A New Approach to Fitness Coaching

Gyms focus on building better habits

By Barbara Russi Sarnataro
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Feature

Reviewed By Michael Smith, MD

Carla Brooks had an on-again, off-again relationship with exercise.

"I'd get started and do pretty well for a while, but I'd get busy and drop off," said the 52-year-old former schoolteacher from Alpharetta, Ga. This often happened in the summer, when her family was traveling and eating out more often.

But, she says, all that changed last summer when she enrolled in the Coach Approach program at her local YMCA. Coach Approach, used in YMCAs in 14 major U.S. cities, is a customized workout program that works on building the exercise habit before promising physical changes.

"It's a behavioral change tool for people who have a hard time sticking with exercise and letting everything else in life come first," says Jennifer Unruh, director of wellness support services for the YMCA of Metropolitan Atlanta.

Coach Approach is the brainchild of Jim Annesi, PhD, a behavioral psychologist who is director of wellness advancement for the Metro Atlanta YMCA. Hoping to address the huge dropout rate among new gym members, he implemented the program three years ago.

Though people are better informed about the benefits of exercise than ever before, many still find it hard to stick with a fitness program. Between 55% and 65% of new gym members drop out in the first three to six months, according to a 2003 study published in the European Journal of Sports Science.