When you opened your gym, it was probably to help people become healthier and fitter. Or maybe creating healthy habits transformed your own health, so you wanted to pay it forward.
But if you’ve been in the game for awhile, are you still practicing what you preach? For so many gym owners, the stress of wearing all the hats can take its toll. And whether you’re lacking workout motivation, your nutrition is suffering or you’re on the verge of burnout, you’re not alone.
“The hardest part of being a gym owner is taking care of themselves,” said Michael Giardina, Senior Manager of Health Education at CrossFit. “It ends up being the job of a martyr, where you take on everyone else’s stuff and kind of forget about yourself and your needs.”
So, in the same way you’d go about getting your business back on track, it’s all about smart, manageable steps. There’s no magic switch to flip, so instead you have to lay the foundation by creating healthy habits. And for gym owners, that means a health trifecta of fitness, nutrition and mental health.
Creating Healthy Habits in Fitness.
In order to take care of yourself physically, here are three tips:
1. Schedule It.
As you can attest, unexpected things happen in the gym all the time. And if you let them, they can derail your fitness plan. So if something crazy happens, is your workout the first thing that goes out the window? Or is training something you’ll get to “if there’s time?”
Remember, you are as important as your clients. Giardina challenges you to schedule a one-hour block of time three to five days per week. This block is dedicated to your own workout and is not negotiable. Put it on your calendar and stick to it. And if three to five days per week is overwhelming, start with twice per week, then build from there.
2. Join Your Classes.
Think back to the days when you attended group classes. The motivation, accountability and “shared suffering” are a big part of why people now come to your gym. Not only can these things still benefit you, but the set schedule will hold you accountable. And that accountability is a substantial part of creating healthy habits.
“A lot of the gym owners I talk to are almost afraid to workout at the gym, to take a class, to do all the things that we know are very beneficial to the people within the walls of the affiliate,” Giardina said.
“Remove the hat of the affiliate owner and put back on the hat of the CrossFit athlete. Take a class at your gym, let the coach put you through it. Be a part of the community. Suffer with the group. Do some high fives and really get involved in the community aspect of what’s going on in the gym.”
First, Giardina explained that this should get you back on track with your fitness. And second, it will bring back all the mental health benefits you get from “doing hard things together and talking about it.”
3. Try the Morning.
Every moment that goes by in the day is another opportunity for unexpected things to happen at your gym. With that in mind, the earlier you can schedule your workout or take a class, the better.
Cross your workout off your list early so you’re less likely to get derailed with other tasks. Plus, as you know, training gets the endorphins going and can benefit your mental state for the rest of the day.
Dialing in Your Nutrition.
In order to keep your nutrition in check, here are four tips:
1. Start a Nutrition Challenge for Your Gym (and Join it).
If you don’t already have a nutrition coaching program at your gym, it’s never a bad time to start one. And oftentimes, a nutrition challenge is just what people need as they start creating healthy habits.
The key is to keep it simple and sustainable. Introduce one small action that you and your members can accomplish daily. For example, start each day with a big glass of water. Or avoid a different unhealthy food - like fried foods or sugary drinks - each week for a month.
Roll out the challenge and rally together with your community to hold each other accountable.
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2. Get Back to the Basics.
If a strict, macros-tracking plan or intermittent fasting sounds overwhelming, remember that it doesn’t have to be that complicated. Sticking to the basics can be just as effective.
Are you eating fast food throughout the week? Try bringing food from home. Are you consuming a lot of processed foods? Opt for whole foods. Is your diet lacking protein? Add more. Improving your nutrition doesn’t have to be complex, especially as you’re laying a foundation.
“The better your nutrition, the better you’re going to feel in a lot of other areas,” Giardina said.
3. Keep Snacks on Hand.
Eating healthy is about convenience. If you open the fridge and see pre-chopped vegetables and hummus, you’ll likely reach for them. Similarly, if you see leftover fast food, that might end up being your dinner (again).
When you’re creating healthy habits, do yourself a favor. Make it as easy as possible to succeed! Remove the hurdles and avoid just hoping you’ll do well.
If you keep some healthy (ideally high-protein) snacks at home and around the gym, you’ll be ready when you need fuel. This will also go a long way in preventing you from being famished when you get home, which usually results in worse nutrition choices.
4. Schedule Meal Time.
It may sound crazy to schedule the times that you’re planning to eat. But until something becomes a habit, reminders can keep you on track. Especially if you’re someone who forgets to eat when you’re busy, or if you’re a stress-eater.
In the same way you’re scheduling your workouts, try scheduling meal times in your calendar. Set an alarm to remind you that it’s time to eat until your schedule becomes more second-nature.
Prioritize Your Mental Health.
In order to take care of your mental health, here are four tips for creating healthy habits:
1. Take a Daily Walk.
It sounds so simple, but getting out in nature and clearing your head can be powerful, especially during stressful times. Just like scheduling workouts, you might have to block off time on your calendar for walks. Especially on high-admin days that you’re sitting a lot, it can be extremely beneficial to take a brain break and get the blood flowing.
“It’s a great form of mindfulness,” Giardina said. “Being able to take breaks and get fresh air is a powerful opportunity to clear your mind.”
2. Try Something New.
It might sound counterintuitive, but you’re often best suited to serve your gym community when you’re able to get away from the gym. You don’t want your clients to be in the gym 24/7. And you shouldn't be either, explained Christina Migliara, licensed mental health professional and owner of CrossFit Tailwinds in Jacksonville, FL.
“We use CrossFit to prepare us for life,” she said. “But if all you do is stay in the CrossFit gym, then you’re never getting outside and utilizing those skills—the confidence, the functionality, the strength.”
It comes down to practicing what you preach, Migliara added. You want your clients utilizing the skills they build in their day-to-day lives, and you’ll benefit from doing the same.
Join a team or a club, or sign up for lessons. You’ll get out of the gym and put your fitness to use. Plus, it’s a surefire way to let your brain escape from stress while you’re creating healthy habits.
3. Start Journaling.
Migliara explained that gym owners are in a “constant state of arousal.” So setting aside some alone time to journal is a great way to “decompress from all the stimulation you’re receiving.”
She went on to say that, “If you never have quiet time, you can’t process. Therefore you can’t self-reflect. So how do you know how to make adjustments to whatever needs adjusting?” In this sense, she said that journaling is a great way to calm you down.
4. Take a Day Off.
Especially in the early days of gym ownership when you’re a one-person show, taking a day off can be hard. But experienced owners will tell you that taking time away from business is just as important as working on it.
As with creating healthy habits in other areas, start small. Take just one day off, perhaps on a weekend. Don’t schedule any clients or coach any classes. Don’t reply to any emails. Put your phone in another room. Simply commit to stepping away and see how you feel.
Note that even after you’ve committed to taking a day off, you’ll likely be tempted to do some kind of work-related task. So it’s important to practice saying no.
“Be able to say no,” said Migliara. “So you can have that solid boundary between personal and professional life. Take off that affiliate hat, and go home and be dad or mom or spouse or friend, and have a life outside the gym.”
In Summary: Creating Healthy Habits is the Foundation.
Accomplishing meaningful things is worth the effort. And your own fitness, nutrition and mental health are paramount. Remember, you have to take care of your own health in order to help others with theirs!
And just like building strength in the gym, creating healthy habits takes time. As Migliara put it, “Slow to grow builds character, fast to grow builds ego.”
In other words, embrace the process to reap the long-term benefits. Remember to give yourself some grace. You won’t be perfect so let it go and move on. If you have a setback, simply get back into the routine as quickly as possible. Keeping it simple and achievable will eventually make it effortless as you build habits you can sustain for life.