I have been in the fitness industry for over 10 years now, and I have seen the excitement in fitness grow exponentially. Trainers are becoming somewhat of pseudo-celebrities, and fitness classes are becoming the popular thing to do. From my experience as a personal trainer, group exercise instructor, dance teacher, and student strength coach, I had the opportunity to experience many different environments. Although it is positive that people care more about fitness, there is a dark cloud looming above.
I don’t know who needs to hear this but stop making fitness a toxic place.
Fitness is about reaching your goals, and as an instructor, helping people get there. You have to ask yourself if you are fostering a positive environment or a toxic one. Fitness is, for some people, a form of self-care and stress relief, but what happens when that environment reminds you of everything you are trying to escape from?
It begins with the staff.
As a facility or instructor, this type of culture should concern your livelihood. According to a study by environmental research and public health, “Toxic behaviors in the workplace can increase the organizational cost due to the loss of a positive company image, low self-esteem, loss of employee morale, high turnover, work-life conflict, high absenteeism, poor employee health, and lowered employee productivity.”
The facility staff and instructors set the fitness environment. You have to ask yourself, are you that toxic person in the staff? No matter how much you try to put on a smile, people attending your classes or facilities can feel the vibe is off. What does toxic behavior amongst the staff look like?
Disharmony amongst instructors and trainers
If you’re working for a facility, in essence, you are competing for clients. At the end of the day, the goal is to retain people. Especially with fitness classes, if one instructor makes others’ experience difficult, it affects the whole ecosystem. It is one thing to be confident in your own abilities as an instructor, but why use it to intimidate others or garnish a hostile environment? I do not care how popular you are. Putting your other colleagues down shows insecurities.
Here are some examples of toxic behaviors:
- Being manipulative then playing a victim
- Showing favoritism to clients in the form of
- Ignoring those who don’t fit into your ideal fitness look
- Reserving prime areas in the studio/ gym for those who you deem worthy
- Only promoting those who pay the most
- Gossiping about staff and clients
- Jealousy of others success
- Bullying or intimidating others viewed as a threat
- Stealing clients or bad-mouthing instructors abilities
- Masking insults behind jokes
- Overall passive-aggressiveness
It’s hard enough to put together a class as an instructor, teach it, and hope it is received well. When someone makes the work environment that much harder, it weakens others’ ability to be their best. Be confident in your own abilities without putting others down. If anything, focus on bringing everyone to their highest level through encouragement versus intimating them. When everyone is strong, it makes that studio that much stronger. Remember, iron sharpens, iron.
Thinking Everything is About You
To piggyback on this concept, as an instructor or trainer, you are not the pillar. It is great to see instructors well respected, but it is important not to let it get to your head. When people come to your class, they come yes because they like you as a teacher, but they are not here for a performance.
You have to ask yourself, why am I doing this? The fitness leaders’ main goal is to help their clients reach their highest potential, not for clients to see them “perform.” We come to your class because we like how you teach the class, but we should be the focus. The client is the most important aspect, and the instructor comes second.
Do you want to be a source of inspiration or exhaustion? It is a balance that, when carefully done, creates a great environment. I don’t know about you, but I do not want to come to a place with an entitled instructor and a grumpy staff! We notice it all, and for me, I do not want to be in an environment where the vibe is off.
As the management, it is important to keep this behavior in check. Are you letting things slide because a person is giving you the numbers you need? You have to ask yourself if this will affect you in the long run. Eventually, toxic behavior cannot be contained if unchecked and will blow up in your face. In a similar review by ideafit licensed clinical social worker, Terri Fry Brukhartz states, “Toxic talk creates an environment of low productivity, lack of creativity, a fear of being criticized and an environment of paranoia amongst peers. Most people won’t flourish [in this environment]. Employees don’t want to be there, and managers lose good talent.”
If you find that you have trouble keeping the numbers up, this is why. Clients will also feel the tension and decide to leave.
How management can support their staff:
- Addressing issues between staff when they arise
- Taking every concern seriously
- Creating an equal and inclusive environment
- Giving everyone the tools they need to thrive
By the way, point one is critical. You see, when you fail to address allegations by your staff, this becomes a legal issue. This costs you money in the long run. According to the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission(EEOC), you are liable to correct/address this behavior without retaliation to the reporter.
Fraternizing with Clients
It will be inevitable to avoid building relationships with clients outside the gym and studio environment. I myself made friends with other instructors throughout the years. As a professional, it is important to create boundaries with your friends. Bringing the drama from your personal life to the fitness space spreads like a virus with the staff and clients. We do not want to feel the brunt of your personal issues in class.
This goes along with shutting down toxic behaviors clients possess that are your friends. When your friends bring a toxic environment amongst other paying clients, it generates a tense space. It creates conditions where unaware individuals caught in the crossfire will be turned off from your studio or gym and never return. You have to ask yourself if one high paying client worth 10 others leaving?
This is Just The Surface
If you want to build a better atmosphere in a gym or studio, it starts with a look inside. Are you the cause of the toxicity? How can you foster a better space for your fellow staff or clients? Do you need to be the person who changes their behavior or shuts it down? If you are on the receiving end of this behavior and your management fails to assist you, I encourage you to review your options with the EEOC.
An Empirical Study Analyzing Job Productivity in Toxic Workplace Environments (nih.gov)
Toxic Talk in the Workplace – IDEA Health & Fitness Association (ideafit.com)