mental health

Mental Health Series Part 4: How To Build a Mentally-Fit Gym Community

The Mental Health Series was created to help you, your staff and your gym community! In part four, we're focusing on creating a mentally-fit gym community.

Emily Beers
June 28, 2023
Mental Health Series Part 4: How To Build a Mentally-Fit Gym Community
The Mental Health Series was created to help you, your staff and your gym community! In part four, we're focusing on creating a mentally-fit gym community.

As gym owners, we know that a sub-three Fran and the ability to do muscle-ups doesn’t mean someone is truly healthy. Overall wellness involves a number of components, including mental health.

Thankfully, mental health is becoming more normalized as a topic of conversation. But as Dr. Christina Migliara explained, we still have a long ways to go. Both in helping people become stronger mentally, and in combating the stigmas associated with admitting when we need help.

Migliara is a licensed mental health professional with TheraFit. She has 20 years of experience in mental health, specializing in relationships, trauma and addictions. She’s also a CrossFit Level 2 coach and owner of CrossFit Tailwinds in Jacksonville, FL. Her gym includes an entire wellness center for everything from nutrition to mental health therapy.

Migliara says the normalized conversation is “a night and day difference” compared to 20 years ago when she first started working as a therapist. However, there are “still stigmas being perpetuated.”

For one, it’s still a fairly common myth that seeking help and actively working on your mental health means you’re weak. Especially when it comes to men, Migliara noted.

Building strong mental health in your gym community
As a gym owner, you can help the members of your gym community with their mental health.

“We do talk more about it and it’s a little bit more acceptable,” she said. “But there are still areas where we don’t see it being promoted.”

Migliara said the barriers within insurance companies make mental health help harder to access than it should be. Some don’t even offer benefits for mental health or they place limitations on care. Which naturally means that many who need help often don’t seek it. She expressed frustration that medical insurance companies “still haven’t caught on to providing coverage for people who need mental health (help), which is absurd.”

Managing the Mental Health of Your Gym Members:

Being a gym owner gives you the unique ability to help your gym community in this area, within your boundaries. Even though you’re not a licensed mental health professional, you can still play a role in helping clients be physically and mentally healthy.

With that in mind, it’s up to you to decide how much help you and your team are willing to provide. To help you evaluate options, Migliara offered three suggestions.

1. Stay in Your Lane.

A recent gym trend is the emergence of selling high-ticket gym services, like nutrition help or mindset coaching. Migliara reminds gym owners to stay within the limitations of your training.

“We have to be mindful of staying within our scope,” she said. “We don’t want to promote mental health coaching to the point where we’re trying to encourage people to be therapists (who aren’t qualified). But as gym owners, we are responsible for safety first. And that is not just the physical, but also the mental and psychological safety of our members.”

Therefore, if you decide to offer mindset coaching or something similar, Migliara recommends including a disclaimer. Here is an example:

This is not therapeutic advice. It is not a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of a qualified professional with any questions you may have regarding your mental or physical well-being.

2. Consider Formal Education.

If you’re exploring the idea of offering mindset coaching or any services related to mental health, Migliara recommends considering formal education. This will provide you with some valuable tools to put systems in place for working with clients. Actually, not unlike when you started putting training programs together at your gym.

A great place to start is the MentalFit and Mindset Coaching Course for coaches. The program was developed by both Migliara and Nicole Aucoin, founder of Healthy Steps Nutrition (HSN). The introductory course teaches gym owners how to take care of their own mental health, as well as that of their staff and clients.

MentalFit and Mindset Coaching Course
The MentalFit and Mindset Coaching Course gives you the tools to help your members. Photo credit: Healthy Steps Nutrition (HSN).

3. Compile a Referral List.

Whether you choose to offer services related to mental health or not, inevitably a client will turn to you for help somewhere along the course of your gym ownership journey. And it’s best to be proactive for when that happens by creating a referral list.

Migliara recommends doing some research to compile a list of mental health providers in your area, or who work with clients remotely. Categorize them by the areas they specialize in, so you can point your clients in the right direction when they need help.

Normalize the Mental Health Conversation at Your Gym.

Some gym owners may not have any desire to offer formal mindset or mental health coaching, and that’s absolutely okay. There are still plenty of ways to normalize the conversation, and help your community be both physically and mentally fit.

1. Incorporate it Everywhere.

From your monthly newsletter to social media to your PushPress workflows, Migliara recommends consistency in talking about it. She says it’s common for gym owners to include physical tips and tricks, so why not mental? Include mental health topics in communication with members and leads.

For example, create a social media post offering three tips to help your audience with their relationship with food. Or, list four ways nutrition impacts your mental health.

Another idea is to highlight a mental health testimonial. You’re already posting testimonials from clients about their physical successes. One member got to their goal weight. Another one got their first pull-up.

Why not share a mental health success story? Tell the story about how your gym has helped John make new friends and reduce his anxiety. Or highlight how Sharon regained her self-esteem.

Tell your members' stories of breaking boundaries
Tell your members’ stories to normalize the conversation and spread the word.

2. Host a Mental Health Challenge.

Migliara encourages everyone to develop a healthy mental hygiene routine. This includes the seven mental health pillars, which she refers to as The MentalFit Framework. They include quiet time, exercise, nutrition, sleep/recovery, time in nature, socialization and hobbies.

So why not build a challenge at your gym around this? At her gym, Migliara hosted a “Self-Care Bingo” challenge with great success. The bingo card included a variety of small, very doable self-care tasks. From reading a book twice per week to getting outside for 15 minutes, she challenged her community with their mental health in mind. Prizes were awarded for anyone who completed the bingo card.

3. Ask a Mental Health Question of the Day.

Migliara reiterated that one of the most effective things you can do as a gym owner is simply building mental health into your day-to-day language. This will help normalize the idea that talking about - and working on - it is valuable and necessary.

Another simple way to do this is to include mental health questions in your icebreaker time at the start of class.

“It doesn’t have to be doom and gloom,” she explained. The questions can be light and positive. Such as asking about the one thing they do that always makes them feel happier. Or what was one thing they did over the weekend for their mental health?

4. Celebrate the Less-Obvious Progress.

It’s a fairly normal thing in a business like yours for clients to tie their happiness and self-worth to their performance in the gym.

Help gym members celebrate non-performance victories
Help your gym members learn to celebrate non-performance victories.

You probably have a few clients like this. They get upset when they don’t believe they’re improving fast enough. Or they’re comparing themselves to the high-level CrossFit athletes on social media. For these members especially, it’s important to help them track their fitness in a way that extends beyond PRs.

Migliara suggests working with them on recognizing other wins in their lives beyond their improved back squat. She gives her clients an accountability tool, asking them to log non-fitness related goals and wins. These are things like what they want to accomplish each day, as well as daily wins that go beyond their gym performance.

In Summary: Wellness is More Than Just Fitness.

If you plan to offer formal mental health-related coaching, remember to stay in your lane and consider formal education. And if you just want to normalize the conversation and help your members, create a referral list of professionals to have on hand.

Statistically speaking, mentally-healthy clients are more likely to see results in your gym. This naturally translates to increased client retention and business revenue over time.

But more importantly, mentally-healthy clients are simply more likely to live happier, more-fulfilled lives. And from the human perspective, therein lies your biggest opportunity to help.

ICYMI: Check out Part 3 of the series (Protecting the Mental Health of Your Staff) HERE!
Disclaimer: “I am a Licensed Mental Health Professional. However, this is not therapeutic advice. The content of this message is intended for educational purposes only and not a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of a qualified professional with any questions you may have regarding your mental or physical well-being. Further, some content in this message may be sensitive and cause triggering. Never disregard professional mental advice or delay in seeking help because of something you have heard or read in this message.”
Emily Beers

Emily Beers is a health, fitness and nutrition writer. She has also been coaching fitness at MadLab School of Fitness in Vancouver, B.C. since 2009.

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