member retention

Increasing Gym Member Retention with Chris Spealler: Part I

Gym member retention can sometimes get trickier for your long-term clients. But Chris Spealler is sharing four tips to keep them happy and getting results!

Emily Beers
July 11, 2023
Increasing Gym Member Retention with Chris Spealler: Part I
Gym member retention can sometimes get trickier for your long-term clients. But Chris Spealler is sharing four tips to keep them happy and getting results!

Think back to the time that you first discovered CrossFit. As a gym owner, if you can tap into that honeymoon-phase feeling you had yourself, you can increase gym member retention for years to come.

Remember the early days of starting CrossFit? It felt like we had been waiting our whole lives to find something that fired us up like this. Naturally, we wished we had discovered it earlier. It was almost too good to be true.

Increase gym member retention
Increase gym member retention by focusing on results and overall health.

But like most honeymoon phases, that initial flame will eventually begin fade for your members. Then, five or ten training years later, motivation can feel difficult. While they know the training is good for them, they begin to feel burned out. They start to look for options, trying something new or taking a break from CrossFit.

And in our constant quest to increase member retention, we get frustrated with each request to pause their membership.

No, we won’t keep every client for a decade. And yes, it’s normal for people to need a break from CrossFit over the years. But sometimes those members never return. So what can we do to prevent the burnout and keep members engaged?

Four Tips to Increase Gym Member Retention:

We reached out to someone who knows a thing or two about longevity in CrossFit. Chris Spealler is the owner of CrossFit Park City in Park City, UT. He’s owned his affiliate for 12 years and recently started using PushPress. Spealler is also a nine-time CrossFit Games competitor.

Here’s what he had to say about how to increase member retention:

1. Learn How to Define Results.

Every person that walks through your door is going to have a different idea of what success looks like. For some, it might be related to strength or endurance. Others might be aesthetics or even mental health related goals.

Therefore, Spealler recommended taking the time to teach people how to evaluate their tangible and intangible goals.

“Instead of just focusing on numbers improving, it may also be about the quality of life they’re living,” he explained. “Or the time they have for adventure outside.”

This is especially true the longer a client is at your gym. In the early days, they will likely make large strides in their fitness that will keep them motivated. But as their training age increases, gains will be fewer and further between. So when this happens, it’s important to help them focus less on their numbers. Replace that focus with maintenance, and how their ongoing fitness will help them for the rest of their life.

Focus on long-term health and longevity of training
Focus on long-term health and longevity of training for experienced gym members.

2. Program for Longevity.

If you had to do a CrossFit benchmark workout every single day, you’d probably start dreading going to the gym. After two, five, eight years of Fran, Elizabeth and Murph, you’d likely be over it. Not to mention the pressure to PR your score could lead you to burn out, physically and mentally.

So as Spealler explained, intensity is important, but in the right dose.

“We need to be providing a program that can grow and adapt with people,” he said. “And not chew them up and spit them out after three or four years. The right approach to programming is the one that gives your clients results and allows them to come back to the gym day after day.”

With that in mind, programming intense physical tests every day of the week isn’t the answer to member retention. If you want to keep clients motivated and excited to come to your gym, there has to be balance.

3. Get Outside the Gym.

The honeymoon phase mentioned above can also apply to training within the four walls of your gym. Just as you work to find balance as a gym owner, your community needs to as well.

In members’ early days, it feels like a training space to do CrossFit is all they need. In fact, it’s normal to feel like they don’t need or want any other forms of physical activity. But recognizing that this feeling eventually wears off will help you to increase gym member retention in the long run.

Spealler knows this. Which is why he tries to promote “fitness outside the walls of the gym” to his members.

“Have clients set goals for (outside) events, or sign up for one as a community,” he said. “Maybe it's an obstacle course race, a long hike, trail run in a park or local 10k supporting someone or something. It's okay to have people branch out and express their fitness in different ways.”

Plan member experiences outside the gym
Create fun member experiences and physical activities outside the gym.

He added, “Let your gym be the welcoming home base for them, and don’t feel threatened by other avenues of fitness.”

Pro Tip: When planning gym events, use the power of automation to save time while keeping your community informed! Book a free demo with the PushPress Grow team today to find out more!

4. Make Your Classes Fun.

This might be obvious but if people are having fun and enjoying themselves, they’re more likely to stick around. Community and connection are a huge part of member retention and a great motivator for them to keep coming back.

Oftentimes, this just comes down to being mindful of how you and your coaches lead each class. It’s important to keep things light and find fun ways to challenge your gym community.

Spealler recommends three things:

  • Change up your warm-ups. This gives members variety throughout the whole class. Also, consider including an element of community or teamwork.
  • Invest in inexpensive but versatile equipment. Things like sandbags or sleds can mix things up and get members outside the box. Spealler recommends trying Grace with a sandbag: “It will feel like a whole different workout and has great value in the variance department, as well.”
  • Empower your coaches. This will ensure they do a great job coaching your classes. As Spealler explained, “A huge part of this is making sure they understand the vision and mission you have for the community. Not an easy task and it takes work, but when you have coaches that are all in with your vision they will work hard to make their classes excellent.”

In Summary: Make It Fun. Keep ‘em Coming.

Despite the variety, community and other great things about CrossFit, the honeymoon phase will eventually come to an end. Remember that this is normal and that it doesn’t mean members will inevitably leave your gym.

As a gym owner, there are things you can do to increase member retention and provide a great experience for them. Help your clients turn fitness into a habit they don’t even need to think about. Program in a way that takes their training age into consideration and fosters longevity. And go out of your way to make sure they’re having a good time.

By doing these things consistently, chances are many of them will become lifers at your gym. They’ll be great brand ambassadors and tell their friends. And most importantly, they’ll live the healthy lives that they walked through your doors for in the first place.

Emily Beers

Emily Beers is a health, fitness and nutrition writer. She has also been coaching fitness at MadLab School of Fitness in Vancouver, B.C. since 2009.

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