Having dedicated members is every fitness facility’s dream — the ones who come in regularly, several times a week, pushing themselves through a routine that leaves them feeling good about themselves and good about the place where they choose to work out. But what if members become not so much dedicated as compulsive? Is that good for them? And is it good for your facility?
Psychologists call people who can’t stop working out “obligatory exercisers.” Pushing themselves and their bodies through physical routines that carry them beyond the requirements for good health, such exercisers forget that physical activity can be fun. They sneak time from work, school, and relationships in order to work out. They exercise to get rid of feelings, and if they miss exercising they feel anxious, guilty, or empty. They also risk working out when injured or sick, and they tend to be fanatical about weight and diet.
What’s the problem with exercising too much? Is there really too much of a good thing when it comes to working out? Some researchers point out that obligatory exercisers often come to resemble drug addicts. Like addicts, these exercisers find no pleasure in their primary activity. They report that working out has taken over their lives, and that it no longer feels like a free choice. Doing it provides temporary relief and feelings of euphoria, but not doing it leads to overwhelming anxiety that mirrors the experience of withdrawal. And the potential for physical pain is huge.
If you have obligatory exercisers at your facility, you probably know it. You see them everyday, maybe multiple times a day. They speak of nothing but their workouts, their training schedules, and their injuries. When injured, they take no time off; you might even see them exercising in casts. They’re clearly not having a good time doing what they’re doing, and they’re never satisfied with their achievements, even if those achievements seem significant or outstanding.
How do they affect your facility? First and foremost, there are safety issues: You want all your members working out in the safest way possible. If someone with an injury is pushing him or herself beyond where he or she should, then safety is being compromised. Also, you want happy members. You want to see them looking happy, and you want other clients to see them looking happy. Most of all, you want them to feel good about what they’re doing and why they’re doing it — and to feel good about where they’re doing it. If you’ve got compulsive exercisers who are in your facility because they feel like they must be, because exercising has taken over their lives and they have no choice, then you have people with a lot of negative emotions associated with your space.
You can help them. The most effective step might be to pair them with a personal trainer. Trainers can help obligatory exercisers set limits and stick to them. Just knowing that someone is paying attention, that someone cares about whether they push themselves too hard, could be enough to start turning an obligatory exerciser around. Also, make your members aware of the danger. Some might not realize that it’s a disease; they might feel alone in their subjection to exercising, not knowing that there are others like them — and that help is available.
Finally, train your employees. Help them understand the warning signs, and teach them how to reach out to sufferers. Your interventions could benefit your facility as much as it does your members.