The Ugly Side of Fitness: Gym Bullies, Creeps and Sleazies

fitness-585For the most part, playing in the fitness world has been an amazing experience. I’ve met the best people. I’ve tried the craziest fun things. I’ve become a better person. While I cherish the positive moments I’ve had since agreeing to lead a more healthy lifestyle, it doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten the uglier sides of fitness.

I try not to dwell on the funky side of fitness too often, but sometimes you have to face the ugly. Recently I faced someone else’s ugly: gym bullies. I never forget that at one time I was jaded towards all things gym. I was really concerned with the negative stereotypes associated with people who hang out at gyms; people there to make people feel bad about where they are and where they want to be.

This all started from an email a friend sent me …

So I signed up for a gym membership, and they did this whole free fitness assessment then tried to get me to sign up for a personal trainer. The first girl was nice, but then she went to get her manager to talk prices and this guy was a douche. Telling me I wasn’t ready to invest in myself because I didn’t wanna buy his $200-a-month package to see a personal trainer once a week for 30-minute sessions. The 30 minutes consist of them giving me homework for the rest of the week, so I can do it on my own time. He told me I wasn’t ready to make the change and achieve my goals. That he believed in me and that I just didn’t believe in myself … So I’m angry cuz this fool thinks he knows me and that I won’t achieve success without him cuz I don’t wanna pay cuz I’m not ready. The whole time I was thinking of you guys and how Mark knows my ability and commitment. How you guys respect people and are there to assist when people ask for assistance and encouragement. I just wanted to thank you for that. I’ll see you at bootcamp.

I won’t lie; I flipped out a bit on her behalf. I was so disappointed in this “fitness professional” attempting to bully her into expensive training sessions. It’s not supposed to be that way, friends! Important decisions such as your health and well-being should never be reached out of coercion. You should never be guilted, bullied or manipulated into something so personal. I wrote my friend back and told her I felt better knowing she was wise enough to see through his tactics. (Homeboy wanted that commission!) I also seconded her awesomeness. She’s a beast at bootcamp. She never gives up, and she works super hard at being healthy. I still can’t believe a total stranger told her she wasn’t ready.

I share her situation with you so that you know that this does happen — and that you don’t have to let the bully win. Trust your gut and remember you are perfectly capable and smart enough to walk your own path without pushy people influencing you inappropriately.

I will never say personal training isn’t an effective path for the Fit Bottomed Girl who needs some structure and guidance. Heck, my husband is my personal trainer! It’s not for everyone though and a good trainer knows that — a good trainer also doesn’t act like a used car salesman whose only goal is to make a sale. Just remember: you want fit friends in your corner, not up your butt!

Anyone else dealt with a pushy personal trainer? —Tish

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  1. I joined a gym last summer. I went in, payed my fees. I was shown how to sign in and told that when my membership expired the computer wouldn’t let me sign in. The rest of the instructions included here’s the cardio area, here’s the ab room this is the womens locker room and here is the strength area. We have personal trainers available for hire if you need an individual plan. Well needless to say I didn’t last long. The only thing I knew how to use were the cardio machines. I didn’t need a personal trainer but at least someone could of shown me how to use the equipment. I now go to a boxing gym. I get a great workout. My coach is wonderful and he isn’t spending his time socializing with his friends.

  2. At the age of 57, my best friend has decided to invest in a personal trainer. Great huh! But this chick treats her like a Cross Fit intern. No bueno – she tried talking to her but she’s right back to her bullying. At the age of 57 and being sedentary for the past 20 of them, my friend is not in that kind of shape. She needs coaching, not a bully.

  3. I had a similar experience like your friend’s. I was 17 and wanted to take advantage of my new gym’s 2 personal training sessions so I booked an appointment with a trainer. During the session he told me I had a lot to work on and was surprised I could do some of the exercises. I was all of 5’4 and 125 pounds at the time and in pretty good shape and this guy was making it sound like was a couch potato and a lot bigger than what I was. He told me he was going to get me under 115 pounds. I wasn’t unhappy with my weight I just wanted some more tone so he was assuming I wanted to lose weight. Needless to say I didn’t go back for anymore training sessions. I told my older sister about my experience and she complained to the manager because that is the last thing a teenage girl as well as any other person needs to hear. Our bodies should be accepted for being different, even at the gym!

  4. Hearing these stories makes me all the more thankful for the supportive and encouraging staff at my fitness facility. When I joined I signed up for the new-member orientation and was shown how to use and adjust every piece of equipment in the place. The instructors in every group class I have taken have all been wonderful, concerned that you are using proper form and reminding everyone frequently that you should go at your own pace. That isn’t to say they don’t encourage you to push through your mental boundaries because they do that as well (we have one instructor I call our own personal Jillian!). I love my facility and plan to remain a member for a long time to come.

  5. I love that your friend spoke up about this bullying/elitism that sometimes clouds our fitness experiment. I worked at the reception of this gym for about a year; they had those excessively rigid procedures as to how we should welcome new clients. We had to sit anyone who crossed the door down for at least 45 minute and put them through a standarized interrogatory, which no matter how they answered always ended with urging them to add as many private sessions as possible to their new subscription. My boss couldn’t stress enough how insistant we had to be. And it’s not just about commissions either ! They kept detailed stats on number of clients/how well we filled the questionnaires/how many sessions we booked, and made us feel the pressure when it wasn’t up to standards.

    Now don’t get me wrong; I truly believe in the benefits of a trainer to get you started properly and keep you motivated. However, with it is possibly costing over a thousand dollars, I sympathized with the clients you weren’t up for it, and felt terrible having to make them feel bad and like they didn’t “wanted” to get fit enough. Needless to say, I got fed up with it and quit – in the end, I loved sports to much for this !

  6. My background is extensive in physical fitness and sports. I’ve been in a weight room since I was 15. I am now decades older and still keeping up at the gym. A little slower, some arthritic joints, some non fitness related injuries and surgeries later I still cannot find a gym where I am not left alone to do my thing. I’ve got a trainer that follows me around, makes unwanted conversation, and now that he’s been ignored he has resorted to telling me excercises I’m doing are being done incorrectly. I called him out on one the other day. He said I wasn’t getting the full range of motion I needed to be getting on an ab excercise. I was isolating an area due to limited range of motion because of an abdominal surgery. A conversation I did not want to be having on the floor of the gym with everybody looking on with a trainer I hadn’t hired. I thought it was totally unprofessional and he’s not even my trainer where you have those conversations about prior injuries, before you start working together I the gym. Its not just trainers either, gym members can be bullies too. Been there, suffered through that too.

  7. I don’t disagree with you that’s it’s great that the woman didn’t get coerced, but I don’t even view this guy in terms of the fitness world. Fitness is just the product he is selling. He’s a salesman, and that’s his script, and I must say its not a good one. In terms of sales, he isn’t even being a bully, but a good, persistent salesman. Knowing that helps me say no thank you firmly and without taking it at all personally. I’m just a lead.

    I just tried sales. Gave it a good 8 months before escaping. It’s a fascinating business really, for the right personality. You are taught to handle ‘objections’ (can’t afford, don’t have time, have to think about it, etc) at least 3 times before giving up, and more if you can push it.

    Being a douche, however, is not usually part of the training.

  8. Bec you’re not alone – not exactly the same experience as yours but…the gym only past few months changed management and was previously the best gym I had ever trained in both professionally and well-mannered staff. But the new manager now owner would watch me train and I could hear him passing sexist bold comments to men in the room beside where I was training Also the female sales assistant/pt is a bully. I complained to head office they only reverted it back to the new manager/owner who of course called me to apologise for his staffs the female sales assistant/pt raving rant yelling down in my face – seriously way out of line. But then made excuses that her smirk as I walked in the door was excitement from a prospective sale as she was sitting with a prospective client – of course he defended her actions because bullies stick together. Anyway I accepted his apology nevertheless, and the next time I went to the gym upon leaving they both were in the office sitting on the chair I heard then sngigering and turned to see as they were both glaring at me. I WILL reach and KEEP my goal whether you like it or not either there or elsewhere. They think they’re untouchable and can bully people for asserting their rights. Also I noticed the female sales assistant/pt became passive-aggressive towards me when other male pt’s would notice me – I mean, I mind my own business, I don’t wear flashy clothing to demand attention or anything. If they keep it up I will be seeking legal action. I am sure I’d have many others who too have been prejudiced against.