THE POWER OF CONNECTION
by Sarah Shortt
“The human spirit craves connection. No one likes to feel alone. There are so many barriers to connection in life. Our Instructor team has created a community that breaks down those barriers.”
Julie Lawrence has been an Instructor at Gold's Gym, Issaquah, in Washington, US since 2008. The Issaquah club is part of Gold's Gym Northwest, which comprises three clubs. Each is unique and with a slightly different member make-up: Redmond (9,000 members), Issaquah (6,000 members) and Bothell (4,000 members). The Instructor team is made up of 191 Instructors, who rotate between all three clubs.
Julie says: “When Instructors look out at their classes, they don’t see numbers, they see people and they ask themselves, ‘How can I make a difference in this person’s life?’ After all, our job isn’t to fill up a group fitness studio, our job is to make a difference in someone’s life. To share a sliver of positive energy and inclusive fun to everyone in that room, to turn a bad day to a good day, to cultivate an environment of camaraderie and encouragement without judgment. To ignite that spark of confidence to try something new, to share inspiration from Instructor to member and from member to Instructor.”
It’s this approach from the Instructor team at Gold's that builds real relationships with the people in their classes, and creates the kind of loyalty and devotion to the club that could never be created by having an extra treadmill on the gym floor or expensive hair straighteners in the changing rooms.
“I look out during class and see a spark ignited in each member’s face,” Julie adds. “That spark is unique to each person; it is a smile, a look of determination, a feeling of pride for the work they put in, a high five to a friend who helped them work harder, a moment of laughter, a feeling of joy, and an overwhelming sense of empowerment and togetherness.
“That spark doesn’t stop once the class is over. It radiates outward, into our everyday lives. Each person in our community is such an inspiration in their own, unique way, whether they are coming back to fitness after having twins, staying fit to keep up with their grandkids, training to climb Mt. Rainier, or overcoming an injury.
“Our instructor team takes a positive, uplifting, motivating, inclusive mindset and atmosphere beyond the walls of the group fitness room by really getting to know the members… not just the occasional, “Hi, how are you?” or simply knowing their name, but by really listening to them, without judgment, so that they feel heard and valued. By seeking them out after class and encouraging them, by authentically caring and asking them about their life.”
The sense of community that is cultivated within the club acts as a powerful retention tool and directly impacts upon the fact that 40% of the member base have been with the clubs for 5 years or more, while 38% have been members for between 1 and 5 years. The most recent 12-month rolling average put the attrition rate across the three clubs at 41%, but this is significantly lower among group exercise participants.
Julie explains, “Sometimes, we have members who leave our clubs for various reasons. And on their return to our club after a time away, their first response is ‘Wow, I have really missed this place. The other gym doesn’t come close to this feeling. The classes lacked energy. It just wasn’t the same.’”
She believes it is the emotional connection between the Instructors and participants that makes the difference to their experience in the club. “I think the phrase to hone in on is, ‘this feeling.’ So many clubs and Instructors focus on the results, and the results are important. We all want to be lean and strong. But it’s the ‘feeling’ that we crave, and that feeling is connection. We want to belong. We want to feel valued.”
Julie adds, “The community feel within our club not only attracts new members to our club, and brings back those who may have left our club, it also attracts members who aren’t in our immediate vicinity, who drive 30 to 45 minutes or more out of their way just to come to our club.”
A powerful community built around BODYATTACK™
The power of the Instructors to keep members coming back is evidenced by the glowing testimony of their participants:
- “So proud to be part of the BODYATTACK group. Without this program and motivational trainers like you and Vicky, I could not have climbed Mt. Rainier and other volcanic mountains of Washington in 2017. You are all wonderful and inspirational trainers.” – Rinku Jain
- “I first met this amazing Issaquah squad of Instructors over 10 years ago after a successful cancer battle, and I never looked back after those first classes with you Julie! The energy, motivation, encouragement and smiles you give us are invaluable and truly touch our life in so many ways. I wish that I told you more often – thank you for what you do for us.” – Rich DePencier
- “You all inspire me! I was so happy to be able to rejoin this group for the 2018 Holiday classes. Everyone is always incredibly supportive.” – Melissa Federhar.
- “Love you guys and how much fun you make my Sunday mornings, no matter how late a night I had, I always make class!” – Nandita Chakraberty
It’s the harmony between the Instructors and members that led to the club winning a Les Mills competition for the most passionate BODYATTACK team in the world, as part of a celebration for the program’s 100th release.
When Lisa Osborne, Program Director for BODYATTACK, went to visit the club in person, she was overwhelmed by the strength of the community that was fostered in the club.
“Everyone is welcome in the club; they want everyone to come and have a positive fitness experience,” says Lisa. “What stood out for me was the authenticity of the friendships between the Instructors and the members. It didn’t feel like there was any distinction between the two groups – it felt like it was a group of friends training together. It was exactly the way a club should be.”
The solidarity between Instructors and members is not only engendered through the workouts, but also outside of the studio. Julie adds: “The relationships that we build outside of the classroom with the members have been reinforced through various community building activities over the years, such as 8-week challenges (technique sessions, class punch cards, and measurements followed by awards ceremonies and nights out), team competitions and awards, community food drives, themed classes, and many nights out. So many friendships have begun in class and developed through what I call “shared inspiration.”
“Once one person has the confidence to try something new, another joins, and then the next thing you know, you are stepping out of your comfort zone and trying indoor rock climbing, roller skating in 80’s outfits, hiking to the top of Mt. Si and feeding a bird out of your hand, skiing for the first time, trying your first karate class and falling in love and eventually achieving your black belt.”