Perspective

Perspective features the opinions of prominent people in the fitness industry. Here, industry legend and movement motivator, Petra Kolber, advocates focusing on happiness to achieve better, healthier lives.

I love to move, and I’m blessed to do so for a living.

Twenty-five years ago I would have described a perfect class experience using the words ‘step, dance, high impact, awesome choreography’ and ‘a full room’.

Today, my idea of an amazing workout is one in which our clients train their happiness muscle, strengthen their self-worth, stretch their dreams and move into a body filled with joy.

As a fitness professional you have the daily opportunity to make people feel that they can accomplish their wildest dreams. This powerful impact can inspire your clients both inside and outside of the gym.

On the flipside of this, however, is our industry’s ability to, often unwittingly, make people feel unworthy, unseen and undervalued.

I recently spoke at a non-industry event to a crowd of 1,000 people, mostly non-exercisers. I took them through a basic workout, nothing more than walking to foot-stomping music. The joy and positive energy was overflowing: within 15 minutes a sense of community had been created.

Afterwards, I asked: ‘Who feels as though they have failed at fitness in the past?’ An unhealthy 85 per cent of hands were raised. Next I asked: ‘What if you did not fail at fitness, but fitness failed you?’ An ‘ah ha’ moment was palpable.

As leaders in fitness we know all the answers, right? Wrong. While we offer many opportunities for people to embrace fitness, we often fail to inspire the uninspired.

Despite having more tools, products and programs than ever, we still haven’t managed to engage the hearts and minds of the 85 per cent who need our services the most.

I worry that the human connection inside the gym is decreasing – and this leads to member attrition, meaning we are failing to engage people in lifelong fitness.

We go to apps and online social networks to create community. But true connectivity happens with a smile, a hello, a phone call to a participant you haven’t seen in class for a couple of weeks. Inspiration and motivation that leads to life-lasting change happens with human connection.

Movement makes the brain and body feel happier. Exercise enables us to change not only our body, but also our outlook on life. Fantastic reasons to exercise, but not the headlines our clients see every day on the covers of consumer fitness magazines: ‘Feel the burn’, ‘blast the fat’, ‘tips to a perfectly toned body’ they scream, accompanied by Photoshopped pictures of flawless models.

Do we want our clients and participants to feel the burn, or do we want them to feel powerful and alive? Do we want them to increase the intensity of their workouts so they can hardly walk the next day, or do we want to increase their sense of self efficacy and in turn their self-esteem?

Too often we sell perfect and then wonder why we cannot reach those who feel less than perfect. So much so that they don’t even feel fit enough to get fit.

I believe that true change begins by focusing on the ‘why’ behind the workout. Magazines and infomercial products are all about numbers: weight, age and the size of your jeans.

But what if you focused primarily on how your clients feel, to help them increase the joy and happiness in their lives? If your clients knew that when they moved their body, their brain was in a better state to learn new information? That adding a gratitude exercise to their workouts will not only add life to their years, but also years to their life?

There are wonderful things happening in our industry, but that’s where they are staying and our tribe is not growing.

To be agents of change we need to help existing clients – and the other 85 per cent – reframe their ‘why’ behind the movement. If increased happiness as well as health was their reason, then the demotivating force of unrealistic media representations of physical perfection would be quashed.

If your clients or participants love to work out hard, long and often, let them go for it – as long as they feel powerful and energised by doing so. But, if looking in the mirror is a disheartening experience, then change is in order.

Here’s to exercising our gratitude, stretching our reach and moving our clients to happiness.


Petra Kolber
Petra is a movement motivator who has presented around the globe for the past 24 years. The recipient of numerous industry awards, she has featured in over 40 fitness DVDs and is a Global Ambassador for Reebok and the spokesperson for Yes Fitness Music. Today, Petra combines her studies in positive psychology with her passion for fitness to create programming that helps people move into happiness.