Mark is one of the employees who works at the Powerhouse Gym in Saline where I work out. Imagine being him on the afternoon of September 30th. You leave the gym and it’s packed. One of the busiest days since the gym opened about 4.5 months earlier. The next morning, you get up early, like everyday, at 4am to allow enough time to make sure you can make it back to the gym to open it at 5am. It seems like a regular morning, a little groggy, but nothing coffee can’t fix. You get to the gym, unlock the doors, turn off the alarm, turn on the lights, look around and nothing’s there…no equipment, no computers, no files, and even no lockers! You walk back into the parking lot, rub your eyes and wonder if you’re awake or still dreaming. Upon going back in you realize that, yes, the gym is truly empty…completely.

It’s an amazingly true story. On September 30th, the gym was officially sold to new owners (still Powerhouse) and the keys were turned over to the new owners. That night, unbeknownst to the new owners, the previous owners came in and cleared everything out. Everything. No notice, no indications. The keys had already been turned over. Why would anyone expect something like that to happen? Crisis is one of the best times to measure the quality of a person or business, so it has been very interesting to watch how every thing’s been handled. Here’s what they did:

– All customers were invited to the new owners other gym, which, while a less convenient location, was a much more extensive gym in size and equipment
– Personal trainers were allowed to work out with their customers at the other gym, even though that’s apparently is not allowed
– Customers were given individual attention with individual solutions provided to meet a wide variety of issues (even including small things like free locks for the new lockers since the old ones were all digital)

The new owners have handled this the best they could. Probably the only thing they did wrong was mis-set expectations. Originally, they had promised they would be fully up in a week. Then it was two, now three (though they do have some equipment back now). Having done many, many projects and dealing with many crisis, I was willing to bet in the moment that they could have a full gym back and running in 7 days, so it wasn’t a suprise. I give them an A+ for their grace under pressure, individual attention, and flexibility, but a D for overzealous expectation setting. Overall, though, they have done a great job so far.

While that was interesting though, there was also interesting dynamics going on for the members. The newer members who weren’t quite into a routine yet or who had just gotten comfortable with one set of equipment, were thrown into a new environment with new equipment and new people. The Saline gym was more families, college students, and beginners. Ypsilanti had more experienced body builders, business professionals, and people with experience. There were different types of equipment, and even the same machines worked a bit differently. As I talked to the people I knew, most of the beginners said they were just going to take the time off and wait until the old gym had new equipment in place. While they had been regular in Saline, the change was too much. It stopped their progress. It could even be devistating for some who never do pick it up again. Three weeks is a long time to break a routine and then try to pick it back up again. Even for me, 5 months in, the transition was strange and difficult. Routines are very helpful for beginners.

It is an interesting implication for learning. Consistency and pedictability help beginners. Learning the basics and getting a routine are key to establishing comfort. If the environment or the routine is changed before the person is ready to take the next step, they are more likely to discontinue their efforts. After introducing a new topic, sufficient time needs to be allowed for people to absorb and integrate the new skill before adding the next one. The amount of time varies from person to person and skill to skill. I was ready to move and even appreciated getting to try some different things. I’m pretty sure 3 months ago it wouldn’t have been the same.