“For he today that sheds his blood with me… shall be my brother”
-William Shakespeare, Henry V
#FitFam. The fitness industry talks about it all the time - it could be one of the most widely used hashtags on Instagram - but what does it really mean? There is something special to be said about the bonds one builds while sweating together - working towards not only individual but also team goals, overcoming our weaknesses and fears, being vulnerable and laying egos aside, setting personal bests, all in the name of fitness. You become indeed, like family.
With the rise and proliferation of boutique fitness studios, it is now possible to jump around Manhattan and find something for practically every person. Like to run? There are treadmill-only studios just for you. Into boxing? This age old sport has now inspired trendy studios in practically every NYC neighborhood. Enjoy dancing? PIlates? Yoga? Weight lifting? Jumping on a trampoline? Cycling? Swimming? Cycling while swimming? None of the above? Even if you prefer sitting, there is actually a studio where you can perform all exercises en chaise. Near market saturation means one thing: competition is at an all time high. Each studio is becoming more and more its own entity…and more and more its own sub-culture. There are many beautiful benefits about this for everyone, but there is also a lesser talked about negative which has become the elephant in the room. The tension and competition that occurs both inside and between studios, when all of a sudden the dynamic changes from healthy competition to major rift. Then, it’s not such a beautiful thing, it can become downright ugly.
The unique thing about the fitness world, is that it exists as an interesting paradox. The mission of each studio is or should be - to promote, encourage and develop a sense of well being in each client. The goal is to maintain or keep attaining a fitness level- stronger, faster, more flexible, better balance, higher endurance, etc. Whatever it may be for each individual - the inner athlete in all of us needs to be tapped into and better off when we walk out of that class than when we came in. And yet, fitness studios are not doctors offices. We go to a group fitness studio for an experience. We go to get something we can’t get by ourselves in the gym or with a personal trainer. We go to feed our body, mind, and soul. Perhaps we go to prove something to ourselves, and we keep going back because we find we love and need this in our daily lives. And thus the paradox exists because, at the end of the day, a fitness studio is a business. As altruistic as it is to feed, nurture, and heal our inner athlete, the reality is that they can’t continue to do what they do and to do it well, unless they are also successful at running a business.
And therein lies the rub - because in order to be successful at everything above that bottom line, the culture and mentality of the organization needs to be one of inclusiveness, acceptance, tolerance, love, and community. The best studios I have seen learn this early on, and they make it a part of their culture. They don’t just talk about it, they “be about it”. This sense of community starts within, usually with the head of the organization, with leading by example, then hopefully trickles down to their senior instructors, and to the person signing you in at the front desk. Then ideally, this culture radiates outwards. A well-adjusted, successful studio is able to maintain a balance of having their own distinct culture while also being open to other studios crossing over their borders and likewise, being a good neighbor themselves. Yes, the best studios feel a sense of ownership and responsibility to their clients, but they do not feel that they own them, a distinct and important difference.
If it seems that perhaps we are holding our fitness studios to a higher standard than we would most other service businesses, it may be true. Fitness studios are not only in the human capital business, they are in the humane capital business. What does that mean? When we walk into a studio we don't just expect a workout anymore. We also expect to be lifted up. If we are regulars, we want to feel that we are known by name at reception and by the instructor. If he remembers our injury from the week before, even better. We want to feel cared for yet also challenged, a delicate balance - from the moment we step onto that tread until our final exhale in cool down. It's no longer enough for our instructor to be technically adept, they need to excel at the human qualities, while being able to reach into us, and motivate us to do more. The #FitFam culture means we are embraced from the moment we walk into a studio, and our sense of well being is enhanced. The health benefits from exercise endorphins are well known, and I would argue, they are even more heightened, when surrounded by "family".
And so, as with every family, there is competition. Healthy competition within and among studios can actually be a good thing. And what does that mean for us as sweaty consumers? We can only stand to benefit from our favorite studio making sure they stay on top of the game in the name of our health & fitness. The best studios get that they need to cement their clients loyalty, but not at the price of losing their love. They cross-promote other studios, take their classes, shout them out in class when they are there, and all-around act as an upright member of the #FitFam. They set a good example for the rest of us, who just as we look to see what brand of tights our instructor chooses to wear, also look to them to provide a road map - as we navigate this new fitness world, which seemingly overnight has made a huge impact on this city.
You can't choose your family, but you can choose your #FitFam. Just as all families come in many shapes, colors, and sizes, there are a plethora of options to choose from in this incredible city of ours. To get moving, and to keep moving, it helps to have a family keeping you motivated, accountable, and on top of your game. Yes, the recent fitness craze has brought a new and intense focus to improving the individual, the self, but it has also built an amazing sense of community at the same time. Thank you to all the studios and instructors out there who understand the responsibility they have, and for living up to this higher standard we have expected of them. We are all better for it.