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Is a focus on weight loss causing members to leave your gym?
It doesn’t matter what market you operate in, or what sort of gym you run: member retention is likely to be one of the biggest challenges facing your business on a day-to-day basis.
Of course, there’s no silver bullet: there are a myriad reasons why a member might decide to leave your gym.
One recurring reason, however, is that members have set out with unrealistic expectations. They then leave when they (almost inevitably) fail to achieve those goals.
Our job as fitness providers is to ensure members set out on their fitness journey with an ambitious, inspiring, potentially even life-changing goal in mind – but crucially, one that’s realistic. It’s about setting goals and tracking progress in such a way that members are constantly motivated to keep going.
At face value, setting a weight-loss goal might seem realistic – and yet monitoring weight has much to answer for when it comes to losing members.
Time and again, we see people demoralized and demotivated when the bathroom scales haven’t shifted in the way they’d hoped. The outcome? In the majority of cases, they end up leaving the gym.
When we focus purely on the number on the scales, we’re ignoring the changes in our body composition: the fact that, even if our overall weight stays the same, we will likely have lost body fat and gained muscle mass – making us healthier, boosting our metabolism, and helping us drop clothes sizes even as our actual weight remains unchanged.
We’re also ignoring all the other positive things that are happening inside our bodies as soon as we start exercising.
To help keep members coming back for the long-term, it’s vital that we help them understand why monitoring their weight is, in fact, one of the worst ways to gauge their progress.
So what should we be focusing on?
Dr Jinger Gottschall of Penn State University in the US and Bryce Hastings, head of research at Les Mills International, carried out a study called Get Fit Together, which focused on a group of individuals who were struggling to establish an exercise habit.
The group started with three exercise sessions each week: 20 minutes in week one, slowly increasing in frequency and duration until they were doing the recommended mix of cardio, strength and flexibility training by the end of week six. They were monitored for a total of six months, with health checks carried out at the beginning and end of the study.
As expected, six months of regular exercise transformed their health, lowering all indicators for heart disease: their cholesterol, triglycerides and fat mass were all significantly reduced. Not only that, but the women improved their cardiovascular fitness by a massive 49.6 percent; the men’s cardiovascular fitness rose by an even more impressive 63.5 percent.
By the end of the study, it was estimated that the participants had delayed the onset of cardiovascular disease by an average of 3.8 years as a result of the six-month program.
Perhaps most importantly, they also felt incredibly positive.
The scales, however, showed that the men had only lost 4.7kg and the women even less at 3.1kg.
Had weight loss been the primary measure here, in spite of the improvements in their fitness and health, most participants would have seen the program as a dismal failure.
Quite simply, we have to encourage members to stop judging their progress, and ultimate success, on weight loss alone – a simple mindset change that will have a hugely positive impact on member retention.
If you have technology in your club that measures fat mass and fat percentage – smart scales or body scanners, for example – consider using this as part of the onboarding process for new members, as well as during check-ups with existing members. But also make sure your staff are talking to members about other indicators that prove their fitness routine is working. Do their waist bands feel looser? Are they less out of breath when doing a fitness class or walking up a hill? Most importantly, do they feel more motivated and positive? This is a vital piece of member education that will make for more satisfied, motivated, successful members – and with it, drive retention and loyalty to your club.
This is a vital piece of member education that will make for more satisfied, motivated, successful members – and with it, drive retention and loyalty to your club.
Les Mills recommends members receive a gradual introduction to fitness, allowing them to feel many small but significant milestones in their progress. We call this Smart Start. Read about the study here.