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Why fitness spaces should resolve to be more welcoming this year

We all know that new year's resolutions on fitness goals often fail. Could intimidating fitness spaces contribute to newbies dropping out of a fitness program?

Different things drive people to the gym
Different things drive people to the gym (Unsplash)

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For the last two weeks, social media and the newspapers have been filled with stories of fitness experts, coaches and nutritionists explaining why resolutions do not work and suggesting an anti-resolution approach instead. Designating vague goals often sets us up for failure; it is better to consciously remove these from your mental to-do list to reduce unnecessary stress, says a 3 January article in The Wall Street Journal. Bengaluru-based self-love and holistic health coach, Kavya Shankar believes that this is partly because we often pick up things that are vague and unachievable. “Choose to have attainable goals instead,” she says, adding that, over time, change will happen if you focus on the smaller, more achievable things.

Also read: Shaming the fat shamers

Weight loss, or, at least, an attempt to live a healthier life is the top resolution for most people and has been for aeons (gyms almost always have a new year’s offer). But, yes, as we all know, these resolutions often fail, sometimes within the first month. “A study by researchers at Scranton University found that only 19 per cent of individuals keep their resolutions. Most are abandoned by mid-January,” notes a 31 December article in Psychology Today.

The reasoning behind the anti-resolution movement in the fitness space is solid, of course. The main argument appears to be that resolutions are often too lofty and lack specificity, making them easy to give up as the year progresses and enthusiasm fizzles out. Building quantifiable habits, rather than making resolutions, are more effective, agree most trainers.

But American luxury fitness brand Equinox took the anti-resolution approach a bit too far.  The brand's recent ‘We Don’t Speak January’ campaign, firmly forbade new members from joining on 1 January, a day when gyms usually experience high registrations. “You are not a New Year’s resolution. Your life doesn’t start at the beginning of the year. And that’s not what being part of Equinox is about,” the message told hopeful new members. The message it sent out was clearly this: we only want people who are really serious about fitness here.

The campaign garnered a lot of flak online with people calling this move exclusionary, an opinion I personally agree with. While I do get the point of the anti-resolution movement, it rests on the somewhat flawed hypothesis that a healthy lifestyle has no entry barriers. Although it is easy for someone already fairly fit, for whom exercise or eating consciously is very much part of a lifestyle, to decry resolutions, it would be nice to remember that not everyone is there, physically or mentally. As a May 2022 post on the Decathlon India website points out the normal gym setting may be overwhelming and somewhat daunting, especially for someone just beginning their fitness journey. Shankar agrees that the language used to drive a health narrative is often too aesthetic-driven and deeply problematic. “Coaches often fat-shame thinking it is motivation, but it often leaves people feeling not good enough,” she says, agreeing that this plays a part in contributing to people dropping out of a fitness program.

Also read: Why BMI is a flawed way of determining health

 It is important to acknowledge, that different things drive people to the gym, whether it is tipping the scales at nearly 100 kg, a health scare, or a resolution. The fact that people are actually using the first day of the year to kick-start a healthier lifestyle is not really a terrible thing. Far from it. As someone who has visited multiple gyms, fitness centres and nutritionists over the past two decades, I can tell you this: A sensitive coach, or a welcoming fitness community, play a huge role in adherence. So, it would really help if fitness spaces went beyond the resolution or anti-resolution debate, and consciously worked towards creating a more welcoming space for exercise newbies, irrespective of whether they registered on January 1st or July 23rd. 


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