How Independent Gyms Can Factor Mental Health Improvement Into Their BAU Operations

Much like the broader issue of mental health, starting a discussion about mental health within independent gyms has sometimes been a challenge. Even though the majority of people within the fitness industry recognise the benefits of working out, until recently there has been, in certain areas, a reluctance to put anything into ‘policy’. 

Better to let the lifting do the talking, right?

Unfortunately, it is no longer enough.

And here at the Gym Owner’s Forum, we aren’t insensitive to this line of thinking, it is understandable. Mental health is a complex issue and the field of study is one that is constantly developing.

There is certainly a temptation to just accept that there is a line between working out and feeling better, and that therefore by running an independent gym, a contribution is being made. 

It is a well-intentioned line of thought, but it is quickly becoming dated and potentially even regressive. Independent gyms need to recognise that they must rise to the challenge of mental health support. It is becoming more and more expected by our potential membership, and that expectation won’t be going away. 

With record numbers of people signing up to gyms and fitness clubs to help with their depression, anxiety and other issues, putting in place measures to help these members further will not only make a difference in their lives, but may also boost those all important retention figures. 

So with an increasing number of surveys reporting that a growing number of our members are signing up to address their mental fitness as well as their physical fitness, we should be asking ourselves, what can we do to assist them?

Get It Right:

Mental health is a serious issue, not one that can be winged. In this blog we will talk about how personal trainers and other gym staff can assist with the mental health of an independent gym’s membership.

These interventions, if done incorrectly or without the proper training can be damaging either to the member or the staff. We will develop points across the next sections, but it is important to state that asking staff to undertake mental health support without ensuring that they are themselves trained and supported is irresponsible. 

As Independent Gym Owners we have a duty of care to both our staff and our membership. Neither should be endangered on behalf of the other.

With that little warning out of the way, we believe it is firmly possible to provide the necessary training, support and expertise to personal trainers and other staff members to help support gym members in a mental capacity as well as a physical one.

Sign Posting

Signposting is a term that is thrown around a lot these days and seemingly by everyone. Whether it is the local council to corporations, it is on everyone’s lips. To the point where I had initially written it off as a semi-meaningless buzzword.


But there are fields where the concept of ‘signposting’, making visible and accessible services that exist but that may not be prominent or well-known, is valid.

I would say perhaps one of the most pertinent would be mental health, and that is why I bring this sometimes grating little term before you today.


Across the country, we have talked to gyms that have started to look into how they can effectively ‘signpost’ services to their members when they are told about problems. 


Whether it is personal trainers, class-runners or general staff, gym members can end up spending a significant amount of time talking to members. And when they do, certain things might come up that can be helpful. 


The services available will vary from area to area, and it is important that this culture of ‘signposting’ is set up responsibly. The last thing anyone wants to do is embarrass a member by suggesting a service that is an over-reaction, or that is suggested in an insensitive way. 

Key signposting opportunities (region dependent) could include:

– General Practitioner

-Health Centre

-Local Council

-Regional Mental Health Trusts 


– Helpline referrals


This is only meant to highlight the value of signposting, not to be printed off and enacted without any further prep.

Of course, in order to provide affect mental health support we would recommend an independent gym either hires or appoints someone who can identify the correct services and organisations with their operating region. This can be a valuable upskilling opportunity for a member of staff that is passionate about mental health and the local area.

From there, it is a matter of reaching out to the organisations that an independent gym wishes to signpost to. They will most likely have advice on when it is appropriate to do so, and the manner of which to do it in.

By taking this process in a slow, responsible and methodical manner, an independent gym can start to build up a reserve of ‘signposting knowledge’ that management and the appointed staff member can start to train out to the rest of the membership. 

Qualifications And Skills

Speaking of upskilling, as well as empowering certain individuals within a gym management structure to look at how an independent gym can better address mental health, there are also a growing number of qualifications and courses that can be of benefit to the majority of gym staff.

More and more we are seeing gym owners send their key staff on these courses, even if there is no formal award granted.

And the reports have been very positive so far, with staff feeling more able to deal with members not only when it comes to their physical wellbeing but their mental wellbeing.

What we have found most striking is just how unintrusive it can be. Sending someone off for mental health-related training invokes images of them coming back looking like Sigmund Freud and asking your gym members to sit on a chaise lounge. 

But really, it is much more normalised than that. It can be a few words, or a five minute conversation between exercise routines. What is impressive about some of these qualifications is just how well it can prepare gym staff to help members in subtle but impactful ways. 

Qualifications like Mental Health First Aid and Mental Health & Exercise Coaching (MHEC) can help independent gyms do their part to address the mental health crisis that may well come to define our times. 

Many of these courses are easily integrated into a working life, requiring only one or two hours of online or in-person training a week for a set period of time. 

We already know that gyms are some of the best tools available to assist with mental health, but why should we stop there? This is a moment where humanitarian thinking and practicality coincide. There should be both a business interest and a personal one for gym owners to improve their gyms capacity to assist with members’ mental health. 

Counselling Skills For Personal Trainers

As an addendum to this section, it is worth saying that some of the biggest successes when it comes to Mental Health First Aid and other qualifications has been with Personal Trainers. 

This is probably unsurprising, especially those who have been PTs. The role is an interesting cross-section of functions and unsurprisingly some of those share a border with the members mental health.

There are some schools of thought that believe Personal Trainers should be given full mental health training and qualifications to better assist members not only physically but mentally. 

This type of thinking has seen success, and there is some intuitive logic behind it but it is still in the early stages of development. 

The Big Picture

So now that we have taken an overview of the potential for qualifications and upskilling within independent gyms, we are going to take a step back and end by focusing on ‘the big picture’ of fitness. 

On this blog and at our workshops we have talked about the role of independent gyms outside of the four walls of a fitness facility.

We have talked about how gyms can be advisors when it comes to topics like diet and nutrition, sleep, workout recovery and stress mechanisms. 

During the pandemic, when it suddenly became necessary for gyms to offer these broader services, a lot of headway was made and we are pleased to see that many gyms are maintaining that infrastructure. 

And we don’t believe there is any reason why mental health shouldn’t also be part of that package. We have advocated before that gyms shouldn’t just be a place to lift weights but a repository of expertise and knowledge for all things fitness related.

This has already been adopted by a lot of independent gym owners, who report great success when offering home workout advice as well as dietary and nutritional advice. 

And in a true example of the simple approach being the best, this often comes from just ‘asking the member’. Whether it is at point of induction or periodically, this has become a popular and effective way for gym owners to ascertain what their members expect from them currently, and what they feel their gym could do to make their life better.

While this will not be an overnight fix for any independent gym, by starting today gym owners will be ensuring that they are not only futureproofing their operation, but helping to lead the way in a part of the industry that is only going to become more vital and correspondingly, more profitable. 

Those that don’t risk being left behind, as further studies and surveys come out detailing the increased importance of mental health recognition within fitness environments


We hope that any and all members of the fitness industry learned something from this blog, if you are an independent gym owner, manager or staff member who is interested in getting the most out of your facility, please do not hesitate to contact us.

We work with gyms up and down the UK and Ireland, running workshops, engaging with gym owners and researching the best ways independent gyms can help their members and themselves. 

If you are interested in joining us on that path, don’t hesitate to reach out to us on our facebook page.  

We’re bringing together the expertise of hundreds of gyms from across the UK and Europe, to help gym owners grow their business.

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