Authenticity and The Pre-Gym Experience

Authenticity and The Pre-Gym Experience

I’m actually on something of a regular waking schedule, getting up around 8AM and then heading to the coffee shop around 10AM. Ostensibly, the reason behind my daily coffee shop routine is to plan the day; the new version of the Emergent Task Planner arose out of a couple months of drawing it every morning over chai as part of the planning process. Another benefit has been seeing people I am getting to know every day. The staff is starting to see me as a regular, and that is an oddly comforting feeling. Although I have to pay the $3.00 Chai Latte Tax every day, it’s a pittance compared to what I get in return: a cross-section of life, told through unguarded expressions and incidental overheard conversations. I have been surprised at what stories can be gleaned from just fragmentary observation; for example, I recently got the impression that one of the staff members had been promoted, which was later when we were chatting during one of her breaks. I had guessed this based on one observed 1-on-1 meeting between the staffer and another woman who seemed more senior, a glimpse of what looked like a form being returned, and the elevated sense of energy in the shop over the following days. It’s been moments like that, plus the opportunity to connect with people, that has made my morning routine successful. As a result, I’ve been waking up naturally at around the same time every day out of habit for the past couple weeks.

It occurred to me last weekend that this regular routine could now be used to anchor another activity like going to the gym. Anchoring is similar to what television networks do with their programming; once they are lucky enough to have a hit show, they “bracket” it with other shows they hope will also be popular because people are already going out of their way to tune in. A general engineering principle also applies: if you have a process that you can reliably predict, you can use it as the basis for some kind of system function. In my case: I’m up, I’m already looking forward to going out, so why not hit the gym for 30 minutes before I have my coffee shop fix? I know I want to be stronger, and even just 30 minutes of some kind of muscle conditioning will be good for me.

So today, I went to check out two gyms: a Best Fitness and a Workout World nearby. I wanted to just get a “feel” for the places and what they offered, as I’ve never actually been inside a gym club before. What is deciding my choice is not the facilities (they were approximately equivalent) or the fees (they were also pretty much the same)…it was the sales approach.

I walked into Best Fitness and told the person at the desk that I was checking out gyms in the area, and they showed me around. I was assigned a staff member, and he walked me around the club. As we walked, he asked me some questions about what I was looking for, and I said I had once been on an exercise regimen and had liked feeling strong, but had gotten bored of it and was looking for some variety. He answered my questions about how I would get started, what kind of expertise was on hand, what their hours were, and so on, admitting that he’d just started there a week earlier, but had been a member himself. Seemed like a nice guy. After the tour, I was lead to a booth where I was obviously about to be sold. I told him I wasn’t looking to join anything up front today, and he respected that. I learned, though, that in Massachusetts health clubs have 2-year contracts, but for some reason in New Hampshire it’s limited to 1 year as some kind of protection measure. I asked him what the advantage of a club like this had over the YMCA, and he answered to the best of his ability without being disparaging. He didn’t know if my health insurance would reimburse me for health club fees (some of them do, I believe, but I have a PPO that is only for big emergencies with a high co-pay). Since he wasn’t sure, he lead me over to his manager, who was in another booth, and he gave me good advice on choosing a gym as I shopped around. It was an excellent interaction overall, and he told me to watch for flyers because their pricing changed all the time. Then I got a free one-week trial membership that I could start when I was ready, and was walked out the door. Low key, almost zero pressure, friendly, and genuinely helpful without being salesy. That is the way I like things.

Workout World is approximately the same distance away from my house, but has more traffic lights in the way, so it is a less likely final choice. Still, an acquaintance of mine said that he liked it for their machines, so I figured I should check it out. As I walked in, I saw a lot of enticing price-related promotions going on. My tour guide was a high-energy guy who had an engaging demeanor, showing me the machines and ticking off the advantages one by one. One thing I liked was how he got me on some of the machines to try them out. He pointed out the features that the gym offered, and the benefits they had. Everything was fine until the end, when he led me to the inevitable booth to sit down and go over pricing. The first thing he did was lay out the pricing, which was practically identical to Best Fitness. Then he told me how in Massachusetts you have two-year contracts, but TODAY he was authorized to give me just a ONE YEAR AGREEMENT (not a contract) for a signup fee of $299 plus $19.99 a month afterwards. Having just been to Best Fitness and having been told that New Hampshire doesn’t allow more than one year contracts, I asked, “Isn’t that just a NH state thing?” and he agreed yes, it was…his attempt to spin it as a “special deal for me” failed. After that it just got worse, with him going to get his manager and then I got the “professional” spiel full of plausibly-deniable promises and the “what can I do to get you to sign today” vibe. It was lame. I finally said, “I am 100% certain I’m not going to sign anything today. I’m just evaluating gyms, so thank you for your time, I really appreciate it.” After shaking their hands and being walked back out to the door, I got the last bit of interaction with my original staff guide, and a card for a free day. I gave the guide a warm smile and handshake, as I genuinely was appreciative, and I got the same in return. However, just as he was turning away, I saw that smile come off as fast as a sandcastle being washed away by a fire hose. It was completely phony. While I had already been pretty sure, based on the poorly-executed sales tactics I’d just experienced and the traffic light situation, that I wouldn’t be picking Workout World, it was this last interaction that clinched it. While they were higher energy than Best Fitness, I think I got an authentic interaction with people there, and that’s the kind of place that I would rather spend my money.

I was reflecting afterwards that this kind of sales approach had to come from somewhere, and I’d be curious to know how independently each facility operates. Best Fitness seemed secure in its operational model, and had nothing to hide or to prove. Workout World seemed to resort to used car salesman tactics, applying every trick to spin their offering into a “deal” for me, so I would sign. Both of the Workout World staffers seemed to be conversant with Salesman 101, though they had not been able to read me accurately enough to just tell me what I needed so I could get on with my evaluation. It may have been the very inexperience of the Best Fitness staff member (he was only on the job for a week) that allowed him to deal with me as just a regular guy talking to another guy. And it is interesting that the two experienced managers had different approaches:

  • At Best Fitness, the senior staffer told me what I needed to know and kept the conversation in the realm of the best decision for me, based on observations he had made of other people who were in my position.

  • At Workout World, the senior staffer tried to manipulate the conversation into a selling proposition, using half-truths and obvious relationship-building ploys to create a false sense of helpful opportunity. Ultimately, he cared more about making the sale than having a conversation with me. They put as much effort as the needed to to maintain the facade, and dropped it as soon as they thought I wasn’t looking.



[I should add: this is just my experience with two individual sales experiences. Could just be the luck of the draw.]


  1. monsters 14 years ago


    I did a gym tour and documented it as well, mixed experiences..

  2. Corrie 14 years ago

    Very fascinating comparison!

    The idea of hooking routines together is one I’ve been trying to do; for me, the idea originally came from (the low-tech organization guru who targets mainly stay-at-home-mom types with a slightly ugly web site, but what can I say, her approach works!). Her deal is that you start with one simple routine, then start building on it. I think it’s awesome that you’ve been able to keep up your daily coffee shop planning time… best of luck in your possibly new fitness routine!

  3. Stephen 14 years ago

    Where are you exactly? After reading this post I get the idea that you might be a neighbor, which I had never realized before. I am in Lexington, BTW.


  4. Dave Seah 14 years ago

    Lexington, MA? That’s about 35 minutes away from me.

  5. Fred 14 years ago

    Sounds like a workout is a warranted thing. However I wonder what kind of workout you’re looking for. I only say that as, well, you tend to be specific about your experiences and choose more quality than quantity.
    Personally I cannot stand to pick up other people’s heavy stuff and put it back where it was,, or to go really far/nowhere on various escalator-without-a-motor type devices.

    My best “workout” type experience has always been at a rock gym, simply because you’re doing something, there are other people (very healthy/good looking people typically) working out, and tending to have a good time while doing it. Plus these places usually have a cardio or yoga class also.

    I’ve done a little outdoor climbing, but the indoor stuff is fun and safe if you just pay a little attention. (don’t worry you can boulder alone, and some gyms have their own auto-belay devices as well).

    I don’t know if that helps at all Dave, but I just thought it might be fun to look at another type of option (also, simply biking to the coffee shop if that’s an option, riding group etc).

    So will we be treated to a “before/after” shot of you as you sculpt the new body?

  6. Dave Seah 14 years ago

    Fred: I was looking for a mix of things to try, and some guidance for what those things might be. I know nothing about the gym. They have some indoor rock climbing walls, a basketball court, weights, various machines, ellipticals and treadmills. I’d like to focus on developing actual muscles as opposed to just burning calories, I think, because lifting stuff is cool :-)

  7. Britt 14 years ago

    The hard sales approach is so interesting in today’s multi-choice market. Does trying to force the sale really accomplish anything? Do they do it on the off-chance they can guilt someone into making a purchase they wouldn’t otherwise make?

    The second gym makes it easy to say no, to remove it from the running. As you indicated, they basically matched up on equipment/facility options. So what does that leave? Customer service, interactions with the staff, and your day-to-day experience. The sales staff gives you a good indication of the first two without ever signing the contract.

    They must be dunderheads to not understand the power of first impressions based on the sales staff.

  8. Boris 14 years ago


    Mornings is really not good for “muscle conditioning”, you will feel maybe a bit weak and may get dizzy unless you will have a substantial breakfast.
    Early mornings are typically best for cardio workout such as running (which I prefer).
    I used to workout 4-5 times a week and after the while it became a nice routine for a late afternoon, but I always needed to make usre that I had enough food in my system.

    Be sure to try an early morning run before committing to a gym….. ;>)

    Just my $0,02…

  9. Dave Seah 14 years ago

    Britt: Yes! And I greatly enjoyed your use of the word “dunderheads” :-)

    Boris: That’s good to know! I don’t like running unfortunately. I think what I’m looking for is just to move around and use more muscles that aren’t getting used. I guess I’ll find out!

  10. JL 14 years ago

    When I signed up for Gold’s Gym I brought along a friend that was also interested. From there I was able to negotiate a better rate for the both of us, sort of a, “give us this rate and you can sign us both up today.”

    Though the rate was good, after I moved, trying to get out of the contract was a hard! They required you to send a letter in writing!

    So when you sign up, be sure you know what their cancellation policies are.

    Even though the agreement is only for a year, oftentimes the contracts says it will auto-renew if you don’t do something specific.

    Good luck!

  11. Dean Johnson 14 years ago

    I am fairly certain that the workout gym industry is worse than the car industry. They have to do volume business to be profitable and have lots of competition. When I joined Anytime Fitness, I did so because it was literally less than 2 minutes from home and was open 24/7. I checked the place out, it had good machines and smelled like it got cleaned periodically. When I talked to the rep, he unintentionally did his best to talk me out of joining through the bulls**t sales tactics. Rather than being annoyed, I just played with him and was able to predictably induce him to say particular things by asking specific questions. I even played good cop-bad cop with myself to tweak him. It was great fun because I could see him get exasperated by it. I’d be just right on the edge of signing and then back off. Eventually I did sign. I didn’t stick with it and dropped it when my time was up. I recently went back and signed up for exactly one month to do some strength and cardio training before the lacrosse adult rec league started, which was last night. The training obviously helped because my muscles are low level hurting, but not debilitating. My training, however, didn’t prepare me for getting drilled by a 60mph shot in the thigh. Inspite of that, I had a blast.

  12. steve 14 years ago

    Definitely check out the Gold’s in Nashua. It’s a little pricey but i’ve been there a few times and i liked it.  The key is to start out slow and eventually it will become a habit and it will be part of your day.  That’s how i started back in 1996 and im still going 5x/week today!

  13. Cynthia 14 years ago


    Always love your writing and these experiences you shared are no exception.  Laughed out loud at the sales tactics you described for the second club.  I do suspect that you are correct about the first club’s slight underselling because the fellow was new and had only been there a week.  Though we bought a new car from a salesman like that who had been with a dealership for years and had mastered the “undersell,” which we just loved (and it was one of the best cars we’ve ever bought).  :-)

    Personally, I used to workout at a Gold’s Gym. Now I have a gym set up in the garage so that I can use the short commute time back/forth to a greater advantage in my situation.  Have a nice elliptical, a recumbent bike and complete weights set.

    One thing I might recommend is checking out how busy the gym is at the particular time of day you think you would most frequent it and see how busy the machines and/or free weights all around are busy.  It makes a difference, but I’m guessing they’re most busy between 5-8 a.m. when many folks are trying to get a workout in before work.

    Highly recommend lifting weights and learning to do it correctly (perhaps with a trainer for the first 2-3 times until you get the hang of it, as injuries are a bear).  It’s not only cool to be strong, but it’s great for your body, since aging (even in men) means decreased muscle mass, and all the more so in women , and it’s terrific for your bone density so that you will hopefully not develop osteopenia or osteoporosis as you age (even men get that).

    YOU will be a joy to any of the people who get to know you at any club you decide to join, and I look forward to reading some more great stories from you here after you make a decision and get started!  Keep up the terrific work!

  14. Lynn O'Connor 14 years ago

    I’m inspired by you once again. I need to start weight training which I love when I’m into it. I also need some aerobics, and tried to restart on our old treadmill,  only to discover it was beyond repair. I am now considering an eleptical trainer. Does anyone have any recommendations about them, what’s the best type etc.? I’m doing kundalini yoga (but not enough) which I love, but I think I need some other options, so I’m doing different things through the week. Keep inspiring me Dave—I think we’ll all be identifying with your experience. Your readers who are already active can give advice (which ends up good advice for me), and those of us who follow will also benefit.

  15. Laura 14 years ago

    Another thing to look into is Yoga, a lot of people don’t realize it but its great for developing muscles and I much prefer going to a yoga studio over a gym. (Of course only in the tougher classes, there are definitely some yoga classes out there that just consist of stretching.)

    I would be curious to read more about your morning day-planning routine. I look at my calendar in the morning and use the MIT method but it takes all of 5 minutes, since all of my data is online (resources I might need to familiarize myself with to prep for my dare are all in the form of websites or emails) there’s not much more I can do offline than go over my calendar/tasks and make a short list. Are you mostly just sitting and relaxing during your morning chai?

  16. Jon 14 years ago

    Hi Dave,

    What an interesting comparison! My fiancee has just stopped working at a local gym (within a hotel) and she left for exactly what you highlighted at WW. No honesty, looking for the sale ALL the time, even when not appropriate, being encouraged to lie and a total lack of authenticity.

    Best wishes,


  17. Nollind Whachell 14 years ago

    Good luck with the gym! I actually tried a couple of years back at the start of one summer but then quickly realized “What the hell am I doing inside when it’s gorgeous outside in the sun?”  Therefore, whenever I have time, I just go for a walk / hike down the beach and then into the forest around UBC. If I’m energetic enough then I break into sprints every so often to get my blood pumping.

    Actually the key thing for me is just getting out of the house and away from the computer. If I can do that, I’m set because the more I’m out, the more I want to be outside and active. :)

    PS. We just got a new digital camera as well, so I really want the chance to get out for a hike and try the camera out as well. Been swamped with work lately though, so it’s been tough to get away.