Fitness centres: the temples of health or smoke and mirrors?

Les centres de conditionnement physique: temples de la santé ou miroir aux alouettes?

Photo: Jacques Nadeau Le Devoir
According to the most recent figures from the Office de la protection du consommateur, Quebec has no less than 727 fitness centres on its territory.

They have thousands of subscribers, practice the “overbooking” and fuelled by the obsession with thinness and the perfect physical. But the fitness centres offer really a approach to health ?

At certain times of the year, especially at the beginning of January and the day after Labor day, the fitness centers are stormed by well-meaning people wanting to get back in shape, lose weight or increase their muscle mass. However, several observers say, perseverance is not always at the rendezvous, and “the dropout rate is close to 50 % after the first six months of a fitness program,” says Barry Campbell, a kinesiologist and a specialist in chronic pain.

According to the most recent figures from the Office de la protection du consommateur, Quebec has no less than 727 fitness centres on its territory ; the vast majority belong to independent owners, sometimes offer highly specialized services, while others are related to well-known chains, such as Éconofitness (nearly 60 branches) Nautilus Plus (39), Energy Cardio (33), or World Gym (6).

However, what is it that pushes, year after year, hundreds of people to adhere to a formula that is not necessarily suitable to those who wish to reconnect with a healthy lifestyle ? An effective marketing strategy does not explain everything, because the flexibility in hours (some are open 24 hours on 24), price competitiveness, and geographic proximity help to attract followers… and loyalty.

This is the case for Éric Bédard, a professor of history at TELUQ, a faithful subscriber of a centre located at two steps of his work since 2013, he attends up to three times per week. “I have no purpose, is it to clarify, and my motivation is to move, because my work is sedentary. I always do the same routine, I have no coaching, no coach, but I consider the sport as a necessity, in the same way that eating, because who can say that he never has time to eat ? And this is not particularly a “social club”: people are in their bubble, me too ! “

Long live the “overbooking” !

According to Pierre Sercia, a professor in the Department of physical activity sciences of the UQAM, Éric Bédard has joined the “model” health-fitness centers, while other institutions ” are primarily intended to make money, and to sell products derived from, as supplements “. “Several of the gym’s practice of “overbooking,” said Peter Sercia. If they have a capacity of 300 people, they’re going to subscribe to 500, because statistics show : the attendance decrease from the month of February, but profits come when the same, because people are subscribers for a year. “

In this logic, several customers are soon left to themselves, with little or no supervision — even if some are looking for just that, as evidenced by the growing popularity of the centres in “low cost” as Éconofitness. Barry Campbell, this trend marks the return of the “gym of arms” that prevailed until the 1990s, while other strategies remain timeless ” which, for the past 30 years, the famous Before/After for weight loss, because people are very sensitive to matters of aesthetics and appearance “.

Someone who trains a lot, or bad, without worrying about their power supply will never have good results

— Pierre-Hugues Geoffrey, the owner of the centre Umanovo to Quebec, kinesiologist

Obsession with thinness

This obsession with thinness, many centers know how to cultivate it, but for Pierre-Alexandre Boyer Leclerc and Laurent Goulet, co-owners of the clinic of kinesiology Health Management K5S, which are also a blog on preventive health care (, it would be wrong to burden all of society’s ills. “The influencers, social networks, short, the surrounding culture, it promotes misinformation, laments Pierre-Alexandre. It’s not surprising that customers feel compelled to buy supplements or omega-3, and wanting results quickly. And many have very specific ideas in mind. For example : I have a wedding in three weeks and I want to go back in my steps ! Nothing wrong, but the health, it does not evaluate on the short term. Unfortunately, some centres sell a product, not a process. “

And this process can be demanding, according to Lawrence Goulet, ” because it takes determination, perseverance, and a lot of understanding. It is the responsibility of the kinesiologist to educate the client about the fact that the change he wants will not happen in two weeks “. “The client must be the actor of his / her change in the same way that the health care professional,” adds Pierre-Alexandre. And the need to avoid solutions prémâchées, or compare themselves to people who have transformed their bodies dramatically. “It is dangerous to take for models,” he continues. Another person with the same social, economic, and psychological can happen to completely different results. “

True or pseudo-coaches


Les centres de conditionnement physique: temples de la santé ou miroir aux alouettes?

Photo: Marie-France Coallier The Duty
Kinesiologists, Health Management K5S, Laurent Goulet (left) and Pierre-Alexandre Boyer Leclerc (right). “Some centres sell a product, not a process,” says Mr. Boyer, Leclerc.

These kinesiologists advocate, of course, for their parish, that of a profession as yet little known, but which is becoming more and more in the centres, this was not always the case. Pierre-Alexandre regrets that ” the Federation of kinesiologists in Quebec is not recognized as a professional order “, a recognition that would “raise standards, and to ensure that no matter who becomes coach,” said Laurent Goulet. In charge of the train, and oversee the internships of its students interested in the kinesiology, Pierre Sercia interest of the large chains to engage more of kinesiologists, but also recognizes that many graduates prefer to start their own centre, and to target specific clienteles : the hockey players during the summer season, the elderly, children with posture problems, women after childbirth, etc

Drive home

As for restaurants, there are, therefore, for all tastes and for all budgets. But you can also decide to cook at home ! This is a bit of the philosophy of Pierre-Hugues Geoffrey, the owner of the centre Umanovo in Quebec city, a kinesiologist who has worked for five years as a trainer in a center affiliated with a chain before founding his own establishment.

“The gym, it is a solution if you like it, and it may work. However, if it is a chore… “It recognizes that the promotion around the weight loss” is well articulated, a mirage, not unique to gyms, but to an entire industry : that of slimming, diets protein, of the programs of the race “, etc

The sport will search for the fear to dominate, tiredness to triumph over, the difficulties to be overcome

— Pierre de Coubertin

As Pierre-Alexandre, which brings into question the insistence of some customers to view abdominal prominent — the famous six-packs (” from the aesthetic side, what purpose can it possibly serve ? “) —, Pierre-Hugues Geoffroy is not shy to explore the motivations of those who want to take their health in hand. “In front of someone who says that they have 20 kilos in too, it is necessary to find the reasons for the imbalance that has occurred in his life, and to have the right approach, because each person is different. I’ve even already decided to teach mindfulness meditation to be an entrepreneur totally stressed out : her body would not have been able to respond to any training. “A convenient easy to make at home, and at little cost.

This is another aspect on which insists Pierre-Hugues Geoffroy, as well as several of his colleagues : health is not that matter of exercises and weights. “I know women 70 years of age who are at a healthy weight and have never attended a gym in their life : they walk every day and eat well. We overestimate the training while at 80 %, it is the diet that makes all the difference. Someone who trains a lot, or bad, without worrying about their power supply will never have good results. “That the gentlemen Muscle of this world will keep it for said.