Health Promotion in Commercial Fitness Gyms - An analysis of organizational culture as an organization-specific premise for decision-making

European journal for Exercise Professionals

Health Promotion in Commercial Fitness Gyms - An analysis of organizational culture as an organization-specific premise for decision-making


Commercial fitness gyms often consider themselves as professional healthcare organizations and strive for co-operations with stakeholders of the healthcare system. For gym managers the decision to include exercise programmes into their portfolio of services is of vital importance. This article analyses whether the implementation of health-oriented exercise programmes in commercial fitness gyms, particularly against the background of the existing corporate culture, is feasible. First, the most important characteristics of a corporate culture are described from a theoretical perspective. Subsequently, the results of an empirical analysis are presented. They indicate that the integration of specific exercise programme services can be classified as economically reasonable. Fitness gyms have shed their idealistic identity and changed into market-oriented enterprises.


Thomas Rieger1
Michael Pfleger2

Business and Information Technology School (BiTS), Staatlich anerkannte private Hochschule, Reiterweg 26b, 58636 Iserlohn, Germany

1Thomas Rieger was the Chairman of the Standards Council of EuropeActive (2012-2015). He holds a Doctoral Degree in Social Sciences with a specialization in Sport Science (German PhD-equivalent) from the University of Tübingen and a Master Degree in Public Health. In 2007 he was appointed as a Professor of Sport Management at the Business and Information Technology School – BiTS in Iserlohn, Germany. At BiTS University he is Vice-Dean of the Bachelor Programme Sport & Event Management and the Master Programme International Sport & Event Management. He served as Visiting Professor at the Real Madrid Graduate School and the European University Cyprus in Nicosia. Before entering academia in 2006, he gained more than six years of work experience in the fitness industry, especially in the fields of fitness marketing and quality management.

2Michael Pfleger has studied at the Business and Information Technology School (BiTS) and holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Sport & Event Management. He served as a research associate within the Department of International Service Industries. Since 2015 he has been working for imagepeople, an agency for integrated communication in Stuttgart, Germany.


In the last three decades commercial fitness gyms have become a central element of the German sport system. According to the annually published statistics of Deloitte nine million people hold a membership in a commercial fitness gym (Deloitte & EuropeActive, 2016). Between 2000 and 2006 the fitness sector had to overcome a critical situation because of a declining number of members, though since 2007 the numbers have again steadily increased. Commercial fitness gyms are market-driven organizations with the need to open themselves for changes in their environment, to reflect decisions permanently and to adapt strategies for ensuring their economical existence. The increasing number of gyms led to competitive situations and to a professionalization of programs and services with the purpose to achieve differentiation. One effect was that the independent, owner-managed gyms lost market share for the benefit of fitness gym chains. In addition, services of health promotion have been successively included into the range. The qualitative and health-oriented optimization of gym equipment and the expansion of an intra-industry market for study programs in exercise and health sciences are indicators for a prioritization. Health and health promotion have become core components of the product policy of fitness gyms. Furthermore, it has to be mentioned, that beside the focusing on exercise, approaches of quality management have been integrated into the organizational structure not only to maintain and improve the operational efficiency but also for the successful implementation of exercise programmes (Eigenmann, 2004; Rieger, 2007). Currently the question whether these programmes fulfil the scientific quality requirements of exercise programmes (Bouchard, Blair & Haskell, 2006; Brehm, 1997; 1998) are mostly unacknowledged, because the primary organizational purpose of a commercial gym is not to improve the health status of its customers by providing scientific based exercise programs or a qualitative sports medical coaching, but rather to maximize profit.

At this point one question becomes relevant: Under which premises does a commercial fitness gym include a health promotion orientation or, even better, does it offer programs with a health promotion orientation or not? This article deals with the decision whether to implement health-oriented exercise programs or not. Taking into consideration, that „decisions are incidents, that occur in a certain moment and with their appearance already disappear“ (Luhmann, 1988, p. 168, author’s translation), it gets obvious, that a decision does not describe a process, it only determines the moment to differentiate the pre form the post. In order to answer the main question of this article, it is necessary to focus on the rules, which influence a decision, namely the organizational decision programmes (e.g., the organizational culture) (Luhmann, 2000). Accordingly, it has to be assumed that commercial fitness gyms differ from organizations of the healthcare system, because of their economic orientation.

The present article tries to give answers to the question under which premises health-oriented exercise programmes are implemented. Therefore, the current state of research will be illuminated. Afterwards a theoretical approach for the characterization of organizational decision programmes will be deduced. Within a qualitative empirical study in the region of East Westphalia/Germany owners of commercial fitness gyms have been interviewed. Against the background of the theoretical approach and the related empirical results implications regarding the feasibility of implementation of health-oriented exercise programmes are formulated.

State of Research

The current state of research about the commercial fitness gym as a specific type of organization reveals a lack of publications. Most of the literature makes the motivational structure of gym customers a subject of discussion (Schubert, 1998; Heinemann & Schubert, 1990; Kosinski & Schubert, 1989; Janssen, Wegner & Beyer, 1989). An analysis of the importance of exercise programmes was only accomplished with regard to these motivational structures. Several authors could identify a higher importance of health-related compared to other motives (Mrazek, 1988; Trillitzsch, 2004). The study of organizational structures was only taken up by some publications (Dreßler, 2003; Rampf, 1998; Sack & Hennrich, 1989; Dietrich, Heinemann & Schubert, 1990). A detailed characterization of organizational decision programmes in commercial fitness gyms has been left out of consideration. In this context the sports club3 research can rely on results with more solid evidence. Sports clubs have changed only marginally throughout the last years because of their tendency to an organizational closing (Baur & Braun, 2003; Emrich, 2005; Emrich, Pitsch & Papathanassiou, 2001 and others). Even these publications only deliver a minor contribution for the explanation of organizational decision programmes in sports organizations. Thiel and Meier (2004) submitted a remarkable publication, which characterizes the sports club as an immunological organization based on the organizational theoretical approach of Niklas Luhmann (2000). During its existence the sports club has learned to neutralize environmental influences like value changes or changes in the sport demand.

In summary, the current state of research is deficient. That is primarily because of the lacking research interest in sport science towards the fitness sector. Especially a missing theoretical approach to explain organizational decision-making obstructs answering the question, why commercial fitness gyms offer health-oriented exercise programs.

In the next step the main theoretical aspects of sports club research (Thiel & Meier, 2004; Thiel et al., 2006; Thiel & Mayer, 2010) should be deduced and afterwards be transferred to the commercial fitness gym as a different type of organization in the sport system.

Aspects of Organizational Theory

Organisations permanently make decisions. With regard to the main question it is necessary to analyse the reasons and premises for decisions in gyms. The basis for such a ‘decision-oriented’ consideration of organisations is issued by Luhmann’s sociological management approach. Thus, organisations construct and reconstruct themselves by the communication of decisions (Luhmann, 2000). A cluster of decisions arises from these decisions. Within this cluster every decision has a meaning for another decision, in other words, the organisation deals with decisions about decisions (Luhmann, 2000). Therefore, Luhmann introduces the term decision premises. These premises are basic decisions, build the structure of an organisation and provide an orientation for upcoming decisions. Two categories of premises have to be distinguished: the decidable decision premises and the non-decidable decision premises.

The first category is empirically observable and differentiated into (1) the decision programmes (Entscheidungsprogramme), „which define the objectives of the organization and the methods used to achieve them“ (Thiel & Mayer, 2010, p. 85, author’s translation), (2) the communication channels and (3) the human resources. The non-decidable premises can be described as informal values and traditions, which are not scrutinized by the members of the organisation. Luhmann uses the term organizational culture (2000), which fills a major role for analysing the main task of this paper. A complete analysis of the decision premises would exceed the scope of this paper. So the next step is to focus on the emergence and impact of organizational culture in commercial fitness gyms. From this point on it is possible to comprehend the decision process for the implementation of health-oriented exercise programmes.

The Organizational Culture as a part of the Social System

Before approaching the term organizational culture, a brief introduction of the concept of organizational learning must be prepended to ensure a better understanding of the functions of organizational culture.
Several sociological publications, which define learning as an adjustment process based on precise goals, identified two basic functions of organizational learning.

  1. A member of the organization learns to accomplish actions by referring to the goals and rules of the organization (Argyris & Schön, 1978).
  2. The organizational rules should be scrutinized by reflection. This type of organizational learning also implies that the organization does not learn directly by observing the relationship to its environment. Because of its autopoetic and self-referential orientation the organization has the ability to create the importance of irritations in its environment by itself (Baecker, 1999; Luhmann, 2000; Willke 1998). Changes in the environment are only perceived, when they seem to be relevant for the organization. Nevertheless, the parameters to evaluate this relevance are created by the organization. If the organization sees itself forced to change structures, this happens on the basis of internal developed criteria. Substantial structural changes can be the result, because the organization differentiates a dynamic system of self-reflection, which is permanently in search of necessities to adjust.

Out of these two functions of organizational learning arises a third one. The determination on specific premises leads inevitably to a permanent reflection of decisions (Luhmann, 2000; Thiel & Meier, 2004), which initiates an organizational hang-up and a restriction in the ability to act. Organizations need an orientation, which allows them to ensure the approval of decisions without reflecting permanently. This task is succeeded by the organizational culture (Luhmann, 2000). The culture is not called into question by the organization, it is composed of several non-decidable decision premises like traditions, common values and general accepted informal rules (Thiel & Meier, 2004).

In its development organizational culture is marked by contingency, because it emerges in its own system and based on the system’s operations (Thiel et al., 2006). Within the organization it is not contingent, but rather understood as an implicitness, which is accepted by everyone (Luhmann, 2000). The non-decidable decision premises work secretly and they participate unnoticeably in all decision processes. Moreover, they promote the community spirit within the organization.

Organizational culture emerges spontaneously and is a „redundant communication“ (Luhmann, 2000, p. 243, author’s translation). In order to ensure that decisions are accepted, the organizational culture has furthermore the task to reduce uncertainty, as it generates intimacy with its informal rules, provides stability for the system and enables to distinguish from other systems (Luhmann, 2000; Thiel et al., 2006). The concealment and informality of organizational culture influence the capability to react flexibly to environmental changes much clearer than the decidable decision premises. This does not mean, that culture is not adaptable, but it is “more stable than the decidable decision premises” (Thiel et al., 2006, p. 31, author’s translation). Especially in organization with poorly defined decidable decision premises, the organizational culture gains importance when it comes to evaluate environmental changes. To put it simple in terms: porous and non-stringent decidable decision premises, namely decision programs, communication channels and human resources are combined with a stable and dominant organizational culture, which is very slow and of limited adaptability (Walgenbach, 1999). In contrast, clear decision premises are rather combined with a sub-stable culture, which is more adaptable and able to respond more flexible to changes in the environment of the organization.

Referred to Kieser a change of organizational culture requires the formulation of guiding principles, since this makes contours of the organizational culture visible (Kieser, 1999). To recognize informal premises can interfere the stability of the organization, because guiding principles are directly related to the interests, intentions and conflicts of the organizational members (Luhmann, 2000). In this context, the organizational culture creates the possibility of a comprehensive organizational change, which simultaneously questions the organizational structure and leads to a disorientation that “can only be compensated by decisions successively” (Thiel et al., 2006, p. 32, author’s translation).

The introduced theoretical approach should be transferred to the commercial fitness gym as a specific organizational type. As already mentioned, commercial fitness gyms are economic enterprises and act on the basis of the premises of the economic system with the main goal to maximize profit (Rieger, 2007; Thiel, 1997). Commercial fitness gyms have, like all economic enterprises, a clear recognizable target structure, which can be differentiated in main goals and subgoals. This reveals a distinction to voluntary sports clubs. Their target structure does not show a comparable system, subgoals are difficult to identify. In commercial fitness gyms explicit guidelines for communication channels prevail, which were built up on power and hierarchy. While a sports club manager needs a democratic legitimation for implementing to programmes or hire people (Thiel et al., 2006), the gym manager can enforce his ideas against employees will. The communication channels comprise positions, which are filled up with full-time employees with a professional knowledge. In voluntary sports clubs the recruitment process is often influenced by private relationship between its members. A fitness instructor needs expertise to fulfil his tasks appropriately. All these characteristics show that commercial fitness gyms have clear defined decidable decision premises (decision programs, communication channels, human resources). At this point it can be assumed that commercial fitness gyms are thoroughly adaptable especially by regarding the organizational culture in combination with the distinct decision programmes, communication channels and human resources. The premises for changes of the organizational culture are favourable. Regarding the history of the commercial fitness market obvious changes in the mission statements have taken place. Starting with the 80’s the commercial fitness market was primarily dominated by performance-oriented weight training with a ‘No Pain-No Gain-Mentality’. During the last fifteen years the mission statements of commercial fitness gyms have significantly changed in favour of health-oriented statements (Rieger, 2007; Zarotis et al., 2003). The main reasons for this change are the diversified market situations. Health-oriented goals play a major part in the motive structure of gym customers. This key information is selected by the organization and supports the decision-making process. Commercial fitness gyms are as economic enterprises directly affected by market influences. It has to be assumed that it is vital for commercial fitness gyms to react on the motive-related irritations from the surroundings with a reflection or even a adaption of mission statements, because a customer orientation gets more and more important as a result of the intensive competitive situation on the fitness market (Covell et al. 2007; Rieger, 2007; Trillitzsch, 2004). This market orientation implies an adaptable character of the organizational culture.

Furthermore, the risks, which are connected with an organizational change, are small in economic enterprises, because in commercial organizations “positions (Stellen) have the responsibility for the maintenance of the system” (Thiel et al., 2006, p. 33, author’s translation). Each and every day holder of positions make a contribution for the attainment of the primary organization’s purpose in the decision-making framework (Japp, 1992). At this point it is has to be assumed that the organizational culture does not hinder an organizational change. It is more the decidable decision premises, which are opposed to a change, especially if it works against the primary organizational purpose: the maximization of profit. Health-oriented exercise programmes are also affected. Their implementation is a subject to very tight limits, if they are classified as problematic from an economical point of view.

The Implementation of a Health Promotion Orientation

Against the background of the current results commercial fitness gyms are dynamic, flexible and innovative organizations. Health promotion orientation seems to be implementable, if it supports the organizational purpose. The organizational culture appears to be more adaptable than in non-profit-organizations.

In preparation for the empirical analysis the theoretical results should be summarized relating to Thiel et al. (2006) and be transferred to the decision problem in commercial fitness gyms whether to implement programmes with a health promotion orientation or not.

First, it is necessary to place the concrete decision for or against health promotion programs in the centre of consideration. As decisions are not made independently, a selection of information takes place, which helps to make the right decision in relation to the organizational purpose. An orientation towards information like market developments or demander’s needs is only realizable on the basis of decision premises.

As an economic organization a commercial fitness gym is marked by organizational knowledge and a clear defined system of objectives. All decisions derive from the pressure for economic efficiency. One mentionable example is the realization of current fitness trends in the product policy, particularly for the group training offers.4 Programmes, trends and ideas will be connectable in the organization as long as they make economically sense. Commercial fitness gyms have developed detailed and fixed rules to secure organizational knowledge. This indicates a major importance of decision programmes for economic enterprises and hence also for commercial fitness gyms.

As mentioned before, the decision-making structure of commercial fitness gyms is also influenced by the organizational culture. Due to its concealment it only appears empirically observable, if the self-conception is scrutinized.

The implementation of exercise programmes, especially by taking quality management aspects into consideration, is a manifest intervention for the organization. With regard to the old-fashioned ‘no pain-no gain’-orientation and the necessity to earn money, the decision whether to implement or not leads to a reflection of organizational culture and thus to a discussion about self-conception. The implementation does not end with the decision, if pro or contra health promotion, because such decisions initiate long-term processes, which could be undone. For example, the satisfaction of customers is a key aspect. A permanent dissatisfaction must entail an intervention. Hence, it is possible that specific exercise programme will be included or excluded.

Derivation of Research Questions

Organizational culture always moves into the foreground, when serious decisions in organizations – like the implementation of health-oriented exercise programmes – have to be made. The characterization of decision-making structures in order to organizational cultural aspects has to be underlined empirically. Therefore, the made assumptions have to be operationalized. The following questions can be derived:

  • Are there characteristics or developments with a special significance?
  • Which kind of traditions can be identified?
  • Have there been any changes in the product policy since the opening?
  • Is the economical development satisfying?
  • Why are health-oriented exercise programmes offered?
  • Which significance have health-oriented exercise programmes?


The aim of the empirical study was not to reproduce a representative illustration of exercise program offers in commercial fitness gyms, rather than to deeply illuminate the organizational cultural premises for the implementation of health promotion orientation in the form of exercise programs.

For the study in the region East Westphalia/Germany a qualitative empirical design has been developed, composed of expert interviews and a documentary analysis. Apart from questions concerning developed values and traditions, purpose and conditional programmes, personal recruitment and communication channels have mainly been analysed.

The size of the analysed fitness gyms is between 400 and 1.800 square meters. All of them have an equipped gym floor, a group training area and a spa. Furthermore, they offer exercise programmes in cooperation with different health insurances in the framework of § 20 of the German social security code.

The empirical design consciously relies on a qualitative approach, because it was necessary to take a ‘deeper look’ into the organizations. It is not possible to ensure the realization of this requirement with quantitative methods. In total, eleven owners and managers of commercial fitness gyms have been interviewed (Table 1). All interviews were recorded on a tape and afterwards a transcript was written. The analysis of information brochures, workout schedules and advertising brochures completed the empirical design.

Table 1 - Interview Study – Overview

Interview Study    
Owners/Managers of Commercial Fitness Gyms 11 Interviews
651 Interview Minutes
(10,85 Interview Hours)
Minimal Length 41 mins
Maximal Length 76 mins
Average 59 mins

Qualitative Evaluation

In the beginning of the research study the knowledge about organizational sociological premises for the implementation of health-oriented exercise programmes and its actual dissemination in commercial fitness gyms was low and the need for transparency and information was high. Methods of the qualitative evaluation research were used to find out the organization-specific reasons if and why owners and responsible managers decide for or against such an implementation.

Qualitative studies do not aim for a representative status, but rather seek for a detailed acquisition of the subject. A complete survey would only allow a superficial description of the organizational structure.

Document Analysis

Considering the amount of already existing material like market statistics, information and advertising brochures, training schedules and anamnesis the document analysis was integrated into the research design. It supplements the expert interviews, because of its non-reactive character (Mayring, 2002). The documents have been collected, analysed and evaluated.

The evaluation of the empirical data was accomplished by using the qualitative content analysis by Mayring (2003).


It was problematic to illustrate an organizational culture empirically. This is chiefly due to the fact, that the culture does not appear openly to the outside and works invisibly (Thiel et al., 2006). Therefore, it was not possible to fall back on a proven empirical instrument. This deficit was compensated through creating an information basis about traditions, corporate history and fundamental values with the aim to illuminate the self-conception and then to derive essential characteristics about the organizational culture.

Self-Conception of Commercial Fitness Gyms

The commercial fitness gyms chosen for the research had different firm ages. The oldest provider started in 1977 and the youngest in 2000. Reflecting the different developments in the histories of the examined providers, it became obvious, that a rethinking process had taken place, centred on entrepreneurial thinking:

“Formerly, when I started with my gym, I was a sportsman, who had a gym as a part-time work. And nowadays it is the other way, now I am the person, who manages everything and besides I exercise” (Interviewee 10, p. 7 of transcript, author’s translation).

For the clarification of possible changes in the self-conception interviewees were asked about the reasons, why they decided for a self-employment in the commercial fitness market. The majority of respondents referred to the high identification potential of fitness activities and relativized the necessity of a professional corporate management during the pioneering days of the commercial fitness sector. Considering the motives to become self-employed, interviewee No. 7 said:

“Because I am very interested in fitness and I do training. And because I totally support fitness ... I would not like to sell unhealthy products“ (Interviewee 7, p. 8 of transcript, author’s translation).

A professionalization of operational and sales processes was not relevant in the past, because “we just opened the gym door and the people came” (Interviewee 9, p. 2 of transcript, author’s translation). Tendencies toward professionalization in the commercial fitness industry made a contribution to overcome old and to develop new mission statements in the related organizations and thus initiated changes in the self-conception. The importance of commercial interests moves to the foreground and is directly related to the developments of the market and the general economic circumstances:

“Right now I think differently, today I do it to earn money ... because I bear a big risk“ (Interviewee 1, p. 9 of transcript, author’s translation).

Interviewer: “Are you satisfied with the development of your business?“

Interviewee No. 3: “It could be better. The market situation is a disaster. Well, when we started ten years ago, we had the biggest gym here in East-Westphalia and … we were so new, all the other gyms were hardcore bodybuilding gyms … and afterwards they shot up like mushrooms … Within one kilometer there are meanwhile seven gyms.“

Interviewer: „The competitive situation is critical?“

Interviewee No. 3: „It is catastrophic” (Interviewee 3, p. 6 of transcript, author’s translation).

All corporate histories of the analysed gyms were marked by one specific characteristic. Radical market-related changes led to so far not necessary adaptions in strategic marketing, because “you have to make more serious efforts, more marketing, more advertising campaigns, you need more innovative ideas to even make the people come to the gym” (Interviewee 9, p. 10 of transcript, author’s translation). Main reason for these adaptions was mostly the dramatic development of the cost situation, which should be compensated by focusing on sales activities:

“Because of the costs, which occurred for example through the state you can recognize that you need nearly fifty members more per year to generate the same profit and that frightens me” (Interviewee 8, p. 12 of transcript, author’s translation).

These reactions to influences indicate a change in the self-conception. Due to the empirical material a development from idealistic to service-oriented organizations has taken place. Evidences can be found in numerous interview sections and documents:

“Of course you have to balance, what the prospective customer wants. For somebody how wants to take part in a group workout or to train his endurance, it is not useful to offer a preventive back training. You can offer, but you have to listen carefully, what the people want. You must be customer-oriented in that moment” (Interviewee 7, p. 2 of transcript, author’s translation).

“How did you find about us? Why do you start with exercising? Which wishes do you have, which exercise goals do you want to achieve? Which body parts do you want to train? What do you think how long you have to exercise to achieve your goals?” (Anamnestic Questionnaire Gym 2, p. 1, author’s translation).

Aspects of customer orientation become more and more important, but are not internalized by all organizations:

Interviewer: “A prospective consumer subscribes a member. What comes next?”

Interviewee 4: “Health check consisting of body fat measurement, blood pressure measurement, mobility test, endurance test, a complete anamnesis … including health problems, sport-related experience, goals, possible training frequency, surgeries, chronic diseases like osteoporosis, rheumatism … acute symptoms” (Interviewee 4, p. 12 of transcript, author’s translation).

A comprehensive training guidance and assistance at the beginning of a gym membership is an indication of professionalism, but this does not necessarily mean customer orientation as well, because the quantity and quality of this process should be related to customers’ needs. During the interviews it became apparent, that the product orientation overlaps the customer orientation. This attitude is latently based on existing idealistic influences and is represented in the understanding of quality:

"Well, at least we are committed to fitness with high standard, that simply means quality of guidance and assistance. People do not come here just for fun, we accomplish a complete health check, which is also offered by other gyms, but the important question is always: What is behind? How much know-how is behind that” (Interviewee 4, p. 5 of transcript, author’s translation).

Summarizing the results for the self-conception of commercial fitness gyms it is obvious, that a professionalization process has taken place, which is accompanied by a change of self-conception. They understand themselves as qualitative sport service suppliers. The decipherment of the term quality occurs differently. While some suppliers equate quality with product orientation, others realized the necessity of customer orientation and set up their processes accordingly. In the opinion of the interviewed managers professionalism and quality are directly connected to the implementation of exercising programs. How far this appreciation has been strengthened in the organizations should be shown in the following.

Organizational Culture and Health Promotion

The empirical results revealed a high willingness to change the range of offered services. This seems to indicate minor barriers for the implementation of exercising programmes with a health promotion orientation. The majority of respondents see economic advantages in relation to exercising programmes and services:

"In the past people mainly joined a fitness gym with the motive to build muscles. Things have changed dramatically. People go to a fitness gym to stay healthy, to strengthen their back, to improve their motor function and their endurance“ (Interviewee 6, p. 1 of transcript, author’s translation).

Advantages of a specialization in exercising result from the "activities of the health insurances, who permanently push that topic into the foreground, it becomes more and more important in people’s perception. And the grants ... which are offered by the insurances are very attractive for the members“ (Interviewee 6, p. 1 of transcript, author’s translation).

These prejudices necessarily result in a more health-oriented supply, because there is a durable necessity for the supplier, to orientate himself according to the demanders’ requirements. The necessity is even existential according to this statement:

“I believe that if we did not have these health promoting offers: Would we still be there? Probably not. Therefore it is clear according to the market position, also the realm of interests, but mostly the market position. We have to position ourselves in that scope and in our case that is especially the health sector. In other gyms, they just got fitness and strength training, nothing concerned with health” (Interviewee 3, p. 14 of transcript, author’s translation).

Within the theoretical considerations of this article, it was already mentioned that decision programmes, communication channels and the staff take a commanding appointment. Therefore, it is possible to implement programmes which help to achieve the primary organizational purpose. Furthermore, it was possible to ascertain a transformation towards professionalization of the management in the last subchapter. In what way does a strength training oriented culture affect the necessity to differentiate health offers? The values, according to how a gym was controlled and supplied his products, haven’t been marked with health-related issues in the earlier years, because

“twenty years ago, one left the roots of bodybuilding and it was all about beauty and gaining muscles…about a complete new kind of sport in general” (Interviewee 11, p.1 of transcript, author’s translation).

This change is also recognizable because of the change and the restructuring of technical equipment:

“Well, concerning the equipment you can say that at the beginning there was an upright bike, but no courses. It was quite small at the beginning, but over the years, the cardio area was remarkably expanded and professionalized. Meanwhile, we own more than 40 pieces of cardio equipment” (Interviewee 10, p. 5 of transcript, author’s translation).

The organizational culture is expressed intensely, if, for instance, conflicts concerning the implementation of innovative programmes occur or not occur. There is no controversy arising at the explanation of the empirical material; a health oriented reorientation was conflict-free completed.

The commercial attractiveness is too dominant:

“Primarily it is of course the commercial aspect, we started to question ourselves, what we can still do with our grounds? We have got a lot of customers…and we believe that we are able to attach even more customers because of the health oriented sector of sports and fitness” (Interviewee 6. p. 7 of transcript, author’s translation).

Demand satisfactory innovations are connectable without internal conflicts. Organizational culture does not develop a defense mechanism in order to prevent such an implementation.

But in what case does such a defense mechanism get promoted? At all times, if the commercial traceability of certain supplies or structures is questioned because of indirectly caused impacts (Thiel et al. 2006, p. 41). An Important achievement of the empirical investigation was the fact, that health promoting exercise programmes frequently go hand in hand with the necessity of orienting towards quality.

“In my opinion it will be further important to provide quality in the fitness sector. The members and new members should say: Oh yeah, right here we are treated like human beings. There is a certain quality” (Interviewee 5, p. 24 of transcript, author’s translation).

An investment in quality does not mean to underestimate the investments according to the declarations of the operators; especially if it is about certification of offers by external institutions or associations:

“Each seal is not recognized by everybody. If it was about that, you were ought to own a lot of seals and that is a matter of money. It is very expensive and it has to be re-examined every year. And every year you have to pay it again” (Interviewee 3, p. 12 of transcript, author’s translation).

Within a difficult business situation, the question arises, to what extent, organizational culture is impeding the continuation of expensive programmes. As a result of cost reduction, it would not be possible to fulfill the quality requirements, which health programmes are ought to have, “because if you reduce the costs, quality is suffering as well” (Interviewee 1, p. 8 of transcript, author’s translation). Similar arguments can be found in the following statements:

“Like in every company, you would act then and emphasize different aspects that would be more interesting under an economical view” (Interviewee 7, p. 15 of transcript, author’s translation)

Question: “Would you release cost intensive staff?”

Interviewee 6: “Sure, we already did that in the last years. As I told you, we now have got only one certainly employed and four temporary employed people in the gym” (Interviewee 6, p. 14 of transcript, author’s translation).

Organizational culture operates in stages of economical problems. Commercial conditioned incisions in quality of health promoting offers can be completed without conflicts, although the suppliers act as quality-oriented exercise service providers in the external image.5


Decision-making processes in commercial gyms are influenced by their organizational culture. Models of mutability and resistance depend on organizational culture to a certain extent. This is the case by regarding the question if and to what extent decision-making processes can be kicked off, which are not fitting to the self-image of an organization, but are important for change processes.

The decision for expansion of the health-oriented service spectrum follows a previous modification. As a result of intensification of competitive situations, such strategic options gradually got access to the facilities that were no longer idealistic marked, but were distinguished by a strict economical character. In this context, this can be named as a pressure of professionalization. According to the empirical material, we can determine a transformation from idealism to market orientation.

Not every changing process necessarily has to go hand in hand with a change in self-understanding. A specialization in the health sector leads to a modification of the spectrum of supply, communication and in the personal structure, because a health promoting programme is oriented towards the fitness demanders. Therefore, no organizational change has to be done. Because of their merchantability and the public acceptance, health promoting offers refer to the identity of commercial gyms. If gyms experience economic trouble despite professionalized health orientation, conflicts would appear. The maintenance of a necessary level of quality requires enormous financial efforts and money that is probably not available to that extent. Expensive health programmes as profit generating products are inevitably questioned and other options, such as discount strategies become connectable.

3In the German sport system the term (sports) club always refers to voluntary (non-profit) sports organizations with significant differences to economic enterprises (Thiel & Mayer, 2009).
4Trends in group training are subject to a short product life cycle, so that the returns are also limited to a short period of time.

5One supplier even changed his corporate slogan from “Where fitness is fun” into “Where health is fun”.


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