Personal Training

Fitness Challenge Ideas for Your Gym

Fitness challenges engage your gym members and increase retention, but which challenges work the best? This list sums it all up for you.

James Plata
May 4, 2022
Fitness challenges engage your gym members and increase retention, but which challenges work the best? This list sums it all up for you.

Do you know how to make your gym appear engaged and on the frontline of fitness?

You need to be active, you need to plan events, and keep current members engaged with your brand.

Alternatively, events can help bring in new leads without having to spend much on marketing. These are fitness challenges, and they’re about to help your gym excel right before your eyes.

If you use any fitness apps, you’ll quickly notice the ever-growing trend of fitness challenges. These keep your gym members accountable, interested, and engaged if you know how to use them right.

These fitness challenge ideas are sure to keep your gym members as paying customers, and give them something to look forward to.

What is a Fitness Challenge?

Fitness challenges utilize gamification; a method of motivation and engagement that gamifies a task or event that would otherwise become tedious.

Sometimes gym members quit because they hit their fitness goal and they don’t need your gym anymore. They set a goal, worked at it piece by piece, and achieved it—there’s nothing left for them now.

Gamification is a way to perpetually interest your gym members. Between the host of fitness challenges popping up in apps, on FitBits, and the unending trend of “Challenge Videos” constantly appearing online, anyone can see that we live in a world that loves gamification.

A fitness challenge is an event that has a beginning, middle, and end. You outline the start and end date, how to progress through it, and typically, you offer some kind of a reward at the end if the gym members stuck with the challenge.

Why Should You Do It?

Customer acquisition and retention. When a gym member comes in, does the same routine every day, and then leaves, it eventually becomes tedious (even if they’re seeing results).

Acquiring a customer is hard, but getting them to stay (retention) can be even harder. We want to give them a reason to stay.

Challenges give participants a way to focus on their fitness, their nutrition, and put everything into a goal-oriented structure. After all, they say that a goal without a plan is just a wish: this gives structure to a plan, an end date in sight, and helps your clients actually realize their fitness goals.

The number one reason that people don’t stick with their gym goals and give up on them far too quickly is because they don’t know how to track progress. Imagine doing something and not seeing the progress along the way. Are you likely to stick with it?

Even if it’s something as arbitrary as a number, when they’re on day 7, they know that they’ve finished a week of a 30-day goal.

That’s progress in the most basic form, and they can feel proud of that. As it gets closer to the 30-day mark, a determination will be at an all-time high. Fitness challenges are all about engaging and maintaining your current gym clients.

Participation Methods

This is where you have to get creative (or you can let us do that part for you). These are some ideas to get gym clients in on the action and the fun.

1. Weekly Classes

It doesn’t have to be a 30-day fitness challenge. Many users won’t be coming to the gym every single day, so you don’t want to exclude those with busier schedules.

What you want to do is create a weekly structure, perhaps over the course of eight weeks (double subscription retention, yay), and have progress tracking along the way.

Have a goal and a way that the client is going to change by the end of the eight-week challenge, that way they have something to look forward to.

2. Team Based

Team exercises work a lot better than individual ones. There’s no accountability if you want to leave a challenge as a solo user. Nothing’s going to happen.

In a team-based environment, you don’t want to let your team down, and if they’re your friends and you’re all going to the gym together, it gives you even more of a reason to keep up with it.

Consider running multiple events each month, such as a duos and trios competition/challenge with a small cash prize pool at the end (more on that later).

3. Timed Challenge

Worries that you might alienate less hardcore athletes? That can happen, but to avoid it, you can make challenges rely on a specific amount of time spent in the gym.

Give your clients a weekly challenge, encouraging them to return to the gym for 30 minutes per day. If they spend those 30 minutes in the gym, they progress in their challenge.

You don’t want to make it too long, of course, especially because you shouldn’t spend too much time exercising without breaks in between, but this could be an interesting structure that you could play around with as you see fit.


Now, how do you reward participants? There are a few things you can do, but in the end it’s all up to your discretion.

Consider using a fitness questionnaire to find out what rewards your clients would enjoy and what would motivate them as well.

  • Money: Who doesn’t love money? It could help offset the cost of the individual’s gym membership, and if it’s something simple like $50 or $100 per month, it’s motivating enough without costing you the equivalent of a dozen membership profits.
  • Free Membership: Take the cost of one month’s membership off of their subscription. It’s a simple enough prize that doesn’t actually cost you anything. You gain retention and lose nothing, as long as you’re not giving away paid-for class spots.
  • Prestige: Have a plaque on the wall for each monthly fitness challenge winner, and fill it up as time goes on. This shouldn’t be the only prize available, but it can be a nice way to make the participation more attractive without costing you more than around $20 for a plaque off the internet.
  • Subscription Boxes: HelloFresh, Graze, Freshly—you choose, but gifting a one-time subscription box to a winner could be a great way to reward them with nutrition that they don’t have to feel bad about spending their own money on. This could also open up the pathway to gym sponsorship from one of these programs as well.
  • Free Clothing and Equipment: Do you have a small shop where you sell mats for at-home use, sweatbands, yoga gear or MMA gear? If you can get it at wholesale and it’s not more expensive than the other options on this list, you could reward the victor(s) with gear that they can keep. Chances are, you’ll see them using that gear in your gym at a later date.

What Makes a Good Fitness Challenge?

Fitness challenges need to be achievable, but it needs to be more challenging than “Run on the treadmill for 20 minutes”—you want to offer rewards that your clients actually find value in.

Additionally, you want to follow these tips:

  • Don’t Punish or Guilt: Can guilting be a powerful tool to get people to join a challenge? Sure, but that’s not morally just, and chances are you’re going to have a lot of cancellations or folks not showing up for their challenges. Avoid sleazy marketing that preys on insecurities, and instead, promote positivity.
  • Positive Language Only: If you’re hosting a challenge, you need to make it alluring, and the whole point of a challenge is to feel confidence, pride, and achieve something. Negative language won’t achieve that, so be sure that even if a participant wants to drop out in an app or through software, there’s positive language to greet them. It goes a long way.
  • Challenging Enough: If it falls within the normal realm of exercise, it’s not challenging enough. You want users to utilize machines in your gym that may not be getting the most love, have them explore other fitness activities that they normally wouldn’t. This can give them a new fitness goal to look forward to, and improve retention as a result since they’ll have a new fitness-driven ambition to exercise.
  • Engagement: We can all ignore an app. Make your fitness challenges an in-person event, such as with classes. Have an instructor build up your clientele with affirmation and support, which will give them an overall positive experience even if they find the challenge particularly difficult.

12 Fitness Challenges

1. Spin it ‘til You Win it

Spinning class sport people exercise at gym enjoy workout
Spinning class sport people exercise at gym enjoy workout | Photographer: Jean-Marie Guyon | Copyright: © by Jean-Marie Guyon

Spin bikes are one of the main cardio machines in gyms, and typically, one of the only cardio machines that have classes centered around them.

If you already offer spin classes, add an opt-in for challenges so that users can compete against one another. Whoever pedals the most distance over the course of 7 days could win a prize.

This will require spin bikes with electronic readouts, and instructors who can add these times into some sort of sheet or app to track them so that it’s fair game.

2. Aerobic Acceleration Challenge

Aerobic exercises don’t require a lot of equipment, and they can be excellent in a fast-paced class environment.

Create a program or class where each session/challenge is accelerated from the last, keeping the main tenets of HIIT in mind. They increase their aerobic exercise intensity, and they have fun the entire time.

3. New Member Special

If new members complete a seven-day challenge within their first thirty days of being part of your gym, you comp them for their first month’s membership by giving them a second month free.

This is an effective way to get initial paid-for signups, and the chances that 100% of all gym members completing that challenge is very low, so you may not need to give out a free month.

It’s an offer that can acquire new customers while already having them as paying members, which is pretty spectacular. Make this challenge somewhat simple to complete and require it be done in-house.

4. Calorie Killer Challenge

Who can lose the most calories in a single month? Let’s find out!

Challenge your entire gym to partake in a calorie-burning challenge, that way they can focus on their results without having to focus on specific classes or certain machinery that they might not want to partake in.

This contours the challenge to the way they like to use the gym, so it frees up control while also getting them to engage and retain their memberships.

5. Frequent Fitness Challenge

Who can visit your gym the most in the span of thirty days? Allow for a morning visit and an evening visit, so two per day, and see if anyone can actually hit sixty by the end of the month.

Offer rewards for more than just one contestant, otherwise, you’ll quickly see a pattern emerge with the exact same winners every month (perhaps clients who have more time on their hands or more convenience).

6. Sponsored Challenges

Talk to fitness clothing brands, and nutrition subscription boxes; talk to whichever company you can, and make sure you have metrics ready for them.

See if you can get a sponsored prize, such as a free set of custom workout gear or a three-month supply of a subscription box. Market your challenges to as many individuals as possible, and talk about where you’ll display brand images if you have to, anything that will seal the deal.

This is a great way to get sponsors involved in your gym name and build relationships while offsetting the cost of challenges (prizes, instructor time, etc.) and walk away with better retention.

7. Transformation Challenges

Copyright: Mat Hayward Photography

Before and after competitions. This is focused on your gym members feeling valued and happy about their progress.

Consider creating a challenge where your users show their before photos (taken at the challenge start) and compare them with their challenge ending photos.

Here’s the kicker: this gives you a great way to instill confidence in your gym members and make them feel appreciated.

Regardless of the outcome, offer each challenge member a free month at your gym or a one-time free class.

Did they like their 30-day transformation? If they didn’t, the extra month promotes positivity towards reaching that goal.

Did they really like how far they came in thirty days? Great! The free month of membership will keep them coming back for more, especially if that positive and prideful feeling is associated with your gym.

8. Better Than Yesterday Challenge

These challenges focus around your gym patrons doing better than their previous personal best. Set up a way to have them track their personal best, and give challenges, building blocks, for them to beat that personal best over the course of the challenge.

This needs to be gauged based on your average clients, but it can be a powerful challenge method.

9. Nutrition Challenge

This works on the honor system. Challenge your athletes to eat healthier than they usually do, and record everything.

Have them bring their journals in and discuss how their choices changed, how it motivates them to work out more and live a better life. You’ll turn them into lifelong customers before long, all while teaching about nutrition and helping everyone make better choices.

10. Charity Cup

Support a local charity and get a ton of publicity in the process. Pick a charity, talk to them about fundraising, and host an event (doesn’t have to just take place indoors in your gym) where you encourage your gym patrons and athletes to participate.

This is a selfless way to get people excited about giving back while building up their personal physical fitness in the process.

11. Accountability Challenges

You can use these challenges in a different way: as a teaching lesson or moment. If you weren’t accountable for your own actions, you wouldn’t be a gym owner right now.

When an athlete isn’t held accountable to anyone but themselves, they can slowly slip away from their habits. Keep your members accountable by challenging them to pair up in groups and keep each other accountable for their goals.

12. Mind and Body Betterment Challenge

Yoga, pilates, and any other activity that focuses on wellness and mental wellbeing are great times to introduce challenges.

Can your gym patrons attend every class for the challenge? Talk about improving their state of mind and helping them reduce stress and improve emotions through repeated challenge participation.

Fitness Challenge Apps to Help You With Your Gyms’ Challenge

You can (and should) recommend apps for your gym members to use unless you plan on hosting your own.

Fitness challenges are integral to keeping your gym members engaged, otherwise, you just become another no-name gym to them, and we want to avoid that. These apps work best for you to get started straight away.

Pantheon Fitness App, by Pantheon

Pantheon syncs with Garmin watch, FitBit watches, Google Fit, Headspace, Calm, and so many other apps, making it an all-in-one solution for fitness challenges.

The best pat is that your gym members don’t need to subscribe to them unless they want the applications in Pantheon Premium.

But what you can do is utilize the Pantheon Premium unlimited team members application, so you can use this app to help run your gym’s fitness challenges.

Each team member has a price associated with it, but once they become inactive, Pantheon actually removes them from the app to save you money, which is something we all wish more app subscriptions did.

30 Day Fitness Challenge, by Leap Fitness Group

This app has its own built-in features that anyone can use, but it can also be utilized by a gym.

There are 30-day challenges for your abs, butt, and full body exercises as well, with detailed video guides and intensity levels.

While this is marketed as a personal challenge app more than anything else, you can get your gym athletes into the spirit of hardcore exercise with these workouts in a group or class setting.

StepBet, by WayBetter

StepBet is all about setting goals, moving, and making money—the goal is to make bets with other athletes, or in this case, a sponsored bet pool by you, the gym, and get people excited about moving.

Make the event take place in the gym, and help athletes push themselves to new bounds that they might not have thought possible before.

A gym membership where you can actually earn money by going to the gym? That’s a concept that you’re not going to see often, and it could be a major selling point for your gym’s marketing plan.

James Plata

James Plata is the Marketing Director at PushPress, a fitness-nut and hoarder of all gadgets. He brings 10+ years of experience in startup tech and fitness to help gym owners rebel against useless and overpriced software.

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