Gym member motivation is highest in January with many people working towards new year resolutions and goals. Good intentions can quickly slip. How do you help your members stick with it (and you) for the long run?  

Getting to the gym is often the biggest hurdle for members. If you can successfully keep them motivated it will have a big impact on your business. Higher retention rates. Growth through referrals. The list goes on.

“People often say motivation doesn’t last. Neither does bathing — that’s why we recommend it daily.”

Zig Ziglar 

Understanding motivation

What is motivation?  

Motivation is wanting. Wanting a change in – behaviour, thoughts, environment, relationships, yourself, or something else. It’s a drive or need to bring about that change.  

It’s what inspires your members to join you in the first place. It’s what guides them in setting goals. It’s what keeps them coming back to achieve those goals.  

There are many reasons why your members choose to work out. These are just some examples

  • Specific goals – wanting to accomplish a goal
  • Value – wanting to achieve health benefits that they value 
  • Possible self – wanting to achieve what someone else has through exercise 
  • Personal control – wanting stress-relief through a structured, controllable activity 
  • Social – wanting to spend time with others by working out together 
  • Positive effect – wanting a mood boost from the release of dopamine exercise brings 

Intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation  

Motivation can be intrinsic and extrinsic. Tapping into both types is key to maintaining gym member motivation for the long-term. 

  • Intrinsic motivation comes from within, it’s important personally to the member, something that they can get right now. For example, that high that runners get or working out to relieve stress.  
  • Extrinsic motivation is driven by external motivators. For example, getting flat abs or wanting to look good for a partner. 

Extrinsic motivation is helpful when a member considers skipping their workout. Their goal can push them to resist their urge to skip it. But intrinsic motivation is important in helping the member stick with it even when results are slower than they’d like. 

Expert on the science of motivation, Michelle Segar from the University of Michigan, found that goals like becoming healthier or losing weight can actually demotivate some people. Human instinct favours immediate gratification over long-term benefits. If they find enjoyment in each workout and the process, your members will be more likely to achieve their goals. 

Barriers to member motivation 

There are many reasons why your members may lack motivation to workout. Some mental barriers are: 

  • Boredom – perhaps they’ve not found exercise fun or interesting in the past, or they’ve got tired of a routine. They may also believe exercise is not for them 
  • Fear – for those who’ve not been to the gym in a while, or have never been, it can be daunting. Members often worry about how they look or getting hurt 
  • Pain – going to the gym and pushing yourself can be painful, members may fear this pain 
  • Frustration – if motivation is mainly extrinsic, members can become frustrated if they don’t see results quickly 

There are also circumstantial barriers like: 

  • Being busy – life gets in the way with other activities and responsibilities taking priority 
  • Sedentary jobs and lifestyles – many people are used to sitting all day which makes the effort of working out even harder 
  • Stress – for some this can be a motivator, but as exercise stresses the body, it can be a reason for staying away – feeling like they’ll exacerbate stress levels 
  • Weight – for those who are overweight, exercise can be tough. From joint pain to feeling intimidated, it can be easier to stay away 

7 ways to keep your members motivated all year-round 

We’ve run through what motivation is, why your members need a mix of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation and what might cause motivation levels to slip. Now let’s look at how you can keep your members motivated long beyond January. 

1. Get onboarding right 

On average, 52.4% of new gym members stay for 12 months. Almost half of your members will lose motivation before this. Your new member onboarding process needs to address this. 

Your onboarding journey should welcome members and help them work towards realistic goals to achieve sustainable results. In-person interactions are an important element of onboarding. With staff shortages and skill gaps, it’s more important than ever to get the digital journey right too.  

Targeted, timely use of email and text messages is essential – nail new member onboarding with the Successful New Gym Member Onboarding Playbook. Your gym management software should make segmentation, personalisation, and automation of the onboarding journey simple. 

2. Help members set goals & track progress 

Frustration can be a barrier to motivation. Unrealistic goals and perceived lack of results are key reasons for attrition. During the onboarding process you need to help members identify the right goals that are achievable and that matter personally to them. 

At a member’s induction, one of your trainers should get to know them and work to create goals using the SMART framework. Using this framework each goal should be: 

  • Specific – simple, sensible, and significant 
  • Measurable – meaningful and motivating 
  • Achievable – agreed and attainable 
  • Relevant – reasonable, realistic, and results-based 
  • Time-bound – time-sensitive 

Get members thinking about lifestyle as well as results. Run through strategies to fit exercise into everyday life. Making health and fitness part of the member’s lifestyle will help them stay motivated for the long-term. 

3. Offer regular reviews and personalized programmes 

Ask your new members when they want to check-in again. A good starting point is 6-8 weeks after their induction. Enough time to see a little change, but not overwhelmingly long. Remind members to revisit and reset their goals at this point to keep motivation high.  

Think beyond onboarding too. Help your members review and refresh their goals on a regular basis to keep them accountable. Encourage them to track progress overtime and reflect on how far they’ve come. This can drive long-term motivation, encouraging behaviours that create intrinsic satisfaction from workouts.  

Consider regularly offering members a session with a personal trainer for a review and updated programme. Attach value to this session – make it part of a membership (e.g., 1 PT session every 6 months) or paid for by the club.  

Highlight its retail value if the member was paying for it, rather than positioning it as free. It’s a great showcase for your PTs – a chance for upselling extra sessions or bundles – as well as maintaining member motivation. 

4. Make it easy to access exercise 

As circumstantial barriers like being busy impact member motivation, you need to make sure that the experience and service you give help overcome these barriers. 

Your website and app should be easy to find and navigate. It should be simple to book any classes and activities you offer. Choosing a gym management software solution with features like book a spot, can make it easier for those who are uncertain or fearful of working out to take control of their experience and gain motivation to workout with you.  

It should also be easy for members to keep up-to-date with membership payments, with this data feeding into your access control system. So, members are always able to turn up and access your club without hassle. 

5. Create a positive, welcoming community 

From making new members feel at home during the onboarding process to creating a lasting community, helping your members feel part of something bigger will keep them motivated to show up. 

If you offer group fitness classes, suggest new members try one out. They’ll meet other members and start to feel part of your community. This group approach can keep members loyal and motivated for longer.  

Research suggests members who go to one class a week are 20% more likely to be loyal members than those who work out in the gym three times a week. 

Use social media groups to keep members connected and interacting while they’re away from your club. Fitness challenges that are easy for all to access can spark healthy competition and encourage members to interact more. Promote these on social media and in your email newsletter.  

Recognise member achievements too (where a member is comfortable with a public call out). This is inspiring for others and encourages the celebrated member onwards. 

6. Encourage workout buddies 

An accountability partner can help motivate, encourage, and keep a member working towards their fitness goals. Building a strong community in your club can help your members find the right accountability partner for them. 

This accountability partner could also be a friend or family member who isn’t a member right now. Offer guest passes to new and existing members. When a guest pass is used, give the member a pass for another friend as a thank you. This will help keep them motivated and can help you attract new members in the process. 

Run a referral programme to give incentives to bring a training buddy who becomes a member. Our new member onboarding playbook shows you should be asking for referrals from the get-go. New members are buzzing about having joined you and telling their friends about it. 

Nielsen found 88% of consumers trust recommendations from people they know more than any other type of advertising. Promoting your referral programme to members is a great way to grow your business. 

“Tell your new members that they’ll stay longer, get faster results and have more fun if they work out with friends. When you ask for referrals, don’t make it about the next sale, make it about the current member.  They’ll get to burn more calories, workout harder and longer, and get more accountability if they bring a gym buddy. Sure, you’ll get the sale, but think about what the member gets from bringing a friend to the club.” 

Guy Griffiths, GGFit 

7. Reward and incentivise your members 

Finally, many members will be motivated if you recognise and reward them appropriately. Make members feel appreciated with exciting rewards that also build connection to your gym and fitness club.  

This could mean members-only events like an after-hours DJ session with refreshments, a charity quiz night, or educational seminar. All of which will also help you build a lasting community for your club. 

Branded items, like towels, water bottles or t-shirts, given away when a key milestone is achieved, or around specific calendar events, are often highly valued by members. And help you get your brand out there. You could also offer personal training sessions, classes, or a month’s membership, paid for by your club.  

Increase retention by motivating members from the start 

Keeping members motivated beyond January is easier once you understand what motivation is and how to create the drive in each member to keep them exercising all year-round.  

Get it right from the start of every member’s journey, when you put in place the best practices outlined in our Successful New Gym Member Onboarding Playbook.  

Developed in partnership with retention experts like Guy Griffiths, it includes 20+ ready-to-use message templates and a guide showing what to send and when. Making it simpler for you to create the right onboarding journey to motivate each new member you sign up in January and beyond.

Article by Xplor Technologies

First published: December 21 2022

Last updated: May 17 2024