Short answer: Staffing costs.
A qualified fitness instructor/ personal trainer pays on average €2500 for their starter qualification, just to get their foot on the ladder and those with a thirst for more knowledge and experience may spend an additional €1000- €2000 per year on further education. This is out of their own pocket (if the gym they work for pays for it then they have to pay them back if they find another job, can vary for different facilities) If you’re self employed you can write it off as an expense against tax, but the more expenses you have then the less you can get for a loan (eg. mortgage) If you’re on social welfare you can apply for a €500 grant to go towards the cost of your qualification.
Just bear that in mind while I go into the gym stuff.
The biggest overheads in running a gym are Rent, Equipment and Staff.
So how does a big commercial gym make a profit? They sell cheap gym memberships to get the thousands of members in and seriously cut their staffing costs – that’s if they pay their staff at all.
Most young budding fresh fitness instructors with a PT qualification want to become a successful PT and after forking out a small fortune they’re left with little options to start their business – often working for free in budget gyms for 15-20 hours per week in exchange for being “allowed” to PT clients 1-2-1 on the gym floor. Most of that is teaching classes, busting your ass class in class out leaving little to no time to train yourself and get some down time, nevermind trying to actually get some clients in. Then you also have to scrub toilets, clean showers, re-rack weights (cause no one puts their shit back after using them) and all the misc non fun stuff that comes with the job. If you’re working less hours say 5-10 it’s likely you also have to PAY the gym a flat fee rent of anything from €400-€800 per month.
For those lucky enough to be paid on the books, the wage is minimum in a lot of places, a generous wage would be €10-€12 per hour. In fact the only people employed full time by these gyms are the senior staff – managers. If you’re part time being paid by the hour you earn €8k-€12k per year. Minus your education investments. If you’re on the dole and not working at all you get nearly €10k per year – just in comparison, pay in these gyms is shit and you simply cannot make a wage to cover your living expenses, never mind the associated costs to work.
Some gyms with multiple facilities will split your working day to work part of your shift in one gym and the rest in another – with no travel or fuel allowance because it’s during public transport hours.
The regular staff members exchanging hours for PT time are also in competition with a load of other PT’s working out of the same gym – and these gyms also have a price limit on how much you can charge per session. Welcome to the jungle. Not only are you in the pits of competition, you’re also capped on your charges when generally if you’re great at what you do you should charge what you’re worth!
So by employment standards that’s not very ethical, but they get away with it.
And if you’re a member of one of these gyms and see only one staff member is on at a time (doing the desk AND magically teaching a class simultaneously) then you KNOW where they’re making savings to make your membership as cheap as possible. It’s also a good indication of poor working conditions if the staff turnover is very high.
Because the memberships are so cheap the gyms are often flooded – packed classes, queues for machines and weights and very little customer care – because when a Shepherd has a 1000 flock, how can he name each and every one?
If you KNOW how to programme your own workouts and adjust exercises because someone is sleeping on the leg press or texting their girlfriend between sets then yeah by all means if it works for you it works!
The vast majority of people who join a gym haven’t a clue what or how to do what they need to do in order to reach their goals. (That’s no sly dig, you have to learn somewhere and you didn’t come out of the womb curling a dumbbell) And the instructor is on the clock, being told by management if a member takes up more than 15 (lets say 30 to be generous) minutes of their induction then they have to hire a PT. Again, Shepherd with a thousand sheep.
Smaller gyms simply do not have the capacity to sell thousands of memberships at a cheap rate. But the advantage of going with a smaller gym, especially if you’re a beginner is just that – being a part of a small crew with a trainer there to help you every step of the way. I’m not saying that you won’t get overlooked in a class, especially if there’s more than 10 in the class but you’re in a much better position improving over time, even if the instructor can give you that little 30 second tip to help you move forward – they DO notice your improvements, and effectively they SHOULD tell you that you are getting better. If they’re not then run, run run!
A good gym will inevitably invest in their staff, by paying them well so in turn they will keep members happy and keep the quality of service high. Now I’m not saying that instructors who work in budget gyms are shit – but soon enough they WILL move on to a job that pays what they’re worth. There’s no shame in working in an industry you love and expecting to be paid well enough to reflect on the amount of time, energy and funding you invest in being the best at what you do.
At the end of the day, regardless of where you are, if you see no improvement in your wellness, I mean it could be one or more: in strength, fitness levels, sleep, energy, general mood, body composition etc – and you’re putting the effort in unless the trainer says otherwise (they’re not supposed to be a dick about it) then are you getting your money’s worth, be it for €20 per month or €250 per month?
If you’re shopping on price alone, cheaper might not always be best but if the price worries you, look at testimonials and reviews. Then have a think about how much you actually spend on luxuries such as clothes, hair, make-up, nails, eating out, take aways, socialising – is it really that much? Or do you value those things more than your physical (and mental) health?