Keeping Gym Clients on the Roster

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  • Keeping Gym Clients on the Roster

What does it take for a person to show up at the gym after they’ve paid their dues? What is the difference between the individual who exercises regularly and the one who drops the ball?

Scientific research suggests it may all boil down to competency and support. People need to feel good at what they’re doing and know others are in the game with them.

Recent psychology research on motivation calls this the self-determination theory (SDT). How interested a person is in continuing something is driven by how well an activity meets one’s need for autonomy, competence, and relatedness.

Exercisers are less likely to continue a fitness program if they are compelled by other people or by external forces such as fear of disease. Actions that are internally motivated, or freely chosen, are more likely to stand the test of time. So, someone who joins a health club because they want to find a new way to relax will stick around longer than someone pressured by a worksite incentive program.

Correspondingly, to sustain a fitness program or activity, one must feel capable at the exercise itself and find meaningful connections with others.

Member Retention

Comparing Gym Styles

Seems simple enough, but how does this all impact customer retention? If we consider fitness studios have higher retention rates than standard health clubs, we might find a grain of guidance.

Boutique studios and personal training centers enjoy 76% and 80% retention rates respectively, while health club retention rates range between mid-60% and 71%.

In the first two, boutique and personal training facilities,individuals are encouraged to learn and master a specific exercise in a group setting. Research published in Psychology Today shows competition creates a chain reaction within groups, accelerating and increasing an individual’s activity level. This pack mentality combined with a strong know-how spurs commitment.

This desire to learn with others crosses over into gyms. IHRSA stats state 44% of gym members work out with a partner and 40% of health club members join group exercise classes. Members who only use gym equipment are 56% more likely to cancel than those who exercise in groups.

Charting a Path To Success

What else can health clubs do to encourage and keep new customers? Don’t just leave them on their own – create a follow up plan. Data researcher and fitness industry expert Dr.Paul Bedford compared two groups of new members in the United Kingdom: one was given the standard, one-hour introductory orientation and the other was given the standard orientation plus three follow-up onboarding appointments with a coach. The results were significant. After six months, 87% of the onboarded members remained active, compared with 60% of those without the follow-up. At the end of the year, the gap between on-boarded and non-onboarded members grew significantly, with a 70% retention rate versus 38%. If competency is a key requirement to exercise adherence, than a strong initial introduction to your facility, coupled with clarifying the client’s personal goals, may engender long-lasting enthusiasm.


To grow the social aspect of motivation, engage with members.When a client stops attending, cancellation is almost always the next step. IHRSA research shows that fitness interactions with staff increase member visits while, at the same time, each additional time a member visits the gym reduces their likelihood of cancelling the next month by 33%.

So the more you communicate, the more committed a member is to staying with your center.

Friendships are important, too. If a club member makes friends, they are much more likely to promote your club rather than complain about it.

Final Thought

A gym focused on understanding new member motivations and helping them achieve those goals, is one that retains customers. And unlike what we may believe, those aspirations are not necessarily hyper-competitive or tied to unrealistic expectations. Psychology suggests simply feeling capable of doing something well, implementing that action for personal reasons, and being supported and recognized by others keeps us on our feet and in our exercise clothes.


Although it seems inconceivable, many gym members never make it in the door after signing up, and about half quit within six months.