The Champaign Family YMCA is experiencing one of its busiest seasons of the year, according to CEO Paul Waldsmith. Between New Year’s resolutions to work out more and the weather making it difficult to do so outdoors, YMCA employees expect to register at least 10 new members a week during the coldest months of the year.
“It’s not the only busy time, but it’s certainly the busiest time,” he said. “Between now and when the weather breaks for spring, we’ll have more facility utilization in January, February and March than we will in warmer weather months.”
New members who enroll at the YMCA are automatically eligible to enter the Fit Start program, a training course in which new members meet four times over the course of seven weeks to learn to use the gym equipment. The time in between sessions is also important to give health-seekers time to use the gym on their own.
“The intent of the Fit Start program is to help health-seekers,” Waldsmith said. “That’s the individual who knows intellectually that they need to eat healthy foods, get plenty of physical activity, get enough sleep at night, but there’s a gap between their intellectual understanding and behavioral compliance. Most estimates put the health-seeker population at about 85 percent of all American adults, so the vast majority of American adults are in that category… Philosophically, our goal is to use the fit start program to help individuals bridge the gap between their intentions and their actual behaviors, and to help people get comfortable with the actual exercise itself.”
In the first meeting, Health Enhancement Director Jennifer Post and her staff first try to assess a new member’s fitness level and identify goals.
“When we sit down for our first meeting with our members we’ll go through goals,” she said. “I’ve had people that have wanted to train for a 5K, have wanted to train for a mud run. It’s not always to lose weight, in fact, I have had people who said they wanted to gain weight.”
They next provide an overview of the cardio equipment: elliptical, treadmill and the exercise bike, including proper form and how to do the exercise. According to Post, a person’s target heart rate should be based on 220 minus their age, and then multiplied by 0.65 for minimum and 0.85 for maximum.
Future sessions add three pieces of strength training equipment to the member’s repertoire. The YMCA currently offers 13 pieces of equipment that target different muscle groups, but Post said that in a few weeks they will be replacing the machines with more modern equipment and will then have 14.
“There’s a certain fear factor that people have with activity,” Waldsmith said. “They walk into a fitness center and they see people that look like they know exactly what they’re doing, who look like they’re in really good shape, and they think they’re not worthy. That’s really the farthest thing that should be on their mind, but it happens.”
At the end of seven weeks, group participants receive a program card that they can use to go around the weight room and test their strength on different machines. Post is also available at her office in the corner of the cardio room for anyone who needs additional assistance.
Waldsmith said the program is spread out over seven weeks because it typically takes 6-8 weeks for a person to to develop ongoing behavior. Once they get established, YMCA members can also take advantage of group classes like aquatic fitness, aerobics and yoga classes, as well as child watch services while parents use the facilities.
“A lot of what we have focused on are community-wide policies and events and activities. For instance, our largest single day youth event in April each year is Healthy Kids Day,” said Waldsmith. “We’ll have 700-800 people, kids and adults, over at Urbana University’s gym in the Grimes Center for a morning’s worth of activities. We recognize that people need help and guidance and support; the support I think is ultimately the biggest part. They know what they need to do intellectually, they need support in getting there, to close the gap between what you know you should do intellectually and what you’re able and willing to do behaviorally.”
Waldsmith also said that people are much more likely to remain YMCA members if they know that at least one other person really cares about them and is going to ask where they are if they don’t show up. Much of the focus at the YMCA is about building relationships between members and with the staff, so that all of the over 4,200 individual members have a positive experience.
For more information about the YMCA, any of their classes, or the Fit Start program, call Jennifer Post at 937-484-3562.
Christopher Selmek can be reached at 937-508-2304