member retention

Increasing Gym Member Retention with Chris Spealler: Part 2

It’s not unrealistic to keep members for years. Chris Spealler shares four tips for increasing member retention through programming and goal-setting!

Emily Beers
July 12, 2023
Increasing Gym Member Retention with Chris Spealler: Part 2
It’s not unrealistic to keep members for years. Chris Spealler shares four tips for increasing member retention through programming and goal-setting!

As fitness business owners, we’re on a constant quest to increase gym member retention. And although we won’t keep every client for decades, we can support their journey in various ways.

In Part 1 of this two-part feature, we discussed four tips to increase member retention. Nine-time CrossFit Games competitor Chris Spealler shared his tips for keeping members long-term. Spealler has owned his affiliate - CrossFit Park City in Park City, UT - for 12 years.

We considered the potential for keeping members motivated after the “honeymoon phase” of their CrossFit membership. Today, we’re looking at the possibility of retaining clients for ten years or more.

Of this, Spealler is emphatic: It is absolutely realistic.

“But,” he added, “it takes a special coach and community.”

Increase member retention with programming and goal-setting
Increase gym member retention with programming, goal-setting and community.

We’re diving deeper into the details of what that looks like. After all, coaching and community can look different from gym to gym. So we asked Spealler to explain how he keeps members “for life” at his gym.

Adapting Expectations to Increase Member Retention

According to Spealler, when someone has been coming to your gym for a long time, they’ll likely require a certain amount of customization in programming.

This doesn’t mean that you need all your clients to be on individually-designed programs. It simply means that you need to adapt as your clients age and learn to program for longevity. This can apply to both their actual age and their training age. And a lot of this comes down to helping clients adapt their goals along the way, Spealler explained.

Here are four programming-related ways to increase gym member retention:

1. Help Them Set (And Adjust) Goals.

“When people first start any new program, the gains come quickly since it's a new stimulus to training,” Spealler said. “But when these gains stop coming so quickly, we need to educate them that consistency pays off. Even when the gains take longer, or if we are honest, eventually turn into a maintenance phase.”

And this comes down to realistic goal setting.

“Chances are your clients don't know how to adapt programming to their specific needs quite like you would as a professional coach,” Spealler said. “They likely struggle with identifying good goals they can work toward.”

This is where the coach comes in. Spealler says sitting down and addressing specific questions with longer-term clients will go a long way.

He suggested asking, “What goals can they set in this season of training and how can we help them get back to where they want to be? What is the real problem people are facing?”

“For example,” he said, “if they have been in the gym for ten years and are dealing with some joint pain but don't want to stop training, how can we help them improve this and not just work around it? It's likely not just lower volume or loading, but a bit of a different approach.”

Schedule goal-setting sessions with members
Schedule goal-setting sessions with members to assess training. Photo credit: Healthy Steps Nutrition

2. Recognize the Stages of Training.

Once you’ve helped members set their current goals, Spealler said it’s important to walk alongside your members.

“And help them to identify these things, as they are key to their long-term success.”

He explained that one key to increasing gym member retention for decades is recognizing the various stages of training. That way, when you see signs of potential burnout, you can be proactive to help them out.

“This is tough, and takes practice and skill,” said Spealler. “But in my experience, it's asking a lot of questions and being able to relate to them.”

He continued, “It's likely not just showing up to the gym. It may be stress in work, relationships, they just had a baby, a change of jobs and new schedule, etc. If we can learn how to ask the right questions, meet people where they are, and provide a solution to their problem, you will be an invaluable resource and coach to them.”

3. Adapt Your Programming to Your Clients.

Spealler is no stranger to programming for clients at every training age. And therefore, he’s adamant that programming cannot be stagnant. He emphasized that what worked in 2014 won’t necessarily work for your members today.

“The reality is that if you have a client that is forty right now, if you want to have them for fifteen years, they will be fifty-five,” said Spealler. “And their training may look quite a bit different then.”

Help clients find the modifications they need. This is one of the best things about CrossFit. When experienced members and first-timers can each achieve the intended stimulus, you’ll increase member retention and have happy clients for years.

4. Create a Culture People Want to Be Part of.

Programming is incredibly important, but it’s not the only piece of the retention puzzle. At the end of the day, your members likely aren’t just coming for the workout. Building a strong gym community is equally as valuable.

Park City Fit gym community event
Park City Fit gym community at a local physical fitness event.

“We can only do so many workouts, couplets, triplets, thrusters, and lifts, etc.,” Spealler said. “Until eventually training can feel pretty similar, despite the variety. While results are imperative to people coming in your doors, the community is what keeps them there.”

He added, “The important part is that we are creating a welcoming and valuable community, and training environment where people can explore different avenues of fitness. It's like we are their home base.”

Pro Tip: Part of a great gym culture is creating the ultimate member experience! Use PushPress Grow to celebrate member milestones, educate them on the basics of your gym and more. Book a free demo with the Grow team today to find out more!

In Summary: Program. Adapt. Repeat.

It’s not unrealistic to keep members at your gym for more than a decade. The key is to keep longevity in mind when it comes to programming.

Start by helping members set realistic goals. Teach them how adjust their goals over the course of their training life. Have coaches adapt programming and offer the proper modifications as needed in class. And finally, recognize that culture is a huge part of increasing gym member retention.

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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