Programming for Retention

How to create exercise programs that keep people around for years

Novelty gets them in the door.

But in time, even “constantly varied functional movements performed at high intensity” becomes–well, normal.

How do you keep people around long enough to change their lives? How do you boost your retention and adherence numbers and avoid the marketing spin cycle?

I teach marketing to gym owners. I teach sales. I write books about them. But the real key to success in the fitness business is retention. Here’s how to program for maximal client retention, according to the data:

  1. Deliver a new workout every day. This is good for adherence. Read the difference between adherence and retention here. You’re probably already doing this one. Good start!
  2. Customize every workout for each client. That doesn’t mean changing the program. It doesn’t mean “scaling” or using “Rx weights”. It means telling the client “Here’s how this workout will help you with your goals.
    Read: Customization vs Personalization
  3. Teach your coaches how to customize the workouts. Use avatars to describe the benefit of your programming instead of its features.
    Benefits: weight loss, aerobic capacity
    Features: 400m run, thrusters, pullups.
    This is hard for a lot of coaches to grasp. So at Two-Brain Programming, we break every workout down for the 3 primary avatars at your gym, and give those instructions to your coaches every day.
  4. Measure progress. Do Goal Reviews every quarter. Show the client how well they’re doing. Prove that your program is working. Make a different prescription if they need it. And if your whole gym is weak in one area, change your programming.
    We teach you how to do this in the new Two-Brain Coaching Third Degree program.
  5. Make your workouts feel like a game. CrossFit gyms are good at this. Barrys Bootcamp gyms are good at this. Most gyms are not. Games need rules and opponents. Show each client their personal best score on the workout before you start. Show them how to “win”. And then bring on the cheerleaders!
  6. Measure client progress with recurring “tests”. For example, early CrossFit programming featured a lot of named workouts–like “Fran”, “Cindy”, or “Diane”. When was the last time you programmed a named workout like these?
  7. Host special events. We do “Murph” on December 26; we have a powerlifting meet in December; we do the Intramural Open in March. Hosting bigger challenges 3-4x per year will boost retention especially through slower months, like August. You have to walk a fine line with these; if the competition feels “elite”, you’ll turn people away. If the goal is to finish, you’ll scare people into sticking with their training.
  8. Keep your class size from 7-12. There’s good data on this for the first time. While adherence and retention is highest with 1:1 training, classes with 7-12 people are second-best. At the 13th person, retention drops. And with fewer than 7, retention numbers are also less (plus you might be losing money on that class anyway.)

Retention has been my primary focus for nearly 20 years. Finally, thanks to the massive data set at Two-Brain Business, we can say “here’s what works” with certainty. The list above is supported by the largest data set in the fitness industry. It’s how we built And we’ll teach you how to do it in the upcoming Two-Brain Coaching Third Degree Program.

While Christmas cards and phone calls can aid retention, your clients experience your programming every time they visit. It can make or break you.

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