During a recent training session, I am in the middle of demonstrating a body weight squat as a group of four people come into the studio for an orientation session to see if it’s right for them.

I stop and ask my group if we should welcome them to our little ‘cult’.

They snicker because they know they are in a ‘cult’ and you know what, I think it’s great.

I Make the Difference

I don’t remember who said it and I don’t remember exactly when it was said and to be honest I can’t piece it together in an exact quote either.

But there was this idea that stuck with me and it’s been stuck with me for the last few years. When it comes to helping people make positive healthy life changes I am 100% responsible for the kind of impact I make.

I can’t always be successful but I can always try my best.

Don’t Join a Gym

A little over a month ago, during Thanksgiving break I sat outside Professor Edward Deci’s office at the University of Rochester. Edward’s Deci’s brain child is a motivational theory called Self-Determination Theory.

We had a 30 to 40-minute chat about how to promote self-determination for health behaviors.

This is when people freely decide to engage in exercise and eat healthy because the outcome is valuable to them or because it is part of their identity.

It’s pretty well known that most people who start to make changes fall back and regress to less than optimal habits.

So how can we stop this?

Dr. Deci said it’s simple, promote autonomy, relatedness (show people you care) and foster competence in skills.

Essentially what he was saying was, build community.

I’ve spent the majority of my post-undergraduate professional career in charge. This has been great because it gave me the opportunity to create an environment that I thought was most conducive to what I like to call ‘focused fun’.

That being said I did spend 4 years at a commercial gym prior to getting my job at Cortland. In my opinion, doing one on one training within a commercial gym wasn’t conducive to creating an ideal environment.

Even at Cortland it took me a couple years to put the importance of community together.

Commercial gyms are tough, that doesn’t mean I’m knocking on them, I just believe it is challenging to build community there.

People come in with different goals, there is no single mission, and it’s hard to keep track of thousands of members. Sure, the price might be right but there isn’t guidance and often times it’s profit first people second rather than the other way around.

By the time I was packing up to leave Cortland I would have athletes come in just to hang out in the gym.

I’d have my big dawg Carrel coming in always asking if we could play “2 Chainz” today or one of the swimmers, Angelica running in about 6 coffees’ deep for the day (at 10:00 am) borderline yelling about how stressed she was.

I’d say “it’s going to be okay Ang” then she’d run back out into the world.

Then there’s the dozens of kids who would just come in for some extra lifts during open hours.

In four years I learned that even in the strength and conditioning field yelling doesn’t work, at least for me. What does work is genuinely caring about the people you are working with as individuals who are free to make any choice that they want.

Join a Community

I’ve since moved on to Boston to pursue my doctorate but I haven’t forgotten the lesson I’ve learned.

Aside from the copious hours studying, doing research things, and being in class I also got a job at a training studio  (Chi Bang Bodies), with some awesome humans.

During each session Patrick, one of the other coaches, and I give out about roughly 57 high fives. A lot of times it’s actually a high ten, followed by some kind of joyous noise.

People walk in the gym and we greet them by name, ask them how they are doing, and at the end of the sessions ask if we can answer any questions they have.

We also tell corny jokes and people actually laugh.

This Christmas I sent 20+ people individuals Merry Christmas messages and on a daily basis I’m sending 3 to 4 of them messages to see how they are doing.

We have a Facebook group where members interact, share pictures, struggles, and encouragement to each other.

It’s also where I recently got into a SpongeBob GIF war with Laura, one of my other co-workers.

There’s a lot of authenticity at the studio I work at now. This authenticity, and this overall sense of caring I think is doing great things for the people we are working with.

Find a Place that Feels Like Home

I don’t have a unique recipe for community, nor does anyone else. I’ve seen this with other gym such as Mark Fisher Fitness, Cressey Sports Performance or Scollo Strength and Performance where my brother works.

It simply boils down to autonomy support, care about people, and give them the tools to get better at what they want to get better at.

You’ll know you’ve found a place like this because you’ll be excited to go there and you’ll know you’ve created a place like this if you find people just ‘hanging out’ and chatting with each other even after a session is done.

So, if you’re looking to make some positive life changes, don’t just join a gym, join a cult community, join a place that feels like home.