Science / Health

How fitness clubs fail their members

By John Cardillo 

January is New Years Resolution month in the fitness industry. Across North America  people enthusiastically flock to join gyms with the premier goal of improving their health and fitness level. They pay their membership fee with a hope that they will get the professional help they need to achieve their New Years resolution fitness goals. In most cases, after the membership sale and the person becomes a member, the personal attention ceases. Gyms across North America are jammed with new members during during this time with members waiting in line to use equipment  

 Many gyms are nothing more than a large space full of strength and cardio  equipment. For the most part, members are left on their own to figure out a workout program, To motivate themselves and to try different things that others are doing, just to accomplish “something”. Anything.They walk around the gym aimlessly trying things out, just to get “some exercise”. By the 3rd week in February the traffic flow at gyms returns to normal. On average members stop attending gyms 1/3 of the way through their annual memberships. This is common all over North America these days, for many reasons, which we will examine in this article  

Starting Point : Fitness Assessments

Members who do not see results, lose interest in their fitness goals, This happens because gyms do not provide members with result producing exercise programs. The majority of gyms don’t provide exercise programs at all !  

When a new member joins a gym, the first thing that should occur is a comprehensive fitness assessment conducted by a Kinesiologist, to determine a persons fitness level as a baseline measurement. This will determine what training program and support the person will need to achieve their fitness goals. Very few gyms offer this worthwhile process because they do not hire Kinesiologists to perform this important process.

Without fitness assessments, proper workout programs are impossible to be formulated. It is the fitness assessment and reassessments every three months that track a members progress and keeps the member motivated to continue improving. The lack of this type of personal attention causes gyms to lose members, due to them not renewing their memberships. As memberships fall, so does the revenue to operate the gym, leading to an erosion of essential gym services and upkeep  

Lack of Qualified Trainers 

Losing weight and lifting weights doesn’t provide an individual with the background necessary to be a professional trainer. Many gyms employ unqualified trainers, to train members. There are 2 classes of trainers working in gyms today.  What is common is a trainer whose  personal hobby is working out, and has taken a weekend fitness accreditation course to get their training certificate. This accounts for 98% of all personal trainers working in gyms today, at not much more than minimum wage, plus some sales commissions for selling personal training.

The other is University Physical Education graduate, and Kinesiologists, who may take a part-time job in a fitness club as a temporary job until a better employment opportunity comes up. This occurs because salaries are substantially less in gyms than what physiotherapy and rehab clinics pay University Graduates. As such, the most qualified and premier candidates for  fitness clubs are prohibited from working in a gym as a career because gyms prioritize  paying higher salaries to sales people, than fitness professionals. Sad but true! 

 A University graduate, with the experience they possess, would be the best help a gym member can have as they embark on a fitness routine. They have the in-depth knowledge and understanding of physiology, anatomy, cardiovascular health and strength training to help members achieve excellent results. Using the information obtained about you during a fitness assessment, a Kinesiologist will be able to formulate a workout routine predicated on your fitness goals.

Again the reason why university graduates and kinesiologists do not choose personal training as a career is because gyms have determined in the hierarchy of importance that trainers are not an essential part of the gym operation and offer to pay them not much more than minimum wage. Therefore, gyms usually hire part-time high  school or university students to train members. They  rationalize that the job of a trainer is somehow only worth minimum wage in spite of the fact that members pay four times that amount for their sessions. 

 Lack of Nutritionists 

 To offer members a complete service, every gym should have an accredited nutritionist on staff. But they don’t!

Nutrition is the other half of the fitness equation. Members desperately need this service. However, not one large fitness club chain in North America has a Nutritionist position on the staff roster!  Somehow the powers that control these companies have decided that nutrition should be left up to their members to figure out. Which is 180 degrees WRONG!   It is wrong to give a member a workout program without taking into consideration what they should be eating, in order to execute a program with the energy required and the nutrients needed for recuperation and muscle repair.           

When I owned chain of fitness clubs every one of my locations had at least two nutritionists. Part of the fitness assessment protocol was also a nutrition consultation, to help my members with their eating regimen. It was very well received. Every person joining a fitness club needs professional help on how to eat healthier, in order to feel better and accomplish their fitness goals. After all, we are what we eat. Fitness clubs not having a nutritionist on staff is pure negligence! 

Software: Not Just Hardware

At its core, a gym is a business that sells people memberships to use its equipment-it’s hardware. With very weak “software”. Todays most successful companies such as Apple and Microsoft (also sell hardware) realized long time ago that it’s the genius of software that creates the great customer experience, which leads to continued brand loyalty. People around the world love their Apple products and would never give them up. That is the reason why Apple is the worlds most valuable company.  

In today’s world of information technology, you would think that a gym chain would realize that it’s the customer experience in achieving results that will create brand loyalty and a customer for life! A gym’s premier priority should be to provide its members with the best methods of scientific exercise programs through a professional staff (like Apple store employees) of kinesiologists, physical education graduates, and nutritionists to fulfil their  members needs. Instead gyms have opted not to hire educated professionals. They hire minimum wage employees, to basically provide “friendly companion services” to their members versus professional fitness SERVICE!

Gym Memberships-Downward Trend

In order to keep the membership rates down, to be competitive in the crowded club marketplace, the quality of service has been sacrificed. The reality of gym industry economics is that in the last 20 years as the industry became more competitive, membership prices declined, while operational Costs increased. Fitness clubs, (even the large chains), have developed an operational model whereby the minimal amount of personalized service is  provided to members. This is is now standard in the industry. The fitness industry’s business model is to attract as many members as possible at the lowest fee possible,  to gain greater market share. While keeping their payrolls low by not providing costly personalized  service. How can a fitness club afford to pay proper salaries to university graduates when they charge as little as $10 per month for memberships? This is an unsustainable business model that will ultimately fail.

High Member Attrition 

The lack of qualified staff means the gym member is left to their own devices for workout routines. In general, that leads to no results, and the participant left scratching their heads as to why they didn’t make progress. Without  professional fitness advice, a gym member has a 90% chance to likely fail to accomplish their desired fitness goals, and stop attending their gym after the first 3 months of joining. Even though they are still paying for their membership. This situation causes the gym industry to suffer attrition rates of more than 50% of their memberships per year. They need to constantly keep pouring money into advertising campaigns to bring in new sign-ups through the front door,  as they lose existing members out the back door.

Gyms need members to survive; hence costly membership drives are undertaken and rock bottom membership fees do little to keep the gym in good financially healthy. The bottom line is that without charging the proper membership fees, a gym cannot employ proper professionals to help their members achieve the results they joined for.


This is essentially why with the present business model, gyms do not/cannot serve their customers properly and that is why we are  where we are today! 

-75 % of members stop attending gyms within 3 months of joining

– commercial gyms have more than 50% attrition rates

-only 17% of the North America population are gym members

-more than 66% of North America’s population is considered obese

-gyms do not demonstrate continual interest in each and every member resulting in high attrition rates  

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