At Equinox, where members pay upwards of $200 per month to swing around weights and use eucalyptus-scented towels, trainers are reportedly working grueling, 80-hour weeks, often work without pay, and are essentially punished for taking personal time, according to a report published Thursday morning in the New York Times. According to the article, Equinox appears to recruit people for janitorial work by tempting them with the potential to sell expensive personal-training sessions to customers they encounter on the floor.
Trainers describe an initiation process called “ramping” that entails 15–20 hours per week putting away weights, and then idling around on the gym floor, pitching their services to people working out (if you’ve ever been accosted by a trainer trying to “help” when you are simply trying to get a work out in, now you know why). There’s a big incentive to sell a gym member on private training: Trainers work “floor hours,” sometimes earning less than $300 per week, with the hope of drumming up better-compensated training sessions—$26 an hour for beginner trainers and as much as $62 per session for more experienced employees,” the New York Times reports. “Trainers who succeed at Equinox pick up enough clients to move from floor shifts to coaching members full time. A complex bonus system allows top earners to make six-figure salaries.”
It’s hard to feel pity for people who willingly pay $200 a month to exercise, but even so, you’d think that cost would be enough to avoid pressure to pay even more for private training sessions. Anyone who has ever set foot in a gym has likely been approached by a trainer, offering helpful tips with the goal of gaining a customer (and finally make enough money to pay their bills or stop sleeping in their cars, apparently). But this ignores the reality that many people in the gym simply wish to be in the gym, alone, or maybe with a pal, and not be hawked personal sessions they can’t afford and that are perhaps not even useful. It’s not clear to gymgoers that the cause of this unwelcome harassment is the alleged “ramping” system.
These trainers, unfortunately aren’t trying to be annoying; they’re merely trapped in what sounds like a spandex-clad pyramid scheme where their employer doesn’t pay them a living wage. Proximity to success is powerful and misleading, which is perhaps why so many people reportedly burn out and quit their training gigs within six months. It’s nice to think that with enough effort and time spent talking to gym-goers you, too, could be the highest earning trainer on the floor. It’s also unreasonable. Plenty of lawsuits have already been levied against Equinox by its employees to this effect, but perhaps the best group of people to advocate for actual change are the ones the gym purports to care about the most: its wealthy customers.
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