Written by Kristine Ham and Matthew Ham
In a recent rant[i] by an industry colleague, it was pointed out that the fitness industry as a whole was providing a disservice to the general population. It was claimed that fitness professionals in general (PT’s, coaches, even nutritionists) were not doing their job, and despite the growing number of active professionals in the field, we were the ones to be held accountable for the fact that the country is still considered ‘fat’. Professionals were accused of being ineffective at influencing a larger group of people. They were also accused of providing people with counter-productive information and that there should be a call for standardised information (or in the words of our colleague ‘we should be preaching the same stuff’.)
As proud industry professionals, we took offence to the claims and felt it was necessary to address them and provide some insight into the actual state of the Australian fitness industry, the contributions that we, as industry professionals, are making toward enhancing the health and well-being of Australians while providing recommendations for future improvement.
In a report commissioned by Fitness Australia in 2012 the fitness industry was put under the microscope in order to better determine the industries’ current state and its future.[ii] It was revealed that 30,000 exercise professionals are registered in Australia with Fitness Australia and Physical Activity Australia and that recent trends in employment growth indicate an increase of 7.2% in the number of exercise professionals. That part of our colleagues rant wasn’t wrong. It is a big industry.
However, while it is recognised that the industry continues to face challenges, especially related to workforce retention and professionalism, the fitness industry has claimed a central role both in the national preventative health agenda as well as in combating the complications of chronic diseases. Specific programs to assist in managing these conditions have emerged recently including Lift for Life, BEAT IT, and Shape Up Australia. Not to mention the impact that individual facilities and fitness professionals are having on their own network of clients. Initiatives such as these have decreased the demand for other health related services and have freed up Government revenue for other purposes.
Prior to slandering the industry, it may have been helpful to look at where we have come from and where the general participation in physical activity stands for everyday Australians.
It is no secret that as a nation, our waistlines are growing. Today, over 63% of Australian adults and one in four children are overweight or obese.[iii] However it would be incorrect to point blame toward the fitness industry as a whole. There are many factors influencing this epidemic.
According to The Australian Fitness Industry Report 2012, over 4 million Australians (or 14%) participate in fitness industry activities. Users are typically female (42%) and younger (25-34 years). Interestingly though, the biggest increase in users was from the 45-54 year age group. Looking forward, participation will continue to increase exponentially with total demand increasing to 7.15 million users by 2020. That’s not a bad figure when you consider that as the industry matures, younger people who have developed an early lifetime habit of utilising services may well carry that practice into older age.
What is driving this increased interest?
In the ten years that we have been actively involved in the fitness industry we have witnessed it evolve for the better. In recent years there has been a clear change in consumer focus on improving health and quality of life and this has become increasingly apparent in mainstream media. This, together with the interest of government in preventative health, has meant that the fitness industry has had to evolve to meet a much greater array of fitness needs within the community. In response to this, we have witnessed the service offerings of our colleagues widely range from the traditional fitness classes, to more niche orientated offerings to meet the needs of sub-groups such as older people, children and those with more complex health needs as well as those interested in general health and lifestyle improvements.
With such a varied range of offerings, should industry professionals be “preaching the same stuff”?[iv]
We don’t doubt that there should be a series of guidelines to go by, industry professionals should be held accountable for their contribution to preventative health, however part of being successful in the pursuit of improved health and fitness is choosing things you enjoy and figuring out what works for the individual. After all, when you like what you’re doing, you’ll be more likely to stick to it and work hard at it, be it diet or exercise. Personality has a lot to do with what you enjoy. For example, if you’re more of a follower than a leader, you might enjoy group fitness classes. If you’re self-disciplined, you might enjoy lifting weights, running or walking.
While a standardised national system may help to provide consistency of the service provided to consumers, we believe that the future of the fitness industry lies in the capacity for fitness professionals to respond to community and individual needs, especially in areas of disadvantage where significant population health issues exist. One size does not fit all in this context, making it impossible to provide a standardised approach to fitness. It’s not a case of ‘right and wrong’, but rather ‘right and right and wrong and wrong’. It’s about choice. What works for one person in terms of exercise and diet prescription may not work for another. If we can get someone moving who didn’t previously move before, then that is a win as far as we’re concerned. While we don’t love the philosophy of crossfit, we love what it has done for a growing number of people who may otherwise have been a part of the growing number of unhealthy Australians.
A question of government support.
In an effort to limit the rise in public health system costs, the Australian Government has invested heavily in preventive health – as evidenced by the establishment of the National Preventative Health Agency and the associated national strategy. The strategy focuses on increasing physical activity, particularly in obese and older populations, noting that physical activity is the ‘best preventative medicine for old age’.[v] Shape Up Australia is just one initiative of the Australian National Preventive Health Agency addressing our Nation’s growing overweight and obesity epidemic. It aims to reduce the prevalence and impact of lifestyle related chronic disease by coordinating national efforts to strengthen and better manage healthy lifestyle and obesity prevention activities across all levels of government and non-government sectors.
How does a fitness professional get more involved in preventative health initiatives?
As a starting point, familiarise yourself with the National Preventative Health Strategy.[vi] The Strategy provides a blueprint for tackling the burden of chronic disease currently caused by obesity, tobacco, and excessive consumption of alcohol. It is directed at primary prevention and addresses all relevant arms of policy and all available points of leverage, in both the health and non-health sectors.
Opportunities exist to not only expand your current client base but to make a difference to the general health and fitness of your local community. Get actively involved in your local community-based organisations such as Aboriginal Community Controlled Health organisations, local health, sporting, recreational, cultural and welfare groups. Local governments play a pivotal role in providing local amenities, and can partner with local organisations in areas such as exercise, active recreation and sport. They can also assist with planning to increase physical activity and active use of the local government area.
In addition, you can create partnerships with local businesses to improve the general health of Australians in the workplace. These can be between private and public sector employers, insurers, health insurers, unions and workplace health promotion providers. Get active in your communities. Write to local businesses. Get involved in local events.
What are we doing at Hammer Performance?
At Hammer Performance we volunteer our time to a group of employees at The Big Issue, a not-for-profit social enterprise that develops solutions to help homeless, marginalised and disadvantaged people positively change their lives.[vii] They have a soccer team which we coach and run weekly training sessions.
We’ve also introduced the ‘Strong Kids’ program, aimed at providing kids with the basic skills imperative to a fun, fit & healthy lifestyle.[viii] We conduct weekly group sessions which are designed specifically for kids.
In addition to these extra-curricular activities, we make a significant impact on the day-to-day lives of the 50 or so individuals who form part of our client base. Over the last 10 years we have coached people through tragedies and triumphs and shared in their health and fitness journey. This is the most rewarding part of our job. And we know that while this is only a very small percentage of the Australian population, our coaching and advice has had a ripple effect for the families and friends of our clients.
Best of all, we sleep soundly at night knowing that our industry colleagues are making similar impacts on the lives of their clients, regardless of whether they subscribe to the same way of thinking that we do.
Are we doing a bad job?
We don’t believe we are doing a bad job at all, we believe that we are performing the most important job of all – spreading the message of health and fitness. That is what we get out of bed for every day.