The Future of Fitness as Preventative Medicine: Join the Professional Gym Movement

In a matter of weeks, COVID-19 has changed our world dramatically.

It has also highlighted just how bad Type 2 diabetes, obesity and heart disease really are in Western society. Though it first appeared as an “old person’s disease” in China, more and more younger people have become seriously ill with the virus in the western world.

We have known about the importance of diet and exercise for health for more than a generation—and for their ability to put these diseases into remission—yet our healthcare system perpetuates pharmaceutical solutions to these problems. The result: billions of dollars spent each year to medicate people, who continue to become less and less healthy.


The question begs to be asked: We know the solution, so why have we been unable to do so?

Our answer is to create a class of true fitness professionals to help people regain their health and to save our healthcare system from going bankrupt.

By fitness professional, I mean someone who has been coaching for a long time, who has done a lot of training and education and is well-respected in their community. They have connections to the medical community—to doctors and physiotherapists, who consistently refer clients to them. They’re coaches who make a professional wage year-after-year. They drive a decent car, own a home and are comfortably raising families. Just like a physiotherapist or a journeyman electrician, or an engineer.

This isn’t the reality today: Right now, most fitness coaches are essentially kids—20-year-olds who don’t last very long in the industry, because they soon realize they can’t make a decent enough living working a reasonable number of hours each week. Imagine if electricians or plumbers lasted just one or two years before moving on to a new career? What would that look like?


Why is this the case?

The fitness industry has become about investors getting rich quick—about a short-term money grab—as opposed to providing clients the guidance they need to improve their health, combat chronic pain, put their diabetes into remission etc.


Case in point: The Globo gym model. It is designed to keep memberships cheap and grind people into contracts they can’t get out of and hope they don’t show much because there’s no space for all the members. Coaches are often paid minimum wage and stick around for less than two years.

Or the franchise model: For example: Orange Theory. These franchises have investors behind them so they have a great marketing plan and plant themselves in high-end real estate locations. The only goal: For investors to make money within five years. Then they get out. Client retention, coach retention and long-term business profitability is dire.

Or the commodity gyms: People come in and go straight into a group class without being properly assessed. There’s no coach development, and often owners have other full-time jobs and aren’t fully invested. Coaches are often part-time coaches and are paid $15 to $25 an hour to coach a class.

Finally, there are personal training studios: Personal trainers quickly learn they have to work way too many hours on the floor to earn a decent living. If they take a vacation, they don’t get paid. If they get sick, they don’t get paid. And it’s really quite boring working with the same 20 clients over and over.

None of the above four systems are designed to help people get healthy and fit, nor are they designed to develop and retain coaches, let alone develop professional coaches.


For the last 15 years, we have dedicated our lives to fixing this: To creating professional coaches, who can earn a professional wage as career coaches, and who can help clients actually regain their health. 


What does this look like in practice?

It means clients go through a client development process, where they are properly assessed and trained in a one-on-one environment, based on their unique needs. Clients have a personal coach—who has gone through a three-year professional development education program—in their corner who has relationships with other health practitioners and communicates with the client’s physiotherapist, endocrinologist or neurosurgeon so they can effectively put the client on a path to improve their health.

These coaches, in turn, earn $80,000 to $100,000 + year-after-year, and can stay in the industry for 30 to 40 years. 

In short, our professional coaches are bridging the gap between healthcare and fitness—and essentially acting as preventative medicine.

After 15 years, I’m pretty proud of what we have created in Vancouver. We earn a minimum of 20 percent business profit each year, our client retention rate is between 85 and 87 percent, and our six full-time coaches, who have been with us for 7 to 14 years, earn between $60,000 and $110,000 a year. That’s what a professional coach, and a professional gym, looks like. And the world needs more of them.


If you’re a gym owner who:

  • can’t seem to get past the 150 clients mark, 
  • who struggles to retain clients and coaches,
  • whose coaches aren’t making a professional wage
  • and whose business isn’t churning a profit,


these five shifts—during COVID-19 and beyond—will help make your business more resilient, and will allow you and your coaches to make a real difference in your clients’ lives:

Shift 1: Switch from short-term to long-term thinking

There needs to be a mindset shift away from mass scalability, and constantly searching for new leads to creating a sustainable business that retains coaches and clients and can function even if you, the owner, are not present. And even if the physical facility has to close temporarily.

Again, this mindset shift means moving away from offering workouts to providing a professional coaching service, where each client has a coach for life.


Shift 2: All business decisions must be designed for everyone to win

This means every decision must consider the success of the coach, the client and the business. Never is this more important than now. 

This success can be measured through these 6 key performance indicators (KPIs):

  1. Client retention
  2. Average client value (ACV)
  3. $ per coach hour
  4. Total coach pay
  5. Business profit (EBITA) (earnings before interest, taxes, and amortization)
  6. Business value


OK, so in this weird time, you’re probably asking, “How the heck are we going to get those 6 KPIs now?”

We need to become excellent at delivering value without a physical location.

Right now, MadLab gym owners are meeting with their implementation manager regularly, coaches with their instructor coaches and support groups. They’re sharing best practices among them. This is no time to live in a vacuum: It’s a time to come together even more and share what’s working and what isn’t.

What’s working so far is having coaches continue to be responsible for their individual book of clients, ensuring they can still service them, and retain them, during this time. At MadLab School of Fitness, for example, coaches are in touch with each client on a daily basis. Meanwhile, the coach co-op is still functioning: Coaches are continuing to share the workload amongst themselves, and are continuously meeting virtually to brainstorm new ways to serve their clients during this time.

Though it might not seem like it right now, this is an incredible opportunity for the professional gym to rise above and fully demonstrate to your clients what it means to have a coach for life.


Shift 3: Attract and retain high-value clients

KPIs #1 and #2: The focus needs to shift from being about bringing in as many leads as you can to being about client retention and increasing ACV. In the current climate, focus on keeping your ACV as high as possible despite not having a physical facility. 

Good long-term numbers to strive for include:

  • 80 percent annual retention (the industry average is 30 percent)
  • ACV: The online training industry average is between $200 and $300/month

Shift 4: Attract, develop and retain professional coaches

KPIs #3 and #4: To create true professionals, you need:

  •  A coach compensation model that allows them to earn a professional wage (percentage of revenue on all clients for the lifetime of that client),
  • a coach co-op that allows coaches to share the workload and operate like a co-op in a law or engineering firm, and
  • professional coach development through mentorship and education (including both technical training and sales training).


Shift 5: The Business must be profitable

KPI’S #5 and #6: The business needs effective client and coach development processes (measured by KPIs #1, #2, #3 and #4) to flourish and be profitable.

This means the business needs a minimum of 20 percent business profit. Secondly, the business value must eventually be high enough that owners can one day sell their business, retire comfortably, and leave a legacy of having created a sustainable, ethical, profitable business for the next generation.


Making these five shifts will put your business in a place to be successful in the long term during regular times. And a professional coaching service, versus a commodity gym, is the best approach to mitigating the damage in this unknown time, and thriving well into the future.

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