Integrating Mind/Body Instructors into the Fitness Center

Every staff member and instructor must be on the same page when it comes to teaching sound exercise and health principles to your members.

THE AMERICAN SPORTS Data's Superstudy of Sports Participation conducted in January 2004 states, "The most popular activity among these 54.9 million individuals is mind/body fitness. In fact, Pilates training grew by 103 percent in 2003, and by 445 percent from its initial measurement in 1998.

Many fitness center operators have certainly seen evidence to support these statistics. The challenge for fitness managers appears to be integrating staff, whose knowledge of their disciplines may be traditional and non-Western -- as in the case of yoga, or based on the empirical observations and intuitions of Pilates founder Joseph Pilates -- into the fitness center environment.

Educational conflicts

Variations in the educational backgrounds of different types of instructors may cause problems that are not immediately evident to management. Interest in mind/body programs originated more in the New Age market than in fitness facilities. Yoga, tai chi and meditation classes are outgrowths of Western interest in Eastern spirituality. Although this does not compromise the validity of these disciplines, it may influence how mind/body teachers present them. Instructors who are hired from outside the fitness industry may present their programs as panaceas rather than one activity among many complementary ones. There also seem to be certain fallacies, or at least dubious claims, that are part of several mind/body teachings. Some yoga teachers claim to be able to resolve certain medical conditions, and some Pilates instructors claim to create longer, leaner types of bodies, despite the limitations of genetics.


Fitness managers should cultivate careful diplomacy when addressing issues with mind/body instructors, so that attempts to get staff on the same page do not degenerate into passionate debates. The customer will be marginalized by a facility seemingly at war with itself. Degreed and/or certified fitness professionals feel that they have the weight of scientific research behind them, yet mind/body disciplines undeniably have something extremely valuable to offer clients -- needs that are not met solely by traditional fitness center offerings.

Like personal trainers, mind/body teachers inspire strong loyalty and even a degree of personal identification from their students. It is something of a paradox that this relationship, which is unquestionably an asset to facilities in terms of member retention and supplying staff who can be truly inspiring fitness leaders, also has a negative side if the mind/body instructor is biased about what their discipline offers.

The time to address these issues is when staff is first hired. Certainly, a corporate statement of purpose made when first hiring staff can include a fitness philosophy dedicated to sound and scientifically verifiable principles, and the blending of varied disciplines with the common goal of creating a total approach to fitness and a healthy lifestyle. Staff must be mutually supportive of each other's efforts in this direction, no matter how disparate the disciplines in which they are trained. Instructors who do not feel integrated into a facility that has a common purpose are the most potentially troublesome. They may feel that they have carved out their own little universe within the larger universe of the fitness center, and that their own laws of physics will prevail, even if they run counter to the larger system.

The goal of creating a facility with a mutually supportive, diverse staff who use generally accepted, scientifically verifiable information to develop their programs can be written into staff handbooks and articulated in interviews, and yet still not effectively create the desired group perspective. The goal must be a living philosophy. Living philosophies are systems of values and beliefs that are practiced. Beyond articulating business philosophies and writing employee handbooks, fitness managers must personally embody a belief in the new eclectic offerings of fitness centers, and actively implement a vision of how teachers of disparate disciplines can function as a team.

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