Lasting impressions: In six months I'll be doing the butterfly across that pool

In 38 years working at nine different health clubs I've seen a lot of amazing, bizarre, interesting, and sometimes disturbing things. I have seen thousands of people come and go. Most do not leave a lasting impression, but sometimes, even a brief encounter will stay with me forever.

It was January 1980. The price of oil was $37 a barrel that year, more expensive than it is today. The George Foreman Grill and other astounding leaps in technology had yet to be invented. It was my third month working at my first health club. The club was awash with new members armed with their New Year’s resolutions.

There was a man there who weighed 290 pounds. He had the look of a former athlete. Under that marbling there was obvious potential to be a well-muscled fit man. He was there for hours each day for five straight days. He told me in six months he would be doing the butterfly across the pool. Given how long he was there with such regularity that was definitely a possibility. I didn't see him the next week or the week after. In fact I never saw him again. But he did continue to pay the mandatory membership bank draft.

I often think of him as a proxy for all those who come to the gym with high expectations but never follow through. Initially people are highly motivated, but working full-time along with raising a family and then coming to the gym for one or two hours is not sustainable for most people. The diminishing return for all that time in the gym is not very motivating.

At our Austin Personal Training facility we don't start from the premise of seeing how much exercise you can withstand but try to find what's the least amount of exercise that will produce the most positive change. That will give you the largest marginal return for your time spent exercising, and it will be more motivating. You will be more likely stick to it for the long-term.

Had that man committed to making modest changes in eating habits, strength trained for a half hour once or sometimes twice a week, and on the other days done something he enjoyed he would have been more likely to have stuck to it. The weight loss would be slower but more sustainable. At the end of the year he would've been 50 pounds lighter and maybe would have been able to do the butterfly. The beauty of it is he would have spent far less time in the gym than under his attempted commitment.