old because they are always new. They are also always performed by someone on a t.v. screen, so you don’t ever wonder about technique. However, they lack measurable data and heavy weights. Progress can’t be measured objectively because there is no performance metric. Additionally, you won’t ever lift max loads.
CrossFit: I’m biased here because RxFIT used to be a CrossFit gym. You get the anaerobic intervals of Orangetheory and the variance in functional movements at F-45. They also have what Orangetheory and F-45 lack: they measure your performances every day in order to measure your progress and have you lift to max loads weekly. However, CrossFit gyms lack consistency. Because Orangetheory and F-45 gyms are franchises, you can always expect the same thing regardless of what gym you show up to. CrossFit operates under an affiliation model, so each gym is independently owned. Because of this, I have a hard time recommending CrossFit to others as the coaching, environment, and workouts are inconsistent across gyms.
In summary, franchise gyms (and I include CrossFit in this category) are phenomenal options as the staff cares about you when you show up. You will always leave a workout feeling better. The staff is motivational. They also track your attendance closely.
As one of the managers of these gyms said, “If someone doesn’t show up for 10 days, they’re labeled in our system as “high risk.”
You will start to receive automated emails if you’ve been slacking. They need you to get back into the gym ASAP in order to avoid cancellation.
“No one wants to pay for a $100+/mo membership that you never use.”
Coaching Gym Visits
The main difference at a coaching gym is that the relationships are personal, yet professional. Your coach knows your name and expects you to show up on the days your plan has you showing up at. I learned this difference between a trainer and a coach after speaking with one of BYU’s football strength and conditioning coaches.
“If you’re a freshman and can’t squat 2x your bodyweight, you’ve got extra work that you’re doing with Jimmy. You’re going to train twice a day at 11:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. We’re going to focus on your posterior chain at least three times a week. I’m also going to have you work with our team nutritionist to figure out every meal. You don’t get to train with the traveling team until your squat gets heavier.”
That’s customization. That’s coaching.
Performance metrics (how much do you squat) and goals (start on BYU’s football team) determine the program. Training in the weight room is coupled with a detailed nutrition plan. Regular testing and conversations are had throughout the fitness journey.
There’s a lot I learned in that two-hour conversation. RxFIT is no different.
No-Sweat Intro: Every individual first meets with a manager in a No-Sweat Introduction where we learn about what’s worked well and what hasn’t in your past.
We discuss your long-term goals and then make short-term goals on what we call your roadmap.
Then, we create a custom prescription. That “prescription” might be three times a week of personal training and no processed foods. It could also include group classes, weekly meetings with a nutritionist, and a bi-weekly phone call from a coach.
Goal Review: Six weeks later, we have our first Goal Review. The purpose of the 6-week Goal Review is to ensure that the first step in your roadmap was achieved.
Did we achieve our short-term goal?
If we did, what’s the next short-term goal in line with eventually achieving the long-term goal.
If we didn’t achieve it, what was the problem? Do we need to change the prescription or do we need better adherence to the prescription?
Quarterly Goal Review: Then, every three months after that, we have our Quarterly Goal Review sessions. This is how we can guarantee you results.
An open and consistent conversation will eventually lead you to success. Once the roadmap is achieved (long term goal was accomplished), we set new goals. This goes on indefinitely.
Below I attached one more graphic. I hope this is a good demonstration of the fitness landscape as you make your decision as to which gym you should choose.
Compliance is “success rate.” Are results happening?
Customization is how well the staff knows you and gives you a plan. Are you a number in a software system, a name up on a t.v. screen during a workout, or a thought from a coach at-home and away from the gym.