Gym intimidation garners a lot of focus in news stories and motivational columns, and not just due to Planet Fitness' entertaining ad campaign. From the Huffington Post to the Times of India, reports of the impact of gymtimidation -- as Planet Fitness has coined it -- is a leading reason why some 80-percent of the population continues to avoid joining a health club.
According the Times of India, a recent study conducted by a UK magazine found that "women find exercising at the gym embarrassing and uncomfortable, especially when other people look at them."
This is not a new revelation, by any means. But, it's not a women-only issue, as men seem to suffer from gym shyness as well.
A recent NBC News article claims that men are intimidated about not being able to "bench a Volkswagen."
"The feeling of intimidation is likely quite similar for men and women, varying in intensity, of course, depending on how extreme the (negative, self-assessing) thoughts become. But the triggers can certainly be different," Dr. Simon Rego, director of psychology training at Montefiore Medical Center/Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York tells NBC News.
And while many articles give tips and tricks for people to overcome this obstacle, from working out with a buddy, to programs and equipment for getting fit at home, the question is beyond entertaining commercials and "Lunk" alarms (which seems to be a judgment to me). What can independent health club owners do to help get intimidated members to come through the door, while still catering to the more hardcore fitness fanatics?
"It really comes down to not only creating an inviting environment, but understanding that certain people -- and groups of people -- have more insecurities than others," says Bill Rundle, owner of Boston-based Mission Fitness. "We have started a special program on the suggestion of one of our mature members that allows that demographic to work in small groups together so they have support and someone to help them."
It is programs such as this, as well as a good on-boarding process, services, and amenities, that will help clubs build a reputation for being a safe environment, which will help attract and retain those that are a bit wary of joining a gym.
5 Ways to Build a Less Intimidating Brand:
1. Separate free weight, cardio and selectorized machines to reduce intimidation. You don't need to keep weights too light or dissuade people from working hard. Just allow people to go where they are comfortable.
2. Have demographic- and goal-based programming to allow members to feel comfortable in a group of similar people.
3. Assign a staff or member buddy to all new members so they will feel welcome and as if they know someone at the gym.
4. Allow for private showers and changing areas in the locker rooms.
5. Be inclusive with your marketing efforts. Don't just focus on one type of member or group.
John Agoglia has spent nearly two decades either working in health clubs or writing about them. He currently writes for several digital and print publications in and out of the fitness industry.