Retention, retention, retention. The fitness industry is continually seeking bigger and better ways to retain members. The problem is that many facilities simply bring new members in the door, provide a basic orientation and set them free—free to slowly lose interest in attaining their fitness goals and coming to the gym. This occurs frequently. In fact, according to the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association (IHRSA), the membership attrition rate is currently 34.5% a year (IHRSA 2012).

However, your business does not have to follow this pattern. If you motivate members to remain active and you make them feel welcome, you are more likely to retain them as clients.

Setting Goals

The first step to jump-starting your clients’ motivation is to help them set realistic, specific fitness goals that include a deadline. Here are some sample goals:

  • Lose 15 pounds by March 1, 2013
  • Drop 2 sizes by April 15, 2013
  • Run in the local 5K in May 2013

The deadline will push members to get the most out of their exercise program. To keep them moving forward, regularly remind them of their intended outcomes. When they reach their goals, help them set new goals that take them to the next level. Plus, praise them for the results they have already achieved! Having a healthier life and body can be incredibly motivating and empowering in and of itself.

An important tool in goal setting is charting progress, so ask exercisers to keep a journal. First have them list all the reasons they are exercising. This list provides them with reinforcement to keep working out. Then ask them to track their progress, including exercises completed, weights used and number of sets and repetitions. Seeing incremental improvement—whether it’s improved time, increased reps or more workouts—boosts exercise motivation. In fact, in a study at Columbia University, women who had a written plan exercised twice as much as those who did not (Rossi 2010).

Offering Incentives

Rewarding members with a variety of incentives goes a long way toward making them feel appreciated and supported. The key is to offer programs that get people excited about participating in gym activities. Consider these creative ideas.

Play a game. Have members earn points for certain activities, such as attending a fitness class, taking a nutrition seminar, providing a referral or meeting with a personal trainer. At the end of each month, award prizes to the three members with the highest point totals. The prizes could be a gym bag, a T-shirt and a water bottle, branded with your business logo. A fun challenge for members, this game can also provide free advertising for your fitness facility.

Run special competitions. Here’s an example: Sponsor a contest in which participants track how many miles they walk or run on the treadmill every time they come to the gym. At the end of the contest, award prizes to the three participants who walked/ran the most miles. Create themes that tie in with seasons, holidays or sporting events (for example, March Madness or the Olympics). Contests should last 4–6 weeks. If they last any longer than that, clients may lose interest. Use a big, bright visual, such as a colorful chalkboard or dry-erase board, to display each member’s progress.

Recognize enrollment anniversaries. Show your appreciation for continued membership by giving inexpensive gifts on clients’ enrollment anniversaries. Low-cost gifts include gift certificates to local restaurants, movie tickets or personalized gym towels. This practice demonstrates that you value your members’ dedication to their own fitness and to your facility.

Fostering Member Relationships

Increasing the interaction among members helps people get to know one another. Your facility becomes a meeting place for friends, in addition to being a place to work out. The following activities promote togetherness and encourage members to mingle.

Organize special clubs. Individualized groups help participants meet like-minded members. Examples include clubs for beginning exercisers, women only, men only, bikers, runners and new moms. An organized buddy system is another useful tool for new clients who may not yet know anyone at your facility.

Publicly recognize achievements. Acknowledging your members’ triumphs increases their feeling of belonging. Plus, with this information they can encourage others to continue their efforts. Post a bulletin board that boasts members’ accomplishments. For example, “John Smith completed a 5K charity walk” or “Amy Jones lost 15 pounds.” Dedicate a section to members’ birthdays, and even develop a “member of the month” program. Include photos as often as possible when recognizing client achievements.

Create leagues. Based on your facility’s existing amenities, you can create specific leagues or teams for sports like basketball, tennis or swimming. Schedule regular times for these groups to meet and play their specific sport. Depending on participants’ wishes, the teams can be competitive or recreation-based. Forming teams helps connect people who might otherwise never meet (Pire 2008).

Create a buddy system. Working out regularly with a partner will improve adherence tremendously. Pair clients who are at similar fitness stages and have similar goals. Help buddies to encourage each other and become mutually accountable.

Sending Motivation Sky-High

Motivation plays a key role in whether clients stick with their exercise regimen. People sign up when they are highly motivated. If you can keep their motivation levels high over time, clients will get more value from their membership and continue to exercise for the long term. Keeping your members motivated is one of the best ways to boost customer loyalty and strengthen your retention rate. It will reduce attrition, increase referrals to your facility and help you sell more products and services.

Are you a club owner or manager? Gain, train and retain world class staff with the fastest growing health club software in the world: