Has the introduction of group exercise classes improved gym member retention rates, and if so should gym owners and employees be encouraging members to join them?
In the past, joining the gym was a fairly solitary experience.
A person could sign up, and then they were free to use the equipment as and when they wished. However, there was little interaction between gym goers and staff (unless hiring a personal trainer), and the communication between members themselves rarely extended to more than a sweaty grimace as they queued for the water cooler.
Individuals were responsible for their workouts, set their personal goals and if they didn’t achieve them it was nobody business apart from their own.
Nowadays, however, the landscape of the fitness industry has changed dramatically, and gym members now face many choices. While there is still the option to workout solo, with the introduction of classes and group exercise sessions, it seems like almost every week there is a new trend for an exercise class that promises to give attendees their dream bodies in no time at all. But do these classes live up to the hype, and are they helping or hindering gym member retention?
Is group exercise good for member retention rates?
Is it possible that the introduction of group exercise has helped to improve member retention rates? Or does choosing to participate increase possibility of failure, create confusion and a loss of ownership of one’s own workouts? Let’s examine the pros and cons of each:
Group exercise pros
Group exercises encourage members to do their best. Those who work out with peers around them are more likely to push themselves further, so their workout is more productive. People don’t want to be the first person to drop out or refuse to participate appropriately, and research demonstrates that the healthy actions of others do influence us. A study published in the Journal of Social Sciences found that participants gravitate towards the exercise behaviors of those around them.
Group exercises can be helpful to those new to exercise as they can try different kinds of classes out and see which ones suit them best. Group exercise gives people the opportunity to socialise while working out and gives newbies more confidence and knowledge without having to hire a personal trainer. A 2016 study published in the journal Obesity reported that overweight people lose increased amounts of weight if they spend time with their fit friends, and weight loss continues to grow the more time they spend together. People who workout in group sessions also feel more accountable to others and are therefore less likely to skip workouts and will keep coming back for more.
A group exercise class can help those lacking in motivation feel encouraged and energised. The ‘we’re in this together’ mentality of a group exercise class means that participants are more likely to encourage one another, engage with one another and spur one another on to make it through to the end. The sense of satisfaction and achievement is also a shared experience which can help motivate members to commit to the class and continue to return to the gym to participate.
Researchers from the University of Southern California found that people who worked out with friends (or a spouse or co-worker) reported that they took more enjoyment in their exercise than those who worked out solo. The variety provided by the range of classes also mixes things up, keeping workouts fresh and exciting and helping members improve their health, fitness, body shape and strength in different ways.
Group exercise cons
Group exercise can have an adverse effect if people start to view the class as a punishment and a chore rather than a fun and social activity. If members begin to feel pressurised and guilty, this could be a recipe for disaster, and they may start to avoid the classes to negate these feelings.
Group exercise classes could also negatively affect retention rates if a member starts to feel as though they can’t keep up, or begins to compare themselves to others in the class. A study reported that exercising in mirrored environments could make some women feel more self-conscious.
Lack of individual attention
In group exercise classes instructors rarely have the time to give participants individual attention, and therefore there is the increased chance of injury if an individual does not perform an exercise correctly or pushes themselves beyond their limitations. The lack of personalised attention could also result in some participants not having their needs or goals met. Classes are usually created around the based common needs of everyone who takes part, and therefore there is less scope for members who wish to push boundaries beyond this.
Gym only pros
Increased focus/ reduced distractions
Those who choose to work out in the gym alone may find that they have more focus than participants in a group setting. They can work on personal goals and don’t have the distractions of others around them so can zone in on their workouts and prioritise their unique fitness goals.
Classes can sometimes focus on just one area of fitness, those who choose to work out in the gym alone can take advantage of all the different machines to add variety to their workouts. If there is a particular area they want to focus on, they can choose the equipment and exercises to allow them to do so, rather than being dictated to by the class instructor.
Can workout at own pace and set personal goals
Group exercise classes cater to the needs of the masses where those gym members who have specific, individualised goals can create their own workouts to maximise effectiveness and achieve them at their own pace with no external pressure.
Gym only cons
The solitary nature of just working out in the gym alone can have an adverse effect on members motivation. Without the social aspects and feeling part of a community, if gym goers don’t see their desired results they could quickly become at risk for cancelling their membership. They may feel less connected and loyal to the gym and therefore may find it less affecting to stop coming to the gym than members who feel as though they are part of a community and enjoy the social aspects of their workouts too.
By not getting involved in group exercises a gym member has no one to be accountable for their workouts other than themselves. There is no one to encourage them, nor anyone to make them feel guilty if they choose not to attend. This can result in those gym only members to slowly decrease their attendance until they stop coming altogether.
It shows that by encouraging gym members to attend group exercise classes, retention rates should improve. Therefore gym owners may wish to consider investing more time and resources into providing and marketing group exercise classes to their members and motivating employees to sell these classes to gym goers.
It is important to note, however, that there are downsides to group classes that could also result in a negative impact on retention, for example, if a member pushed themselves too hard and got injured or felt as though they couldn’t keep up and became demotivated. Therefore gym owners should take care when pushing group exercise classes onto members and should really target the right cohort when encouraging either group or solo