// Perspective – Gavin Aquilina

Perspective features the opinions of prominent figures in the fitness industry. Here, fitness educator and consultant Gavin Aquilina argues that to rise above industry averages for attracting, converting and retaining members, we need to address their mental and emotional needs.

Over the past 25 years our industry has seen a massive change in its clientele. No longer the sole domain of athletes and those seeking the body beautiful, members now are as likely to be mums, dads, grandparents and even children. But as an industry we have not evolved at the same pace as this ‘next generation’ of members, and consequently many of them slip through the system.

Figures show that in their very first month of training, when you would expect them to be most motivated to train, only 21 per cent of new members train regularly enough to achieve fat loss, i.e. three or more times per week (Donnelly et al; Hillsdon DM*). With the knowledge that lower attendance leads to higher attrition, this is clearly of concern.

To become members in the first place, people’s motivation has to be high, with both the financial and time investments deemed considerable. Why then, do 58 per cent of members (Pollock et al*) not turn up regularly enough to achieve any result? We can point the finger at the member and blame lack of motivation, or we can point it back on ourselves and ask ‘How can we better service these people’s needs?’

The truth is, their needs are more psychological than physiological. If members adhered to their three-day-a-week training program and followed our nutrition guidance, they would achieve results. If… So, we need to help them overcome the psychological barriers which prevent this adherence. Members need to; feel comfortable in the gym environment; feel confident in what they are doing; feel supported in their new endeavour; feel their needs are being addressed; and understand the direction they are heading with their training.

We need to walk in members’ shoes and ask whether their emotional needs are being met. For gym owners this might mean questioning the design and layout of their clubs. Managers and trainers, meanwhile, can design market-specific programs for seniors, new mums, children and athletes which can be promoted and incorporated into marketing materials.

  1. Hillsdon DM. Winning the retention battle - p1. Fitness Industry Association UK Paper. [Industry paper]. 2001.
  2. Donnelly JE, Blair SN, Jakicic JM, Manore MM, Rankin JW, Smith BK. Appropriate Physical Activity Intervention Strategies for Weight Loss and Prevention of Weight Regain for Adults. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 2009;41(2):459-71.
  3. Pollock M, Gaesser G, Butcher J, Dishman R, Franklin B, Garber C. ACSM Position Stand: The Recommended Quantity And Quality Of Exercise For Developing And Maintaining Cardiorespiratory And Muscular Fitness, And Flexibility In Healthy Adults. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 1998;30(6):975-91.

If you asked 100 members at your facility who were lifting weights why they were doing so, what percentage would be able to tell you, in relation to their life stage and specific needs? As a trainer, manager, owner, consultant and presenter, I have learnt that at every level of our industry we need to work on educating our ‘end user’. Research shows members to be educated people, but they are too often given one dimensional programs, treated like mushrooms and kept in the dark. We need to increase members’ belief in their ability to succeed by providing them with education specific to their goals. Sales people can give prospective clients educational handouts on training and nutrition specific to their life phase. Trainers can design programs that are periodised for the following six months. By educating members as to why they are training in this way, we give them a reason to train three or more times per week.

I have worked with, and presented to, the fitness industry in over 40 countries, and the issues of attracting and retaining members are ever present. To achieve above industry average for attracting and converting members and – even more importantly for the sake of retention – increasing attendance, we have to ask ourselves what we are doing to address their mental and emotional needs, from when they first consider joining, through to when they have been members for five years. Are we making them comfortable at our facilities, increasing their confidence and providing them with direction to their goals?

Our industry is more about psychology than physiology; get the mindset right and the results will follow.

Gavin Aquilina, BHMS (Sports Science)
In his 21-year fitness career, Gavin has been a club owner, personal trainer and instructor. He is a Life Fitness Academy International and TRX Master Trainer. For the past 17 years he has been involved in educating fitness professionals. He consults internationally to facility owners and equipment distributors and is currently completing his masters in nutrition. For further information email gavin@bfit2.com or visit www.gavinaquilina.com or www.BFit2.com