Don’t Join a Gym, Join a Community


Community Makes The Difference

While thinking about when to join a gym, I remember something very important. I don’t remember who said it and I don’t remember exactly when it was said. To be honest I can’t piece an exact quote together either. It was the spirit of the message that stuck with me.

Here it is:

“When it comes to helping people make positive, healthy life changes. I am 100% responsible for the kind of impact I make. I can’t always be successful but I can always try my best.”

Don’t Join a Gym

I sat outside Professor Edward Deci’s office at the University of Rochester. Deci’s brainchild is a motivational theory called Self-Determination Theory. As a coach, I wholeheartedly subscribe to this approach.

We had a 30 to 40-minute chat about how to promote self-determination for health behaviors.

Self-determination happens when people freely decide to engage in exercise and eat healthily. They do this because the outcome is valuable to them or because it is part of their identity.

It’s pretty well known that most people who start to make changes fall back and regress to less than optimal habits.

So how can I stop this?

Promote autonomy, relatedness (show people you care) and foster competence in skills.

Essentially what he was saying was, build community.

How do you do this?

Well it depends on what you- the client is into.

Maybe it’s Eagle hugs when you walk in the door:

Maybe it means me cutting the sleeves off my shirt so we can have matching headbands.

I’ve spent the majority of my post-undergraduate professional career in charge. This has been great because it gave me the opportunity to create an environment that I thought was most conducive to what I like to call ‘focused fun’.

That being said I did spend 4 years at a commercial gym prior to getting my job at Cortland. In my opinion, doing one on one training within a commercial gym wasn’t conducive to creating an ideal environment.

Even at Cortland it took me a couple years to put the importance of community together.

Commercial gyms are tough, that doesn’t mean I’m knocking on them, I just believe it is challenging to build a community there.

People come in with different goals, there is no single mission, and it’s hard to keep track of thousands of members. Sure, the price might be right but there isn’t guidance and often times it’s profit first, people second rather than the other way around.

By the time I was packing up to leave Cortland I would have athletes come in just to hang out in the gym.

Then there’s the dozens of kids who would just come in for some extra lifts during open hours.

In four years, I learned that even in the strength and conditioning field yelling doesn’t work, at least for me. What does work is genuinely caring about the people you are working with as individuals who are free to make any choice that they want.

Join a Community

I’ve since moved on to Boston to pursue my doctorate but I haven’t forgotten the lesson I’ve learned.

Aside from the copious hours studying, doing research, and being in the class I work at CLIENTEL3 with some awesome humans.

During each session, Patrick and I give out roughly 57 high fives. A lot of times it’s actually a high ten, followed by some kind of joyous noise.

People walk in the gym and we greet them by name, ask them how they are doing, and at the end of the sessions ask if we can answer any questions they have.

We also tell corny jokes and people actually laugh.

There’s a lot of authenticities here. This authenticity and this overall sense of caring I think are doing great things for the people we are working with.

Find a Community that Feels Like Home

I don’t have a unique recipe for the community, nor does anyone else. I’ve seen this with another gym such as Mark Fisher Fitness, Cressey Sports Performance, or Scollo Strength and Performance where my brother works.

It simply boils down to autonomy support, caring about people, and giving them the tools to get better at what they want to get better at.

You’ll know you’ve found a place like this because you’ll be excited to go there and you’ll know you’ve created a place like this if you find people just “hanging out” and chatting with each other even after a session is done.

So, if you’re looking to make some positive life changes, don’t just join a gym. Join a cult community, join a place that feels like home.

If you’re interested in something like this feel free to meet up with us for our Monday night group run right outside of the gym at 364 Boylston Street.

The run starts at 6:00 pm every Monday!

If you want to learn more visit our website. To join our gym and our community, get a complimentary consultation.

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