What can gyms do to better retain exercise newbies?

As we come upon the new year, I’m reminded that once again many people will take up exercise for the first time. However, many people won’t have a plan, won’t see results, and will, justifiably, give up.

The trouble is, there’s more to getting a good workout than just knowing how to turn on the treadmill. For the newbie, there’s all the details about the length, intensity, frequency, form, etc to figure out. Plus, they need to somehow create the motivation to keep showing up week after week. It’s not at all surprising that the flood of new members that shows up in January rarely make it to February.

I’ve often thought that gyms really don’t do enough for the newbies, if they do anything at all. After the tour and the signup process, the newbie is left to figure it out on their own. Could the gyms do more so that the newbie would be more likely to stick it out? I’m sure they’re happy to offer personal training at $$/hour, but what other things could they do to meet the specific needs of the newbie?

P.S. If you would like someone to answer specific questions you have about getting started working out, either at the gym or otherwise, feel free to PM me. And no, I’m not trying to sell anything :slight_smile: I’m just a guy who’s been working out for a long time who knows the transformational effect that exercise can have on people, both physically and mentally.

The real question is whether they really want to retain newbies. If all the memberships they sold actually showed up to use the gym, there wouldn’t be room. From what I recall a high dropout rate is part of the business plan. Basically it’s free money.

What CarnalK said, plus it depends on the gym.

There’s a women’s only gym up the street from me that’s been around forever. They’ve gradually increased their space over the years so now they offer nearly any kind of group exercise and yoga, as well as the usual Nautilus circuit, free weights, treadmills, etc. I attended off and on for awhile and quit when their membership dues was too high for my wallet. That was 5-6 years ago. Their dues have doubled since then. Now it has the reputation of either being “wealthy SAHM” haven (they also offer daycare) or “high powered working woman who can afford this” haven.

It’s a great gym. You can pay for personal training sessions, but you really don’t need to because the staff is always around. You can ask them to check your form, am-I-doing-this-correctly, etc.

Most other places I’ve been to don’t have anywhere near this type of personal attention. The reason why this particular gym still flourishes is because of that.

In other words, you get what you pay for. Trying to chase down somebody at Planet Fitness is a joke.

The whole business model is to register people who pay and then never show up.


offer more free pizza days

Speaking as an older gym mouse, trainers young enough to be my grandkid is a bit much to take.

The problem is that it’s a pretty shitty job. Can’t expect many 40 yr olds to still be doing it.

promised myself I’d stay out of these threads Grrrr

Fine. Want to know what gyms can do better? More personal trainer instruction/correction “when you are doing it wrong”. You know that exercise that Arnold Schwarzenegger famously (back in the day) said he didn’t do?
I used to do it. One day, i did it wrong, got hurt, and they kicked me from that gym for getting hurt. Getting hurt sucks & sets you back so far you can almost never recover. If I’d had an instructor there,
maybe they would have noticed my form mistakes & told me.

Also, please create spreadsheets with your regular routine listed by exercise & your reps history by day going back a month or so. Hard copy for the clip board & up-loadable version for your PC/Phone.
If its a “Quads Blitz” (or whatever they call it), list it in a column and have 2 rows under todays date: reps expected vs reps accomplished so you can see trends, etc.
And on some extra sheets behind it in the same file, a refresher on how to do each exercise again: the “tell me like I’m 5” version for each.

I know, a helpful exercise-order spreadsheet? Thats It?

Look, I just know that its helpful to me, even if (Especially if) I’m traveling & making do at a Hotel gym.

Almost every gym I’ve joined in my life thus far has had a setup similar to this. The trainers at the Y were especially anal about you filling out the # of reps you did every time. It was neat to eventually see a graph denoting how far I’d come then compared to when I first started.

For my gym (Lifetime Fitness), it might help if they offered discounted personal training sessions for new members, rather than pushing for two $90/hour sessions a week. The entire gym membership only costs $75 a month, and they want me to add TEN TIMES that much for a personal trainer? Eff that. The sad thing is, I see people working with personal trainers all the time, and I have to wonder, who has that kind of money aside from action movie stars?

In my case, the place where I actually did go:

  1. had employees which were available but not pushy
  2. and who would drop a metaphorical anvil on anybody seen using equipment the wrong way, not wiping it off, going the wrong way in the “circle” room (10 machines in a circle), etc.
  3. said equipment was well-kept
  4. the place didn’t smell
  5. the TVs were set to outdoors sports in pretty places, with pump-it-up music
  6. the smaller rooms had their own sound systems and were well-insulated, you couldn’t hear a room from another with the doors closed
    (I’m not going any more because it’s now 5000km away and that’s a tad too far)

The places I can’t stand

  1. I ask for the machines, they try to sell me aerobics
  2. The machines have missing parts
  3. I ask for the tai-chi lessons, they try to sell me power dance, which I’m absolutely gonna love because it’s just like aerobics
  4. it smells like bleach and old sweat and mold and bleach and two different varieties of pinesol and more mold and how can it still smell of mold and old sweat when it also manages to smell like a chemical factory
  5. except for the sauna, which smells like farts
  6. lots of TVs with the sound off, all set to different channels, none of which matches what’s coming out of the sound system
  7. and when there’s aerobics in room 1 and power spinning in 5, you can hear their music and their music and the talk radio in the main room, in all of them

Yes. I actually went to a personal trainer for a while. I figured I would get some idea of the level and intensity of the workout required, and also get some easy exercise ideas. I did…but you know, I bought like 10 sessions and was going twice a week. Almost immediately he was like, “I think I need to see you every day,” and “You can come after lunch.” Well, dude, I just can’t afford that! They weren’t $90 - the price wasn’t that bad - but still a fair amount over the gym membership itself.

I think a nice thing would be to distribute simple sheets of “beginning” type exercises to newbies. Here is what you can try for your first two weeks. Here for the second two. Etc.

Here is a gym I practically ran away from. I went to this place to take the tour. He takes me downstairs, in the basement. It is dark and dingy. The weight rooms and the exercise rooms are spaced far apart. No one from the front desk can hear you. While I was there no gym employees were walking the floor, and there were no women on the gym floor, anywhere.

I don’t live my life in fear. I’m a pretty confident woman. But that was a spooky place. I felt like I was going in the bowels of the building, and while I don’t really think anything would have happened, I decided I didn’t feel safe enough to go to that gym.

Ime, it’s rare that a decision to change your life in a meaningful way coincides with a specific date in the Julian calendar.

Other factors tend to be more significant.

They should facilitate some kind of workout buddy list. 2 people can not only help each other, but motivate each other. It’s harder to skip a day if you know someone will be there looking for you. And this would be free. I’m short and have a bad shoulder. I often need someone just to help me reset the machine or pull the bar down because I can’t reach. Pairing newbies up would eliminate many requests for staff to assist after the initial “how to” workout.

Insert joke post about seat-sniffers here.

The Y that I belong to has one free session with a trainer required for all newbies who want to use the weights/machines. So that helps. Unfortunately, attracting the notice of the majority of the trainers thereafter is impossible unless you’re a good looking woman in your 20s. I see the supervisor occasionally walking the floor, helping people with their form and such, but she can’t be there all hours. The rest of the time, the trainers are chatting up the cuties, ignoring all the icky old and/or out-of-shape people around them.

The bigger problem I see, though, is in the pool. The Y hard-sells memberships at the beginning of the year. The pool schedules all their classes at the peak just-after-work hours, so they allow for… one lap lane. And they do not post the lane schedule anywhere.

This results in all the (fast) swimmers who have been there for years continuing to go at their usual time, sharing the meager one lane. And the inexperienced, easily flustered newbies freaking the hell out when they’re in a lane with someone even somewhat faster than them – let alone in with the really fast swimmers. Every year, I don’t see newbies more than once before they disappear forever. And yet, every prospective member gets a tour where they emphasize “the Y guarantees there will always be lanes open for lap swimmers.”

I’ve complained to the pool managers for over a decade, but they whine that it’s peak hours and they can’t control how many people want to swim laps. No, they can’t control that. They can control how many classes they schedule to take up lanes at that time, though, but they refuse to change that. They’re basically luring in newbie swimmers and deliberately driving them away.

Some kind of introductory training for newbs should be required. The gyms that don’t do this probably don’t want to keep customers beyond the initial fees. Even if the introductory training is just “here are the machines, don’t be a dick” it would be better than most gyms I’ve been.

A staff that isn’t all gym rats. Seriously, how can a super fit 25 year old understand the needs of a 60 year old porker who is just starting out? Some trainers can, of course, but at 25 I couldn’t have imagined how out of shape a person could be or what to do about it and most of the gym staff I encounter are the same. Took some classes from a guy who used to train Olympic athletes. Great guy, super classes but I got hurt a couple of times because I’m old and heavy and shouldn’t have been doing that stuff.

And it would be nice if gyms, especially places with pools, could police the locker rooms a little better. I’m an old man myself and I find a few of the oldsters that hang around the locker room all day extremely creepy. Why do they need to be in the locker room, butt naked, for hours?

I run at a cheap “women’s” gym (I go there because its the closest and the cheapest, I object somewhat to the concept) and contrary to many posts here the incessant “helpfulness” of their trainers is an annoyance. I can hardly go a day without these useless fuckers badgering me. How are you! Have any questions about that treadmill you’ve been using for 9 months? Do you feel good today? Do you want to fucking share your experience? NO I DO NOT. LEAVE ME ALONE TO RUN!

Apparently, though I am 5’2" middle aged lady who can just barely run 3 miles and do about 1 pushup, I need more of what meatheads want in a gym and less of what women want. Story of my life.

I believe training too hard is more the cause of quitting than not training hard enough. People want instant results and its not an instant process. But “keep at it slow & steady for a year and possibly you’ll notice a change” is a harder sell than “promising” (aka lying) that something the gym offers will give you immediate results.

Didn’t we have an incident reported here where someone tried to do exactly that (have a friend help them train), only to get summarily banned from the place?

If they didn’t let bros train together, my gym would be a ghost town, except for the ladies.