12 Behind-the-Scenes Secrets of the Gym

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istock

Gyms and the people who work for them have a nearly impossible mission. Think about it: First they have to get you in the door. Then they have to convince you to shell out money for a membership you almost certainly won’t use enough to justify its cost. Finally, they have to make you feel comfortable with the inherently uncomfortable situation of looking sweaty and disgusting in front of strangers. And yet somehow, they manage to do it.

Still, big-box gyms are having an identity crisis. Smaller studios catering to niche preferences are elbowing into their territory. More than 40 percent of gym members dump their full-service membership every year, according to the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association. Meanwhile, boutique studios like SoulCycle or Pure Barre are the fastest-growing part of the fitness industry, leaving the chain gyms shaking in their boots. 

“All major chains are in major financial disruption,” says Thomas Plummer, author of How to Make More Money in the Fitness Industry. “They know what they do is not working but many are afraid to go to the next step.” While they figure out their next move, here are a few behind-the-scenes insights into how the big gyms work. 

1. THEY COUNT ON YOU NOT SHOWING UP.

“If you are not going to the gym, you are actually the gym's best customer,” writes Planet Money’s Stacey Vanek Smith at NPR. Many big clubs make their money by recruiting as many members as possible, which ends up being far more than they can actually accommodate. So they’re banking on you slacking on your workout goals. According to Smith, Planet Fitness has about 6500 members per gym but can only hold about 300 people at a time, max. 

Kevin Fowler, who directs a relatively small 400-member gym in Mississippi, says “if I had all of them in here even just through the day we wouldn’t be able to keep up with everything. We want the memberships and we want them to pay but we don’t necessarily want them to all come at one time.” 

2. THEY PUT THE CARDIO EQUIPMENT WHERE YOU CAN SEE IT ...

It’s in the big box gyms’ best interest to attract people who want easier, less frequent workouts rather than those with serious fitness goals. One way to do this is by hiding the equipment to avoid intimidating potential new customers. “Instead of displaying challenging equipment like weight benches and climbing machines in plain view, gyms will often hide weight rooms and other equipment in the back,” writes Smith. 

If they show any equipment at all, it’s usually the cardio machines. Ellipticals are the most popular machines because they’re easy to use, but they’re arguably not very efficient at getting your heart rate up. “Sure, the gliding motion of the elliptical burns calories, but that’s about it,” says fitness guru Jennifer Cohen. “It is also easy to slack off on the elliptical.” And who do the big gyms want to attract? Slackers. 

3. ... AND THEY PACK IN AS MUCH EQUIPMENT AS POSSIBLE.

Many large franchise operations get a cut of whatever equipment their franchisees buy—so the more equipment a gym is required to have, the more money the parent company gets. Rudy Fabiano, an architect who designs gyms through his firm, Fabiano Designs, uses the example of Planet Fitness: “They get maybe 10 percent to 15 percent of that package and the typical Planet buys half a million worth of equipment if not more. That’s $75,000 in profits. So it’s a little self-serving.” 

4. THOSE SIGN-UP FEES? YOU DON'T HAVE TO PAY THEM.

A lot of gyms have a one-time fee that comes with a new membership—and those fees are often negotiable. “The gym I worked at before this had a $200 sign-up fee, but I’m not sure anybody actually paid that $200 sign up fee,” Fowler says. Aside from extra money in the gym owner’s pocket, those fees exist mainly as a way of running promotions. If a gym wants to get a bunch of new members, it uses the rule of scarcity and drops the fee for a short amount of time to make new members feel like they're getting a bargain. 

If the only thing preventing you from signing up is that one-time fee, the salesperson will often lower the fee or skip it completely. They’re salespeople, after all, and they’d rather lose that fee and gain a year-long paying member than get nothing at all. “If that fee was a deal-breaker, I would wave it,” says Mo Hall, who spent six months doing membership sales at a fitness chain on Long Island. “If you say you’re not gonna pay it, they’re not gonna let you walk out the door.” 

Also, you’re more likely to get a bargain near the end of the month. “Salespeople work on commission,” one gym employee said on Reddit. “Therefore, they are much more likely to give you a better deal at the end of the month, when they may be below goal or getting a big commission from your sale.” 

5. GROUP EXERCISE RETAINS MEMBERS.

According to Plummer, fitness clubs lose about 50 percent of their members on a year-to-year basis. “In the past, club operators have resorted to fairly sleazy tactics to keep these people going, such as letting the members slip from a contractual obligation at the end of the first year into a month-to-month option with the hopes that he won’t notice and will just keep making those payments or just let the club keep drafting his credit card or checking account,” he writes in How to Make More Money in the Fitness Industry. 

There’s no doubt many clubs still use shady practices to retain members (the Better Business Bureau received more than 6000 complaints about gyms last year, many citing such practices), but other clubs realize there’s an easier way to keep members: get them involved in group exercise like yoga, spin classes or kickboxing.

“I have seen group exercise become very attractive to a large number of people because it offers accountability,” says Jeff Presley, a fitness instructor in Kentucky. “If I don’t show up, people are gonna miss me. If I do, I’m gonna be challenged because I’m working out with other people.” 

According to a Nielsen Global Consumer Exercise survey, gym members who participate in group exercise stay longer and are more likely to recommend their gym to family and friends. 

“You wanna encourage people to interact,” Fabiano says. He incorporates areas for socialization into his gym designs, whether that’s in the lobby, outside the locker rooms, or even on staircases where people have a tendency to gather anyway: “Those social engagements become important in terms of why you would keep going back.” 

6. THE YOGA MATS ARE PROBABLY FILTHY. 

Nothing turns off a customer like filth, and most clubs are aware of this. “Dirty clubs cost you more female members than any other issue,” Plummer writes. He even recommends owners hire “ghost shoppers” to visit the gym and report back on cleanliness. At Hall’s gym, one of the biggest recurring complaints was the strong smell of bleach in the air. 

But, according to Kim, a former fitness instructor in Alabama, the yoga mats are bacteria breeding grounds: “Even if the gym cleans the equipment ‘regularly,’ the regular cleaning may have been a week ago. At our gym, the mats were cleaned once a week. Yuck. Someone else's bare feet and sweaty back has been on that mat.” 

7. YOUR INSTRUCTOR MIGHT NOT BE CERTIFIED. 

When Kim became a group fitness instructor, all that was required of her was a three-day training course. “Personally, I have no background in any kind of physical education, fitness, or health,” she says. “Don't get me wrong—we do genuinely care about helping you get in better shape and keeping you from injuring yourself, but just because I can show you how to do a move doesn't mean it's a good move for you to be doing. Remember that the contract you signed when you joined the gym almost certainly released both the facility and its employees from any liability at all if you get hurt.”

8. PERSONAL TRAINERS KNOW WAY MORE THAN THEY WANT TO ABOUT THEIR CLIENTS. 

“You’re also their life coach and psychologist,” Fowler says. “When they get to know you, they’ll start telling you a lot. They’ll open up to you about their family, their kids, even their bathroom situations. It’s fine with me. I just listen to them and that’s all they want I guess.” 

9. EVERYONE WANTS BETTER ABS.

“The most popular thing people want to know when they come in is how to lose their stomach,” Fowler says. “Probably 90 percent of the people who come in want to know how to lose their stomach. But I’m always the bad guy because I have to tell them you can’t just do sit ups.” 

10. THE SAUNA IS PRIME REAL ESTATE.

“A lot of the older clientele, especially men, love the sauna, and God forbid that thing goes down for even one day,” says Patrick Miller, a former gym employee. Inevitably, though, the sauna does go down because it gets abused. “Whether it's from pouring water on the rock, which you are not supposed to do, to peeing on the rocks, when that sauna does go down, you may as well have just kidnapped their first born child,” Miller says.  

11. GYMRATS LOVE CRIME SHOWS.

For some reason, people tend to watch crime TV when they’re working out. “It’s lot of Law and Order,” Fowler says. “I haven’t quite figured it out yet.” Someone even created a Law & Order: SVU workout. It calls for 10 squats every time Elliot loses his cool. 

Even Emily Nussbaum, the TV critic for the New Yorker, likes watching crime shows on the treadmill. And this is a woman who watches TV (often really good TV) for a living. “Generally, this lineup consists of reruns of Law & Order: SVU and NCIS, which is a show I have actually never watched outside of the gym,” she writes. “I watch using captions, with headphones plugged into Pandora, and since I don’t follow the plot closely, watching the show has evolved into an experimental and soothing experience, all about people glaring and breaking down doors. It’s nearly avant-garde, or like one of those meditation DVDs.” 

12. YES, THE EMPLOYEES ARE WATCHING YOU.

Work in a gym and you’ll notice all kinds of human quirks that go way beyond just grunting and excessive sweating. For example, there are some members who show up regularly but don’t use the gym to work out at all. 

“There was this really sweet lady who would come in and shower at the gym and then leave,” Presley says. “No one would see her work out. It was really strange.” 

Others drop in just to please their employers. “There are still members to this day who come in, scan their cards, and leave five minutes later just so their employer can see they hit their quota for the month and pay for their membership,” Miller says. 

And the locker rooms are like treasure troves of strange human behavior. Presley tells the story of a regular at his gym who everyone called "the ladies man." “He would flirt with all the women and the front desk workers,” he says. “I walked into the men’s locker room one day and he had his toupee off and was combing it and blow drying it.”

16 Unforgettable Facts About Dumbo

The Walt Disney Co.
The Walt Disney Co.

Even though Dumbo is Disney's shortest feature-length movie, there are still plenty of secrets to share about this little elephant and his escapades. 

1. Like many Disney movies, this one started as a book.

Dumbo the Flying Elephant, written by Helen Aberson and Harold Pearl, started out as a 36-page "Roll-A-Book." The "book" was a series of illustrations on a scroll, and readers would turn a little wheel at the top of the "book" to read the next panel.

2. Dumbo originally had a different sidekick.

Edward Brophy in Dumbo
The Walt Disney Co.

In the original book, Timothy Q. Mouse didn't exist. Instead, Dumbo’s sidekick was Red Robin. By the end of the book, Red and Dumbo have signed a film contract and are headed to Hollywood.

3. The studio had to keep production cheap.

Due to the war efforts, the studio had instructions to keep Dumbo as inexpensive as possible. As a result, backgrounds are noticeably less detailed than in other Disney movies, and the characters are much simpler. By the end of production, Dumbo had cost just $812,000 to make.

4. Dumbo almost landed the cover of Time.

TIME magazine had plans to honor Dumbo as “Mammal of the Year.” But then Pearl Harbor happened and they opted for a more serious cover, though they still called the animated elephant “Mammal of the Year” in an inside feature.

5. An animator’s strike was parodied in the movie.

There was an extremely heated animator’s strike during production. It's said that Disney mocked his striking workers by putting a scene in where a group of clowns decide to "hit the big boss for a raise." See for yourself:

6. The movie is only 64 minutes long.

At just over an hour, Dumbo is the shortest feature-length Disney movie. Walt was advised to extend the storyline, but he resisted, saying, "You can stretch a story just so far and after that it won't hold together."

7. Harry Truman refused to try the Dumbo ride at Disneyland.

When Harry S. Truman visited Disneyland in 1957, he refused to ride the popular attraction based on the Dumbo movie. It wasn't a fear of heights that stopped him, though; Truman, a Democrat, didn't want to be seen riding in a symbol of the Republican party.

8. Dumbo was Walt Disney’s personal favorite movie.

A scene from 'Dumbo' (1941)
The Walt Disney Co.

When the movie later aired on the Disneyland TV show, Disney admitted to the audience that Dumbo held a special place in his heart. “From the very start, Dumbo was a happy picture," he said. "We weren’t restricted by any set storyline so we could give our imaginations full play. In other words, if a good idea came to us, we’d put it in the story. It was really a happy picture from beginning to end.”

9. Dumbo II almost happened.

After being named chief creative officer of Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios in 2006, one of John Lasseter’s first acts was to quash a proposed sequel that was in the works. The premise: Dumbo and his circus buddies have to figure their way out of the big city after the circus train accidentally leaves them there.

10. A live-action remake is in the works.

Though it was originally announced in 2015, bringing a live-action version of Dumbo to the big screen took a little longer than anticipated. The Tim Burton-directed movie won't be out until later this month, and film execs have hinted that the story will take viewers beyond the original tale. 

11. Cels from Dumbo are extremely valuable.

Not knowing that original animation cels would someday be worth a lot of money, artists weren’t too careful with preserving their art. In fact, it was just the opposite: while animators were working on movies like Fantasia and Dumbo, they’d take the finished slippery cels and use them to skate down hallways. Between that and the fact that the earth-toned paints used in the Dumbo color palette were particularly prone to flaking, any remaining cels from the film are among the most valuable of any Disney movie.

12. The song “Baby Mine” was nominated for an Academy Award.

Get your hankies out! The heartbreaking tune, sung while Jumbo the elephant uses her trunk to rock baby Dumbo through the bars of her cage, was nominated for an Oscar but lost to “The Last Time I Saw Paris” from Lady Be Good. The film did win an Oscar for Best Score, however.

13. The “Pink Elephants on Parade” segment is a bit controversial.

Of course it is! It features candy-colored pachyderm hallucinations that are the result of an underage drinker imbibing too much champagne. Though the scene passed muster in 1941, it doesn’t always today. When Dumbo is reformatted for publication, the “Pink Elephant” scene is often replaced with Dumbo dreaming of flying.

14. Dumbo has an octopus named after him.

Thanks to the ear-like fins that protrude from the sides of their heads, these Grimpoteuthis octopods have been dubbed the “Dumbo” octopus. The fins help them swim, of course, not fly.

15. Dumbo did speak—eventually.

Dumbo didn’t utter a single word during the 1941 movie, but by the 1980s the little elephant had grown up and found his voice. When the live-action show Dumbo’s Circus debuted on The Disney Channel more than 40 years after the original movie, Dumbo was suddenly pretty chatty.

16. A tune called "Sing a Song of Cheese" was cut from the film.

Timothy Q. Mouse was once slated to sing an ode to his favorite dairy product. It was axed from the final film, presumably because it didn't actually have anything to do with the plot of the movie.

An earlier version of this article appeared in 2015.

The 10 Most Popular Puppy Names of 2019

iStock.com/Lakshmi3
iStock.com/Lakshmi3

If you brought home a new dog or puppy recently and named it Luna, you’re far from the only one. The name, which means moon in Latin, is the most popular puppy name for 2019.

This analysis of cute canine monikers comes from Trupanion, a provider of medical insurance for pets. The company looked at its database of 500,000 dogs and crunched the numbers to identify the names that are currently having a moment. (Although some of the names that cracked the top 10 list, like Daisy and Max, have been around for quite some time.)

Interestingly, Luna wasn’t always popular. As Trupanion points out, “Looking back 10 years, Luna was barely a blip on the name game chart … not even cracking the list of top 20 names.” Nor did it appear on ​Banfield Pet Hospital's list of the 10 most popular dog names of 2018.

Often, there's some overlap between popular pet names and baby names. Luna was the 31st most popular baby name for girls in 2018. This is perhaps linked to the popularity of the Harry Potter character Luna Lovegood, as well as the publicity the name has received in recent years from celebrities like John Legend and Chrissy Teigen and Penélope Cruz and Javier Bardem, as both couples named their daughters Luna.

Second on the list of popular puppy names is Bella (its longer form, Isabella, was the fifth most popular baby name for girls last year). Check out the top 10 list below to see if your pooch’s name is trending right now.

1. Luna
2. Bella
3. Charlie
4. Bailey
5. Lucy
6. Cooper
7. Max
8. Daisy
9. Bear
10. Oliver

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