The Science of Habit: Increasing Gym Attendance and Retention

Veronica Oquendo
19 January 2024

The most demanding workout for gym owners is keeping members engaged and signed up. Approximately 50% of new members drop out within the first six months, which can be due to many factors we can’t control. 

As gym owners, we must be more involved to keep members from canceling their memberships. Rather than dishing out uninspiring inductions and leaving members to fend for themselves, devise ways to encourage them to maintain a new exercise regime and learn to enjoy the process so that they see it as an essential cost they are happy to incur. 

Understanding the mechanics of habit formation will give you insights into what steps to take to help motivate your new and existing members and keep them coming in (and paying) consistently! 

The Psychology of Habit Formation

Habit formation is a powerful tool rooted in psychology that can transform the sporadic gym-goer into a regular. Understanding this process is key to helping your members stick to their fitness goals.

The Habit Loop

A habit consists of three elements: a cue (or trigger), a routine (the behavior itself), and a reward. Identifying these in the context of gym attendance can be a game-changer. 

  1. Identify and Create Effective Cues: Determine what naturally motivates your members. It could be time-based (early morning or after work) or event-based (after dropping kids at school). Use automated gym member software tools to set up motivational reminders or help members book classes around these times. 
  2. Develop Attractive Routines: Make the gym experience enjoyable and varied. Offer a range of classes, ensure personal trainers are approachable and knowledgeable, and regularly update workout playlists. Make the routine (working out) something members look forward to.
  3. Establish Reward Systems: Rewards solidify the habit loop and should align with what your members find valuable and motivating. 

Building Consistency

  1. Structured Scheduling: Use gym booking software to allow members to plan and book their workouts in advance. This will make it easier for members to commit to specific times and make exercise part of their daily schedule. 
  2. Consistency through Technology: Utilize apps or gym software where members can track their attendance, set reminders, and monitor their progress. This tech approach appeals to the modern gym-goer and reinforces their commitment. You can also offer online classes to make sure members continue their workouts if they can’t come in on a particular day.
  3. Creating Accountability: Establish accountability mechanisms, such as check-in systems or progress meetings with trainers. Members who feel accountable are likelier to stick to a routine.
  4. Encouraging Routine Habits: Educate members on the benefits of consistent exercise and provide tips for integrating gym time into their daily lives. This could be through workshops, newsletters, or social media content.

Small Wins Matter

  1. Recognition of Regular Attendance: Implement a system that acknowledges and rewards regular attendance. This could be a digital tracking system that celebrates milestones – like attending 10, 20, 50 sessions – with rewards or recognition on a ‘Wall of Fame’.
  2. Personalized Acknowledgment: Personal trainers and staff can play a crucial role in acknowledging these small wins. A simple congratulations, a shout-out during a class, or a personalized note can make members feel valued and seen.
  3. Social Media Features: Use social media to celebrate member achievements, which will help make them feel seen and motivated. Members are likely to share the features in their accounts, helping you reach more people with organic views. 

Learn more about marketing strategies for gym owners.

Monitoring Progress Beyond the Scale

Focusing solely on weight loss can be a narrow path, often leading to disappointment and demotivation. New members, especially those previously inactive, will notice significant improvements in several areas: endurance, recovery time, stamina, and changes in body composition, like gaining muscle and losing fat, even if their weight remains constant.

 Your job is to help members track these markers of progress so that they remain motivated throughout their journey. Consider measuring not just weight but also fitness benchmarks like cardiovascular health, strength, and flexibility. Regular progress check-ins, ideally monthly or even more frequently during their first year, can provide motivation and a sense of achievement. 

Each check-in is an opportunity to celebrate improvements and set new, personalized goals, like shaving a minute off their treadmill time or improving body composition by a certain percentage.

Leverage technology to keep track of this data and allow members to have monthly visibility of their progress! They will thank you for it. 

Community Building Events 

Regular social gatherings like appreciation days and holiday parties offer a relaxed setting for members to bond. Educational workshops on health and fitness topics provide valuable learning opportunities. Events collectively create a more inviting and cohesive gym environment, encouraging regular attendance.

Community building events contribute to gym habit formation in several ways:

  1. Sense of Belonging: Attending social events helps members feel more connected to the gym community. This sense of belonging can increase their motivation to visit the gym regularly.
  2. Routine Integration: Regularly scheduled events give members another reason to visit the gym, further integrating it into their weekly schedule.
  3. Positive Association: Fun and informative events create positive associations with the gym. Members start to view the gym not just as a place to work out but as a source of social and educational value.
  4. Accountability and Support: Building relationships with other members and staff through these events can increase accountability and support, encouraging consistent attendance.

Make an Impact!

Each member who walks through your gym doors carries unique goals and challenges. Nurturing an environment of encouragement and growth and continuously motivating them will increase retention rates and make a positive impact on their lives. You’re not just running a gym but creating a transformative space where every small victory is celebrated. 

Don’t leave money on the table; we can help you build lasting relationships and foster high retention rates. Book a free demo!