Behind all of the sets, reps, and grueling workouts, lost in the shuffle are the values behind what we do in fitness. Values start with us and they also start with the organizations we belong to. While there are countless great fitness organizations and companies out there, the YMCA is near, if not at the top of the list.


The YMCA might not be the most cutting-edge gym. Nor is the YMCA necessarily filled with hard bodies or state-of-the-art equipment. What the YMCA does have however is a genuine sense of community built in and around its core values.


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What We Can Learn From the YMCA Core Values

When it comes to the YMCA, I’m a bit biased. I am a Y guy and proud of it. While it’s been many years since I worked for the YMCA, the Y is where I got my start in fitness and I learned a great deal while working there.


Not only did I learn the ropes as an instructor, but I learned a lot about people. The YMCA is a gym, and the Y is recreational center, but most importantly, the Y is a place where people across this nation come together to establish community. The YMCA is a microcosm of society at large. You might think an organization named the “Young Man’s Christian Association” would be exclusionary in terms of its membership. You’d be dead wrong.


In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. You need not be a man or Christian. In my years at the YMCA, I worked with and beside people of every different ethnicity, age, religious affiliation, and sexual orientation. What people at the YMCA do share are core values and a desire to make their community better.


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Campers at YMCA camp in Huguenot, New York make their own maple syrup.


As long as you’re willing to adhere to the YMCA core values (and I can’t imagine someone not being willing), anyone can be a part of the Y. One look at those values and you can see why the Y is both inclusive and successful (the YMCA is the ninth biggest non-profit organization in the United States).


Most companies talk about taking care of customers or providing outstanding service, but the small print behind the typical corporate mission statement is always the same - maximize profit. While there is nothing wrong with making money, values can be compromised when profit reigns supreme. But with the YMCA, it starts and ends with these four values:



Care (def:) “effort made to do something correctly, safely, or without causing damage.”


Caring for yourself means taking good care of your mind, body, and spirit. These are symbolically represented in the YMCA’s triangle logo. Caring also means caring for the bodies, minds, and spirits of those around you. When you start with the principle of caring, you show up because the work matters, because you matter, and because your neighbor also matters.


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At a community setting like a YMCA you become a participant in something bigger than just working out for you. Not only are there fitness programs, but there are support groups, community outreach programs, and even the opportunity to volunteer and give back to those around you. The real meaning of fitness, as it is in medicine, is to do no harm and practice wellness. The YMCA shows us that it starts with caring.



(def:) “A feeling or understanding that someone or something is important, serious etc. and should be treated in an appropriate way.”


My favorite word in the English language might be respect. Respect is the cornerstone of everything we do in and around our lives in fitness. Success in any endeavor starts with self-respect and ends with respect for others.


Because the YMCA represents such a wide cross-section of people, I quickly learned that if I were to reach people in fitness, I would have to do so with respect. Teaching a room full of seniors in a Silver Sneakers class required respect in the same way that teaching a room full of boxers or martial artists also demands respect.


The YMCA has been a mainstay in fitness since the mid 1800s because its doors are open to all. The YMCA demonstrates that respect (and fitness) should be afforded to everyone regardless of age, income, race, or creed. People who are different, disabled, and disadvantaged are respectfully encouraged to grow and participate right next to those who are able-bodied and fit. As you learn at the Y, practicing fitness in any capacity demands respect.


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YMCA Board of Directors, Fuzhou, Fujian, China - 1920.



(def:) “The quality of being fair and truthful.”


Honesty is the best policy, as the saying goes, but the problem in the fitness industry is that honesty is not always the most profitable policy. At the YMCA, there are no ulterior motives because an ulterior motive is by its nature dishonest.


Honesty is essential when it comes to health and wellness, both individually and collectively. All growth requires hard work, discipline, and honesty. I’ve never met anyone who achieved a goal and sustained it without giving him- or herself a proper dose of honesty.


Another word associated with honesty is humility. Humility can be in short supply at that swanky cutting-edge gym, but any time honesty or humility is absent, it’s a sure bet that real results won’t last. I’ll take the honest approach that the YMCA fosters any day.



(def:) “Something you should do because it’s morally right, legally required, etc.”


If there’s a core value lacking from our culture it is this one. Responsibility is absolutely critical when it comes to the ability to get and stay well.


Responsibility is the ability to respond - to take a stand. The YMCA realizes it has a responsibility to not only its members, but to the community at large. As an example, the YMCA teams up with groups like America on the Move to help combat our nation’s obesity epidemic. This greater sense of responsibility is at the crux of establishing health, wellness, and fitness. The YMCA reminds us that responsibility runs deep - to ourselves, to our neighbors, and to society at large.


Values are the foundation of what we do in life, and certainly this is also the case when it comes to our lives in fitness. Our core values define not just our physical lives, but transcend the unity of our body, mind, and spirit. The YMCA embodies what fitness should ultimately be about - caring, respect, honesty, and responsibility.


Photo 1 by Cryptic C62 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

Photos 2&3 licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.