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Client Retention: Why They Leave and How to Keep Them


If you work in the fitness industry you know client retention can be a major issue. A host of excuses coupled with more serious distractions can derail your clients on their fitness journey. While you may be focused on the exercise portion of your training sessions, don’t forget that your clients are humans too and they need a little pep talk ever so often to help them maintain the right mindset. It’s challenging, but developing an understanding of who you’re working with beyond health charts and counting repetitions is a key component to your client’s success. 


National Posture Institute Client Retention: Why They Leave and How to Keep ThemFirst, let’s explore why people struggle to begin exercising. According to Len Kravitz, researcher and program coordinator at the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, discussing the health benefits of exercise does not ensure consistent compliance with a program. He states that 50% of persons starting an exercise program will drop out within the first 6 months and the way people view themselves influences physical activity.


Kravitz believes that self-perception plays a major role in whether a person will start an exercise program. Even if a person is required to begin exercising for medical reasons or wishes to be independent in older adulthood their sense of self-perception may impede this process. Kravitz also suggests that positive feedback, reinforcement, and social support from exercise professionals and peers will improve a person’s self-perception and may cause them to start exercising.


Let’s now consider why people stop their exercise programs and leave their trainers, and what you need to do to help decrease this. The people that dropout usually need your help the most. Maybe they aren’t seeing results or they’re just not clicking with you. I consulted Sheena Garrant, a former general manager at a well-known fitness facility, for answers.


“People quit gyms (thus their fitness programs) for 3 proven reasons: cleanliness, friendliness and facilities,” she says. She also explained that when people don’t see results and have trouble connecting with their trainer they are more likely to stop. “People make financial decisions based on emotion. If I'm not getting results, I'm not spending. If I have no hope of getting results, I'm not spending. The best and most successful PTs get their clients results and they drive results largely through connection”.


Connection? Yes, you read that correctly, “connection as in an emotional connection, knowing them as a person first and foremost.” Sheena suggests that you need to engage your clients and build an emotional connection before you can help them achieve their goals. When times get tough you can rely on what you learned through these connections to drive them forward. Remember, people are less likely to stay if they don’t feel like they have a connection with you. “If someone doesn't like you, it doesn't matter what you say. If they like you, they will listen,” says Sheena, “Personal Trainers that are successful spend enough time nurturing a real relationship with clients and everything ties together.”


What’s the takeaway here? If you can become an expert at getting people to like you and knowing a lot about them then you can be successful in helping them achieve their fitness goals. Talk to them; Talk to them often and check in with them when you haven’t seen them. Remind them why they came to you in the first place and ask if there is anything they need in particular or feel that they’re struggling on. You might be surprised at what you learn and it may just save your clients from the dreaded dropout that so many are facing.


You must try to build an emotional connection with your clients. The more you know, the more likely they are to feel comfortable and follow your instruction. They will also invest in your skills and seek to remain on their journey. You must nurture these relationships if you want them to grow.




  • Kravitz, Len, PhD. Exercise Motivation: What Starts and Keeps People Exercising? Rep. University of New Mexico, Albuquerque. Web. 6 Feb. 2016. unm.edu/~lkravitz/Article folder/ExerciseMot.pdf

  • Sheena. Personal Interview. 8 February 2016
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