What “Chain” Gyms Don’t Want You To Know (Part 1).


CONTROVERSY WARNING: I will name corporate gym chains and their practices. I will disclose things trainers should know when applying, as well as help people looking for trainer recognize when they’re getting a deal, ultimately helping both sides reach the best decision regarding what’s most important: training.

This article is not weeks, but at this point, years in writing and is based mostly on my own experience in the trenches, as well as feedback from colleagues, clients and members. Because of recent research of mine for a business plan, I decided that the best way to research my competition was to go work for the competition (and in one case, just investigate as a member). Part 1 today, we’ll talk about the veil that’s being pulled over your eyes. I had to break it up because of the amount of information, even though I can fill a library with what I know now!

The Tiffany Box Wrap:
This is a PR concept that centers around branding and social proof. If you take a lump of coal and place it in a Tiffany brand box and wrap it, your perception of the lump of coal elevates it to something of high value. And because it’s Tiffany’s, someone will buy it, which will beget another purchase, and another and so forth, regardless of the quality. That’s social proof: if someone else is doing it, it must be good.

Apply that concept to an expensive gym chain, say, Equinox. While there may be a few good trainers there, your perception of the quality of training you may receive is elevated because they can pump serious dollars into their branding, the amenities of their gym and the very high price of training, something an independent trainer cannot compete with. You’re mostly paying for overhead, while the trainer gets 30% at best. Back in the day, that’s why I chose to train at Bally’s, arguably a less fancy facility, but with better payout per session, meaning the gap between what the client paid and what I was getting was narrower (at the time, since they now have adopted the same policy as their competitors, making it even more difficult to build a business). For a place like Sports Club L.A., you will get a price that is “fair” compared to Equinox, as their facility is very dated, with nasty carpet, but the payout to the trainer is not any better than Equinox. What Equinox and Sports Club offers though is a more affluent clientèle, which means more likely to afford training. And the powers that be know that, so they punk you! So, that $220 session you pay for only gets the veteran trainer (over 3 years) around $50, if the trainer works a full time gig, which is extremely difficult to pull off, considering client cancellations and available hours in the day when people actually DO train. Starting payout is about $23 per hour, the gym makes the difference. Yikes! An average trainer is lucky to get in 15-20 hours a week in this economy, in a corporate gym. Too many other trainers around to fight with. So the hourly incentive is very hard to reach! I just looked at a payroll at Bodies In Motion, and unless those trainers go home to the 1950’s, there is no way they can sustain a living with $169-$224 every 2 weeks. Means they have to get “creative”…

Independent Trainers and Boutique Studios:
Let’s switch tracks a bit and go to your independent trainer or boutique studio. Depending on the location, your boutique-sized training studio will offer a smaller, more personal feel. If it has a few trainers teaching there, they are either staff (and get paid very little to baby-sit a boot camp or circuit class, merely keeping you accountable rather than offering real training advice) or independent trainers who pay rent. Those are the trainers you want to go with (more in part 2). The indie trainer or studio doesn’t have the luxury of pumping cash into branding. Their job is to generate leads and get clients. The cost of getting a client these days is very high, especially with this economy. It takes free sessions (corporate gyms at least pay the trainer around $8/hr for the free session, for new trainers only), mailers, social media tools, health fairs, flyers and more just to get a potential client through the door, then they need to purchase a training package. While the potential for income is greater for the trainer without the cost being hijacked for the buyer, the quality of training usually surpasses that of a corporate gym trainer (the few that do well in corporate chains either have no room for new clients, or simply take their clients away from the gym because their income is peanuts. The client and the trainer both know that and if management was tuned in, they’d pay their trainers better and thus wouldn’t lose revenue from those clients).

How Can I Say Indie Trainers Are Better?
The reason I say training with an independent trainer is usually better (I’ll name chain gyms with good trainers too, though) is because THEY NEED YOU TO SEE RESULTS to stay in business. Keeping a client is easier than getting a new client. They have much more at stake than in a corporate gym environment where member traffic is high, with a potential supply of fresh clients should some of them cancel. Knowledge and skill levels are much higher too. Take me for instance: I spend THOUSANDS yearly on education alone and am not recouping that cost. It only serves as a way to differentiate me from the next guy. I’m the car with all the bells and whistles for the price of a entry level luxury sedan (hey, no one ever said PT is for everyone!) vs. the same car without the options. Few corporate gyms offer the support and growth potential of an independent gym, Gold’s Gym being one of them, recognizing a trainer’s skill level and thoroughly checking their trainers out before hiring them.
While other gyms allege to provide you with the tools to grow, they really want you to follow a cookie-cutter approach to training, whether you are a client or trainer. This “in-the-box” thinking has the quality trainer leave, frustrated by their high qualifications not being put to use. How fun is it for trainers knowing their skills don’t transfer? They start at the bottom, and there will always be someone happy to take their spot, be they good or not. Regardless of your fitness level, background or health issues, they put everyone in the same boat. The client has to go through it, the trainer has to put you through it. The trainer may have greater knowledge, but is not allowed to showcase that knowledge if it doesn’t match the corporate structure. Where do you find that? Equinox and Sports Club L.A.

I don’t know about you, but that kinda takes the “personal” out of personal training, wouldn’t you agree?

In Part 2: What And How Trainers Get Paid I will show you how trainers are duped by management by setting difficult to reach goals, only to be blamed later when management doesn’t offer them the possibility to grow. Learn, as a trainer, which gyms do what and where is the best place to apply for a job as a staff trainer. This affects the buyers too, because it all boils down to money, and if your trainer isn’t making money, they ain’t happy. If they are satisfied, I would seriously question their abilities, because a truly knowledgeable trainer pulling from their vast education, knowledge and experience will not give it away for nothing. How much do you think you’re going to get out of someone making under $20/hr? You need to know what the trainer gets, not what you pay, to truly assess the quality of your training.

Also: Which gyms have trainers without certifications, or advertising trainers with certain skills but are lying about it!

Part 3: Negotiate The Rate will show you how to get the best bang for your buck. Trainers, build value! Buyers: be informed! Plus a list of local gyms I recommend (besides mine of course) based on your budget, where you live and what you want out of your fitness.

Make sure you subscribe to my RSS feed, bookmark this page or visit often, as this is information few are willing to disclose! I might even get in serious trouble for it!

2 comments on “What “Chain” Gyms Don’t Want You To Know (Part 1).”

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    […] Last week I delved into how just because you pay boatloads of cash for your membership at the “plasma screens’R'us” and “supermodels work the front desk” doesn’t mean you get the best trained coaches. Yes, they are certified, went through an in-house training program (some parts they had to pay for, yet is mandatory if they want to work). Now I’m going to tell you the nitty-gritty stuff that only an employee knows, and to get access to this, I had to be undercover. […]

  2. How much money does a trainer make? (Part 2) - The Meta Training System

    […] Last week I delved into how just because you pay boatloads of cash for your membership at the “plasma screens’R’us” and “supermodels work the front desk” doesn’t mean you get the best trained coaches. Yes, they are certified, went through an in-house training program (some parts they had to pay for, yet is mandatory if they want to work). Now I’m going to tell you the nitty-gritty stuff that only an employee knows, and to get access to this, I had to be undercover. […]

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