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Managing Peak Times at Your Facility

We’ve all seen it. The eye-rolling, the foot-tapping, the loud sighing as the member who is waiting in line for the much-sought-after cardio machine stares at the clock. This scene is all too common during peak exercise times at any health club. The lines for the treadmills and elliptical machines get longer and longer, and the group exercise classes get more and more crowded. In fact, according to the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association (IHRSA), you can expect 10%–12% of your members to use the facility during peak hours (IHRSA 2011). Depending on the size of your membership, this can be a significant number of people. The good news is that there are steps managers can take to prevent and diffuse these situations, thereby helping members remain satisfied.

Peak exercise times occur both seasonally and daily. Seasonally, the most crowded times are from January through March, when individuals are working on their New Year’s resolutions to lose weight, and again from September through October, when children are going back to school and many mothers have time to start a workout program. Similarly, on a daily basis, fitness facilities tend to be most crowded before the regular workday, during lunchtime and after work. For the success of your business, it’s important that you pay particular attention to managing wait times and accommodating members during those months and hours.


The first step to pleasing exercisers is to prevent the lines and crowds in the first place. Try these strategies to keep things flowing smoothly at your facility.

Post sign-up sheets. Create sign-up sheets for your most popular cardio machines, so members sign up for a certain time slot on a machine. This way, people know when they will have the opportunity to use the machine of their choice, and they can engage in other exercise activities while they wait.

Enforce time limits. During peak times, it is crucial to set time limits for machine use (typically 45–60 minutes max per person). When an exerciser’s time is up, make sure that person gets off the machine so the next member can use it.

Ask people to register for classes. For maximum safety and to avoid overcrowding, limit the number of participants in a group exercise class. Ask members to register ahead of time for the class they’d like to attend. Let people know that walk-ins are welcome if a class is not full before it begins.


Even with these prevention strategies in place, you may still have unhappy members who do not want to wait to use a piece of equipment or who become upset at not being able to participate in the class they’re interested in. This is actually an excellent opportunity to introduce these members to machines, exercises and classes they’re not familiar with. Many individuals stick with the same old routine. Here you have a chance to help these members expand their fitness regimen: redirect them to new cardio machines, show them new weight exercises or encourage them to try a group exercise class they haven’t experienced. Most of the time, members will be happy to find new ways to increase and vary their fitness routine.

Off-Peak Memberships

Because of their work schedules and other time commitments, many people do not have the luxury to exercise during off-peak times. But for those with a more flexible schedule, a reduced-price off-peak membership could be enticing. An off-peak membership allows members to exercise only during nonpeak hours, such as late mornings and mid-afternoons. Two immediate results will occur when you offer off-peak memberships:

  • New members will sign up to take advantage of the lower price.
  • Some existing members will switch to the off-peak membership to take advantage of the lower price (Rooshanak 2011).

Having more members use your facility during off-peak times frees up space during peak hours. This unique marketing strategy can help reduce crowding and shorten wait times during peak hours, and ultimately it can increase revenue and memberships.

Get Creative

If none of these tactics is successful, then it’s time to get creative. First, suggest that members share equipment. This is not realistic when it comes to cardio machines, but with most other equipment—such as dumbbells, weight machines, exercise balls and resistance bands—it is. Suggest that members pair up and take turns using these items over a number of sets. What if some members simply want to wait for a specific machine? Then rather than have them stand around feeling irritated, consider setting up a small area in your facility with a few computers where members can check their email or surf the Internet while they wait.

Nearly all fitness facilities experience crowds and lines during peak exercise times. How you choose to handle these inevitable wait times says a lot about your facility and its commitment to customer service.

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