Everyone's talking about...
Gym floor skill sets

So much fitness information is now available on the internet that it begs the question: do we even need instructors with fitness know-how on the gym floor, or are communication skills more valuable?

By Kath Hudson | Published in Health Club Management 2013 issue 3


The group fitness director of a national health club chain recently suggested to Health Club Management that, in an age when people can download workout programmes from the internet – with videos showing how to do the exercises – fitness know-how is less important among gym staff than soft skills. Indeed, he questioned whether we even needed qualified fitness people on the gym floor.

His view was that you have to build a relationship with members before they will accept help from you: you can have the most in-depth physiological knowledge, but unless you can chat to someone – and have the ability to push them out of their comfort zone – then all that knowledge will go to waste.

So does this mean the fitness industry can start skimping on the wage bill, employing people with a winning manner even if they don’t know much about fitness? Or does it mean that, in addition to employing fitness instructors, we need hosts as well: people who will give members a warm welcome and have a friendly, motivational chat with them each time they come in?

Alternatively, should we be ramping up the training in soft skills to ensure fitness instructors are able to offer the full package? Should we be more selective in our interviewing process, actively choosing people with soft skills to work our gym floors? As the sector strives to encourage new – less gym-savvy – audiences into its facilities, will it become more important to have both sets of skills? Will service increasingly be the differentiator between operators?

The tourism industry realised the importance of soft skills almost 20 years ago, working out that, unless the bar was raised, the UK would lose customers to other countries who prided themselves on customer service. So what can the fitness industry learn from other sectors? Can soft skills be learned – and if so, who should teach them? We ask the experts...



Dave Stalker CEO ukactive


 

Dave Stalker
 

“There’s a lot of information on the internet, but it’s not necessarily accurate. I think we would be going down a dangerous route to employ less skilled people on the gym floor: if anything, we need more skilled people. We can never expect to be seen as a priority sector if we don’t consider skills in our field as anything other than hugely important. I’m a strong believer in the importance of technical-based roles for fitness professionals.

That said, soft skills do need to catch up. The ability to communicate with a mass audience, especially those who lack motivation, is important. As we grow our market, we will have more people as members who are there as a requirement to change their lifestyle – because they have underlying health problems – but who don’t really want to be there. That’s where having qualifications, as well as soft skills, is crucial.

Soft skills can be taught. The Olympic 2012 Gamesmakers, trained by McDonalds, are a fantastic example of soft skills in action. There’s a lot we can learn from other industries, and to this end ukactive is now talking to McDonalds and many others who work in the hospitality industry.”


Dave Stalker
ukactive - CEO



Andy Brown Editor FitPro

 

Andy Brown
 

“The short answer to the question is yes. Yes, gyms and fitness centres still need qualified fitness people on the gym floor, with a strong knowledge of anatomy and physiology. If members who are working out have any questions, they need to be answered by a qualified professional.

However, just because these trained professionals can tell members whether they should be super-setting or not, and about the metabolic benefits of HIT, doesn’t mean they shouldn’t also have great soft skills. Why should the proposition be either/or? We strongly believe that the successful modern instructor has a well-rounded skill set, and part of this is soft skills. The ability to communicate comfortably and confidently, to build rapport, and to know how and when to approach members is key.

PTA Global, the training provider powered by FitPro, has a strong emphasis on training soft and business skills. These skills are like anything – with the right training and hard work, anyone can learn them. Fitness professionals who walk our gym floors need to have a well-rounded skill set to take themselves, and our industry, forward.”


Andy Brown
FitPro - Editor



Sue Gill Head of skills and training Welcome Host

 

Sue Gill
 

“Like the fitness industry, the tourism industry recognised the need for customer service training when it became obvious customer expectations were rising and people were experiencing better service from rival destinations.

As the fitness industry matures, customer service may become the differentiating point. Staff will need to offer the full package: fitness know-how and good customer service.

We’ve found there to be a powerful business case for investing in soft skills. One of our hospitality clients has reported compliments are up by 90 per cent and complaints down by 70 per cent after putting their staff through training, while another saw an uplift in profits of 25 per cent.

Soft skills may not make up for lack of technical knowledge, but they can make or break businesses, and so are vital for those with frontline jobs. It’s about dealing with each customer as an individual. And customer service can’t be done in isolation: it needs to go from the top down and the bottom up. Encountering one grumpy member of staff can tarnish the whole experience and perception of a business.”


Sue Gill
Welcome Host - Head of skills and training



Jean-Ann Marnoch Pralist REPS

 

Jean-Ann Marnoch
 

“Soft skills are extremely important. A real interest in the person and an ability to know when to interact, and when to just leave alone, is crucial to the member’s enjoyment. The client is investing trust in an instructor, who must be as enthusiastic about their goals as they are.

However, soft skills are not mutually exclusive to fitness know-how. An instructor has to have a basic understanding of how the body works, as exercise places stress on the body’s systems and structure: that stress must be in line with the basic functionality of the body to avoid injury and get results.

One of the most important aspects of designing exercises – as well as understanding exactly what that exercise does for the body – is to understand the impact of the individual’s ability, body type, fitness level, health history, wants and needs on their capacity to perform the exercise. Mostly this can only be observed and corrected at the time of executing an exercise, and that’s when a registered (ie fully trained and currently competent) instructor is needed – to ensure the member has the right type of exercises to get the results they want.”


Jean-Ann Marnoch
REPS - Pralist

 


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SELECTED ISSUE
Health Club Management
2013 issue 3

View issue contents

Leisure Management - Gym floor skill sets

Everyone's talking about...

Gym floor skill sets


So much fitness information is now available on the internet that it begs the question: do we even need instructors with fitness know-how on the gym floor, or are communication skills more valuable?

Kath Hudson
Soft skills won’t make up for a lack of technical knowledge, but today’s fitness instructors can’t get by without them

The group fitness director of a national health club chain recently suggested to Health Club Management that, in an age when people can download workout programmes from the internet – with videos showing how to do the exercises – fitness know-how is less important among gym staff than soft skills. Indeed, he questioned whether we even needed qualified fitness people on the gym floor.

His view was that you have to build a relationship with members before they will accept help from you: you can have the most in-depth physiological knowledge, but unless you can chat to someone – and have the ability to push them out of their comfort zone – then all that knowledge will go to waste.

So does this mean the fitness industry can start skimping on the wage bill, employing people with a winning manner even if they don’t know much about fitness? Or does it mean that, in addition to employing fitness instructors, we need hosts as well: people who will give members a warm welcome and have a friendly, motivational chat with them each time they come in?

Alternatively, should we be ramping up the training in soft skills to ensure fitness instructors are able to offer the full package? Should we be more selective in our interviewing process, actively choosing people with soft skills to work our gym floors? As the sector strives to encourage new – less gym-savvy – audiences into its facilities, will it become more important to have both sets of skills? Will service increasingly be the differentiator between operators?

The tourism industry realised the importance of soft skills almost 20 years ago, working out that, unless the bar was raised, the UK would lose customers to other countries who prided themselves on customer service. So what can the fitness industry learn from other sectors? Can soft skills be learned – and if so, who should teach them? We ask the experts...



Dave Stalker CEO ukactive


 

Dave Stalker
 

“There’s a lot of information on the internet, but it’s not necessarily accurate. I think we would be going down a dangerous route to employ less skilled people on the gym floor: if anything, we need more skilled people. We can never expect to be seen as a priority sector if we don’t consider skills in our field as anything other than hugely important. I’m a strong believer in the importance of technical-based roles for fitness professionals.

That said, soft skills do need to catch up. The ability to communicate with a mass audience, especially those who lack motivation, is important. As we grow our market, we will have more people as members who are there as a requirement to change their lifestyle – because they have underlying health problems – but who don’t really want to be there. That’s where having qualifications, as well as soft skills, is crucial.

Soft skills can be taught. The Olympic 2012 Gamesmakers, trained by McDonalds, are a fantastic example of soft skills in action. There’s a lot we can learn from other industries, and to this end ukactive is now talking to McDonalds and many others who work in the hospitality industry.”


Dave Stalker
ukactive - CEO



Andy Brown Editor FitPro

 

Andy Brown
 

“The short answer to the question is yes. Yes, gyms and fitness centres still need qualified fitness people on the gym floor, with a strong knowledge of anatomy and physiology. If members who are working out have any questions, they need to be answered by a qualified professional.

However, just because these trained professionals can tell members whether they should be super-setting or not, and about the metabolic benefits of HIT, doesn’t mean they shouldn’t also have great soft skills. Why should the proposition be either/or? We strongly believe that the successful modern instructor has a well-rounded skill set, and part of this is soft skills. The ability to communicate comfortably and confidently, to build rapport, and to know how and when to approach members is key.

PTA Global, the training provider powered by FitPro, has a strong emphasis on training soft and business skills. These skills are like anything – with the right training and hard work, anyone can learn them. Fitness professionals who walk our gym floors need to have a well-rounded skill set to take themselves, and our industry, forward.”


Andy Brown
FitPro - Editor



Sue Gill Head of skills and training Welcome Host

 

Sue Gill
 

“Like the fitness industry, the tourism industry recognised the need for customer service training when it became obvious customer expectations were rising and people were experiencing better service from rival destinations.

As the fitness industry matures, customer service may become the differentiating point. Staff will need to offer the full package: fitness know-how and good customer service.

We’ve found there to be a powerful business case for investing in soft skills. One of our hospitality clients has reported compliments are up by 90 per cent and complaints down by 70 per cent after putting their staff through training, while another saw an uplift in profits of 25 per cent.

Soft skills may not make up for lack of technical knowledge, but they can make or break businesses, and so are vital for those with frontline jobs. It’s about dealing with each customer as an individual. And customer service can’t be done in isolation: it needs to go from the top down and the bottom up. Encountering one grumpy member of staff can tarnish the whole experience and perception of a business.”


Sue Gill
Welcome Host - Head of skills and training



Jean-Ann Marnoch Pralist REPS

 

Jean-Ann Marnoch
 

“Soft skills are extremely important. A real interest in the person and an ability to know when to interact, and when to just leave alone, is crucial to the member’s enjoyment. The client is investing trust in an instructor, who must be as enthusiastic about their goals as they are.

However, soft skills are not mutually exclusive to fitness know-how. An instructor has to have a basic understanding of how the body works, as exercise places stress on the body’s systems and structure: that stress must be in line with the basic functionality of the body to avoid injury and get results.

One of the most important aspects of designing exercises – as well as understanding exactly what that exercise does for the body – is to understand the impact of the individual’s ability, body type, fitness level, health history, wants and needs on their capacity to perform the exercise. Mostly this can only be observed and corrected at the time of executing an exercise, and that’s when a registered (ie fully trained and currently competent) instructor is needed – to ensure the member has the right type of exercises to get the results they want.”


Jean-Ann Marnoch
REPS - Pralist


Originally published in Health Club Management 2013 issue 3

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