Alas, not the inside of a gym

SheSpoke has been threatening, since the dawn of time, to join a gym. She was hitting her upper 30s, in both age and her hips. She was all set to go, had her appointment with the big box fitness center, then WHAM! a drunk driver slammed into her, injuring both body and car. Luckily, the car was totaled but the body was not.

Since then, SheSpoke has toyed around with the local recreation centers–but only for the swimming. Well, swimming is great if you’re recovering from an accident (which she was) or if you’re training for a triathlon. But adventurers like SheSpoke need a little more punch to their workouts, a little more excitement than smelling and drinking chlorine for an hour can deliver.

So she joined a gym over the weekend, at one of the big box, national chains. It was an incredible deal, and unlike those awful cell phone providers, did not require a long-term contract.

SheSpoke signed up Saturday and in the past 48 hours has:

  • Swam in the tiny but uncrowded lap pool: 45 minutes
  • Rowed with the iPod: 30 minutes
  • Attended first spin class: 60 minutes

Not bad for a gym newbie, although all gym rookies begin with an overabundance of enthusiasm. Everyone is a fitness guru in January. Even yo mamma.

SheSpoke has tried to join gyms in the past, one that is made up of all letters and one that is designed exclusively for women. The reason she only went once and never returned to these places is because of customer service. With the letter gym, SheSpoke was told she would have access to a personal trainer who would teach her how to use the equipment and about target heart rates and all that. When SheSpoke followed up on this, inquiring about freeweights versus the other kind, she was brushed off. SheSpoke never went back.

With the lady gym, SheSpoke went once to get oriented on the circuit training. As someone who has never lifted weights, SheSpoke was particularly interested in learning the nuances of how to use some of the equipment. The franchise owner, instead of teaching her how to use the equipment, was also simultaneously trying to sell a membership to a teenager. SheSpoke never went back.

More recently, SheSpoke took what she thought was advantage of a yoga studio’s local discount. When she arrived at the yoga studio, all the doors were locked. SheSpoke walked around, called the main number, and finally was let in through the back door. She was told that she was late for class–except there was no class. Then she was instructed to “go find Shelly” for a free yoga class. Unfortunately Shelly did not have a name tag on and was wearing the same $80 yoga pants as everyone else. SheSpoke wandered around the lobby for a bit when the woman who had scolded her for being late to a non-existent class found her again and asked her if she’d talked to Shelly yet. Since SheSpoke had no idea who Shelly was, the answer was no. Shelly was a nice lady but merely scribbled SheSpoke’s name down on a random envelope. SheSpoke never went back.

Heed this, gyms, fitness centers, and yoga studios: If you want to get people like SheSpoke–athletic, outdoorsy folks who are squeamish about joining gyms because of the cost and indoor-ness of it all–then treat any prospective customer as if he or she really matters. Here’s how to do this:

  • Listen thoughtfully as new customers ask dumb question after dumb question.
  • Assume we know nothing about how gyms or yoga studios work and what the equipment does.
  • When there’s a miscommunication about scheduling or price or anything, approach the situation with a listening ear. Remember: Dismissiveness begets dismissiveness.
  • Stay open-minded about the fact that the error may be on your part and that in order to get or keep a customer, you may have to bend or admit a mistake.
  • Do not misrepresent your services. The truth will out and then we’ll tell all our friends, and the blogosphere.

SheSpoke almost did not join the national gym chain this past Saturday because the manager on duty was reluctant to issue her the advertised free, seven-day pass. The manager did a whole bunch of eye-rolling, before*sigh* issuing one anyway.

The banner in SheSpoke’s mind read: Look lady, I don’t want to join this gym any more than you want to give me a seven-day pass, but I really need to get in shape and it’s too windy and cold out to frolick around. Give me the pass and let’s get this over with.

Funny. Once SheSpoke handed over her money, the gym manager was all smiles and greeted her superficially by her first name. SheSpoke will not forget the manager or her name.

Below are the top five reasons to hate gyms and fitness centers, in the same way SheSpoke has for years:

1. The expressions, “going to work out,” “going to the gym,” and “hot yoga.” Folks seem to pronounce rather than use these expressions. It’s annoying.

2. They’re crowded. Before and after work one has to wait for equipment. Some classes fill up, meaning you have to get to the gym an hour before class starts. With driving time included, that’s almost 2.5 hours spent going to exercise. Indoors no less.

3. They stink. Lots of sweaty people around, lots of different levels of hygiene.

4. They cost too much, and pretty much guilt you into working out.

5. They’re akin to a den of thieves. Stuff gets stolen out of the locker rooms and parking lots.

6. It’s a fashion show: chicks wear name-brand tank tops and makeup and dudes walk around in muscle tees.

To be fair, there are some upsides to gyms and fitness centers and yoga studios:

1. The fruit of your efforts are tangible: You can watch the inches melt away and the muscles, so overgrown with fat these past few years, re-emerge.

2. The variety of classes: spin, hot yoga, yoga flow, boot camp, weight lifting, Zumba. It’s all there.

3. It can be a social thing. Garner a workout partner and “head to the gym.” Just be sure to say rather than pronounce it.

4. Your can now justify the money you spent on your last iPod.

5. Strength, conditioning, flexibility, and six-pack abs.

Need I say more?

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