April 23, 2014
Researchers Analyze Similarities Between Gyms And Fast Food Restaurants
redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online
Gyms and McDonalds may seem like polar opposites, but the authors of research appearing in a recent edition of the Sports, Education and Society claim that fast food restaurants and fitness centers have more in common than you might think.
In the study, University of Gothenburg professor Thomas Johansson and Linnaeus University senior lecturer Jesper Andreasson describe how they analyzed how fitness professionals view their occupation in the framework of the global wellness industry, as well as a phenomenon known as “McDonaldisation” of the gym culture.
Their work was based in part on interviews with personal trainers and group fitness instructors, as well as an investigation of Les Mills, an industry leader that operates on a franchise model. Currently, more than 14,000 gyms in 80 different countries have paid for permission to run Les Mills fitness classes, with a total of four million participants taking part during an average week, the authors explained in a March 25 statement.
Like McDonalds and other franchise-based fast food restaurants, Les Mills “implies a standardized set of techniques that look basically the same in all forms of group fitness training,” Johansson explained. “It’s really a business empire built around group fitness.”
The business revolves around a head trainer presenting movements that are strictly adhered to, with music playing while people taking the class are performing the exercises. Updated instructions are delivered every three months to all instructors throughout each of the Les Mills-certified fitness centers, resulting in local educators having extremely little influence over the fitness classes they teach.
Since they are unable to change the movements, music or the delivery method of the exercise instruction, Andreasson noted that the instructors have few opportunities to tap into their entire field of experience. As a result, their talents are not fully utilized, because they must stay so closely to the pre-designated terminology and choreography since the gyms promote their services as a suite of services.
“Even though gym and fitness franchises differ from hamburger restaurant chains, there are crucial similarities, but also differences. One can, for example, discern a tendency towards the construction of predesigned and highly monitored programs,” the authors wrote. “Homogenization is also apparent when looking at the body ideals produced, as fitness professionals work on their own or clients' bodies, which makes it possible to anticipate a global body ideal.”
“The social and cultural patterns of self-regulation and self-government found in gym and fitness culture can be understood and analyzed in a global context,” they added. “What we find is an intriguing and complex mixture of regulation, control and standardization, on the one hand, and a struggle to express the body, to be ‘free’ and to transgress the boundaries set by the commercial global fitness industry, on the other.”