Perspective

Perspective features the opinions of prominent people in the fitness industry. Here Lisa Champion, a director of Australian Fitness Network and the founder of Fit for Good, argues that by being more open to all populations, we can improve public perceptions of the fitness industry.

How does the wider world perceive the fitness industry? Do we need a perception-lift? Personally, I think people hold a wide range of perceptions and my conversations with non-industry individuals bring this to light. Some say that we are an industry focused on the 'it's all about me' body beautiful; others say that we are an overly enthusiastic bunch of punishers with a 'no pain, no gain, smash them up to feel the burn' mentality; still others see us as an industry full of poorly trained cowboys (and girls) doing more harm than good. Then there are those who see us as a dynamic, helpful industry, full of enthusiastic professionals keen to help others through the power of exercise.
Wouldn't it be more beneficial if the perception of who we are fell into the latter category? Perhaps that is not important to all fitness professionals. Perhaps some are OK with a brand that speaks of body beautiful or no pain no gain. But, I'd like to suggest that it is incredibly important for our industry – for the growth of our connections with allied health professionals, for government funding that we may receive, for health insurance companies who are considering covering our services, for our reputation as a key player in preventative health, for encouraging the huge proportion of the population that is overweight and obese to feel comfortable engaging our services – to be perceived as friendly, approachable, serious about professionalism on every level and, most importantly, open to all.
How do we achieve this? Well, my suggestion is that every fitness professional and every fitness business owner, be they a single personal trainer or a managing director of a multi-million dollar chain of clubs, think long and hard about their values. Are you interested in engaging with people who are unfit, overweight, older, disabled, or struggling with mental health issues? If the answer is, 'sort of, but these client-groups are just too hard' then you might be fuelling the negative perceptions. If we really want to be perceived as being open to all, then we have to be open to all. This can only happen if our values are about inclusion, acceptance, tolerance, open-mindedness, patience and perseverance. And importantly, these values have to translate into action on the ground.
Yes, it's challenging to work with people who don't 'fit the norm'. But, do we really want to be perceived as an industry that mostly caters to people who already exercise and would probably do it without us? What are you doing to reach out to the other huge percentage of the population? Do you run programs for people with physical or mental disabilities? Do you have an open, friendly 'bring on the challenging clients' approach? Are you reaching out in your community to welcome those who might not be able to afford your services? Do you personally, or does your staff, need to up-skill on appropriate coaching strategies, motivational techniques and education and training to cater to those who don't fit the norm? Does the culture of your work or business reflect a 100 per cent open-to-all philosophy? How would someone from a lower socio-economic demographic or someone who was obese feel if they walked into your club? These are important questions to ponder. I'd encourage you to meet with other fitness professionals, be they colleagues or staff, and have some open and frank discussions about your values. What might be hard about becoming more inclusive? How might you combat the challenges? What can you do to reach out to a more diverse client demographic? How could you engage more fully with people with physical, mental or economic hardships?
We are a group of highly motivated, enthusiastic and professional people – let's put that energy into developing values that reflect inclusion and reaching out. With a large shift in that direction, I think we'll be making great headway towards improving our wider perception.

Lisa Champion, MSc (Exercise Science)
Lisa is a director of Australian Fitness Network and is the founder of Fit for Good, the fitness industry's charitable foundation. To learn more about Fit for Good, visit, www.fitforgood.org.au