The New Fitness Industry

by Mark Rippetoe | November 25, 2020

rip teaching at a gym

A significant event has occurred, perhaps the most significant event many of us will ever see. A complete restructuring of society is in progress, and it will have profound effects on businesses of all sizes in every sector of the economy. The fitness industry is one of the most heavily-affected sectors, with local and state governments relegating health clubs to “non-essential” status because they have been exposed as recreational in nature. Jobs and investments are at risk, and a new approach to what we do is necessary. It is our approach at Starting Strength Gyms and our affiliates.

A gym membership at a big upscale national chain club is, for many people, on par with a golf club/swim club/country club membership. It represents status, provides social exposure, a place to take business associates, and most importantly, a recreational opportunity. The vast majority of the fitness industry is viewed by the vast majority of the people participating in it as recreation. One major club in NYC actually calls their group class “The Playground.”

Not you, though. Of course not. You actually train at your gym. But you do not represent the broad market for the fitness industry. Most people go to the gym to exercise, which to them is primarily a recreational opportunity. Sure, it is healthier than bowling – at least it can be – but most people go to the gym to enjoy the company that the social exposure provides, and enjoy the idea that they are doing something constructive (whether they are or not). Just like a bowling alley, The Gym is where they go to have fun.


When the opportunity to expand the government's control in the name of Public Health or Safety or Your Continued Well-being or Not Overwhelming the Healthcare System or whatever comes along next, suddenly your having fun is not nearly as important as obeying the commands of the petty little fucks that enjoy telling other people what to do. Fun is “non-essential,” you see. Your obedience is essential. And that is why your globogym is now closed.

Depending on where you live and how much cash the corporation has on hand, it may be closed for a long time, or it might be closed permanently. Because it is viewed as Recreation, and is therefore “non-essential,” the petty fucks in charge feel no responsibility to ensure your fun – as if the kind of innocent fun a person has is their decision to make.

And the government has already described their ideas about exercise. I wrote an article about this several years ago that shows you how completely divorced from our particular reality these fools are. It could be argued that their version of exercise is so utterly wasteful of time that you would in fact be better off locked in your house. And that is what they intend to do.

So it's time for a paradigm shift. Training – the process we employ to intentionally increase our strength and our health over time – is fundamentally different than stopping by the club on the way home, catching a pump, catching a sweat, catching a shower, and finishing the trip having had fun. Training may actually be no fun at all. The results of training are enjoyable, but the process is hard, and it requires commitment, patience, and eventually the courage to do things you're not sure you can do. It is an educational process, of teaching both your body and mind to be stronger.

The New Fitness Industry

Starting Strength Gyms, Starting Strength Affiliate Gyms, people coaching strength using the Starting Strength method, and really anybody coaching strength using a systematic approach to increasing physical performance over time is performing an educational function. We are the new fitness industry. As such, we cannot and must not be grouped with bowling alleys and globogyms as “non-essential” businesses, because we are absolutely not recreational facilities, and for everyone we should be essential – not everyone knows this yet, but we're making progress even though we'll never have everybody (more on this later). As of now, all SS Gyms are open, some in defiance of the edicts, and some in locations fortunate enough to be relatively free of such edicts.

One thing is certain: the industry has changed, and those of us who produce a higher rate of return on the investment of time and money by our clients will do better than the large expensive gyms full of machines and cardio who hire the merely-decorative individuals wearing the shiny shirts that say “Trainer.” If the globogym is closed long enough, truly committed individuals like us will figure out a way to build a gym at home, and will then have removed themselves from the market even if the place reopens. These truly committed people will need our services as coaches to maintain the quality of the work they have shifted out of the globogym and into their garages. Some people will hire us as “online coaches” to provide form checks and programming advice. This is not coaching in the sense we use the term, but it may be your only option if you are sufficiently remote from a real coach. But again, the “One more rep!” pinsetter loses.

The gyms that become and remain viable in this new fitness market will be places providing services that will be regarded as “essential” for more than just fun. We are already doing this, and it has been our business model since the inception. The case will be made for the continued operation of gyms that only offer coaching and directly supervise and instruct all clients on the premises. It will be necessary to develop ways to differentiate our business model from that of the large commercial gym in the mind of the market. While it should be obvious that free people should be “allowed” to waste time on a treadmill if they so choose, we'll have to let those people know that they have a better option.

Our business model is unique in that we realize that our product does not appeal to the General Public. We have always said that we are “narrowcasting” – we are talking to everybody, but a minority are listening, and we know who they are. The reasons that our gyms are thriving while old-model gyms are dying is that we appeal to people who appreciate our corporate culture, who are themselves analytical and intelligent, and who value the logic of our approach to the problem of physical existence – a distinct minority indeed. Our members are not susceptible to the propaganda that keeps the fools at home, and that's why we're still open. We don't need tens of thousands of members to be successful, which is handy, since tens of thousands are no longer available, and are not desirable anyway.

Where Do You Fit In?

So here's an important question for those of you who want to work in the fitness industry: how badly do you want to work, to keep working, and to actually accomplish something of value at work every day? Do you aspire to do more with your brain and your experience than “doing bize and trize” in a gym full of machines for people who are just there to have some fun? Are you prepared to improve your professional portfolio and do what it takes to become a professional barbell coach, to enable you to function as an “essential” training educator instead of a pinsetter?

It takes time, hard work under the bar (you can't coach what you don't personally know), and a commitment to learning more about mechanics, physiology, psychology, public relations, and communication than you do now. You may have a masters degree in ExFizz and still be completely unprepared to function as a coach in a barbell strength training gym, unless you also have a personal background in barbell training. A PE degree has always been a low-value document, and never before has it been a bigger waste of time and money. It doesn't qualify you to do anything you can't learn how to do more effectively on your own, and the false sense of accomplishment it breeds is annoying to those of us who might entertain the idea of hiring you.

Here's some advice if you want to work productively in the new fitness industry: get a hard science degree if you want to go to college, one that requires two semesters of Calculus. Train with weights and get strong while you're there. Pay attention to what works and what doesn't work. Make sure you take enough biology to get through General Physiology. Organic Chemistry is a good idea too. Learn mechanics, some statistics, and sciences other than those your major requires – learning is much easier when you're younger. Stay out of the English and History departments. If you don't want to go to college, learn all this stuff anyway – we don't hire “degrees,” we hire competent people.

One of the ways you can identify yourself as competent is to obtain the Starting Strength Coach certification. People are looking for a logical method that works every time it is correctly applied – they are looking for Starting Strength. Our certification attests to your competence, and the part of the market you want to work with knows this and seeks out our certification. They don't care about your PE degree or your weekend certification (“You don't pay if you don't pass!”). Our certification has the lowest pass rate in the fitness industry, because our standards are very high and actual coaching competence on the platform in all the lifts has to be demonstrated before you even take the rest of the examination. It measures and attests to both background and experience with coaching barbell strength training. The supply/demand/price relationship applies to coaching, as any SSC can tell you.

If you're adequately prepared, the certification immediately enables you to go to work in our rapidly growing system of Starting Strength Gyms, the cutting edge of the new fitness industry. Jobs are available right now for qualified people. With more than 30 gyms in various stages of development and new inquiries every week, there is a growing market for the expertise that your PE degree cannot provide.

It's very important to be regarded as knowledgeable by people you want to pay you good money. Keep training. Read our books, and coach people using our methods. One day you will be useful to other people, and you will be rewarded for your trouble.

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