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Attendance, Adherence, Drop out and Retention

Patterns of gym member attendance, adherence, drop-out and retention tell us many when to be at the gym, when and how to help members, and what happens when you don't. Ignore this at your peril!

Building on your understanding of peoples motives for exercise and their reasons for cancelling or remaining a fitness club member it is valuable to gain an understanding of when members attend the gym, what helps them adhere to exercise, when they are at risk of dropping out, and what makes them most likely to be retained as members by a club, and as clients by you.

Before we continue with this page lets quickly clarify these terms:

  • Attendance; refers simply to how often the member/client turns up at the club to train
  • Adherence; refers to how well the member/client sticks to the prescribed programme(s) they were given, i.e. are they training at the prescribed intensity?
  • Drop out; occurs when the member/client has stopped attending the club or training with you and does not intend to re-start even if they still have a club membership with time still on it
  • Retention; is simply whether or not a member rejoins their club membership when it expires


Information regarding these patterns has been gathered from IHRSA (The International Health Racquet and Sportsclub Association) and The Fitness Industry Association (FIA).


Attendance and drop out patterns

Attendance patterns at fitness clubs across a day usually have three peaks relating to when members can most easily access the club.  The peaks are; 6am-8am, 12pm-2pm, 5pm-7pm.  This is of course a guide only, but it holds true for most fitness clubs. These peaks typically correlate to 'before work', 'lunch break' and 'after work'.

personal%20training%20attendance%20over%20a%20day     personal%20training%20attendance%20over%20a%20week

Attendance patterns at clubs across a week typically have the pattern (see the graph on the right above) relating to when members are most focused on achieving outcomes and have the least distractions; highest on Monday and Wednesday, Tuesday and Thursday slightly lower, Friday and the weekend the lowest.  Again this is a guide but it holds true for most clubs.  At the start of the week, coming off a reflective weekend, members mentally prepare themselves to go to the club.  By mid-week their motivation starts to ‘waiver’ and by weeks end their focus is often elsewhere – Friday night drinks, the movies or planning for the weekend. 

Attendance patterns across a membership will vary widely however research into large numbers of members has shown the following;


After one month

After three months

After 6 months

Attended <4 times




Attended 4-7 times




Attended 8-11 times




Attended 12+ times




Winning the retention battle, Fitness Industry Association, 2001

So over time fitness club attendance looks like this;

 personal%20training%20members%20attendance%20over%206%20months     personal%20training%20%25%20of%20members%20in%20each%20category

The following can be seen from these numbers;

  1. Attendance generally decreases as time goes on
  2. The reduction in attendance is much lower in those who attend more often initially
  3. Attendance decreases dramatically if it starts out low in the first month
  4. The difference between attendance in month three and six is minimal suggesting that attendance patterns are well established by month three.
  5. By the sixth month of membership almost 44% of members are attending less than once a week (4 times a month) – typically we would class this as ‘drop out’ at month six and ‘at risk membership’ at month one and three.
  6. At month six, around 29% of members use the club eight or more times a month – typically we would class this as ‘active membership’
  7. At month six, around 27% of members use the club between 4 and 7 times a month – typically we would class this as ‘low usage membership’


Retention patterns of gym members

Attendance and retention are inherently linked.  One of the main reasons for this is that if I (as a club member) attend I perceive and receive some value from my membership investment.  Essentially attendance is an indicator that I’m getting something that I like enough, and/or there is something that I want to change enough, that I continue to make the investment of time and effort to attend (usually I’ve already paid my membership or committed to some contracted term so the cost is already there, what I’m establishing as a member is the value – through usage amongst other things).

When I stop attending I’m sending a strong signal that the club isn’t meeting my needs or expectations, or that my needs have changed.  The ‘value issue’ for clubs (and personal trainers) is not one of ‘price’ but one of ‘usage’, i.e. the more members and clients use, the more value they'll receive.

There are a huge number of factors involved, however, the message is clear, the pro’s no longer outweigh the con’s when a member is not attending.  It is the job of all front line staff (and one of the most effective avenues for personal trainers to build clientele) to find out what isn’t working for non-attending members and do something about it immediately.  Otherwise drop out and low retention are sure to follow.

Here are some numbers outlining the relationship between attendance and retention

  • Members who visit less than once a week in the first month of membership rejoin 59% of the time.  Those who visit at least three times a week in the first month of membership rejoin 78% of the time (a 19% difference)
  • Members who are ‘low frequency attendees’ (less than once a week) in month one but improve to be ‘high attendees’ (more than three times a week) by month three are 14% more likely to rejoin.
  • After three months changes in attendance seem to have little affect on rejoin rate.
  • Overall there is a ‘dose response’ relationship between attendance and retention.  Those who visit more, rejoin more.


It seems clear that the following are priorities for all fitness professionals working with club members;

  1. Establish attendance at a frequency of three or more times a week in the first month with new members/clients
  2. Contact new members who aren’t sticking to their exercise plan (which clearly outlines attendance frequency) immediately and work to increase attendance to at least three times a week within the first three months of membership.


Again, these are general guidelines and the specific needs of an individual member will override these, however this is a way to prioritise your efforts when you work in the ‘front line’ with members.

The following graph is based on IHRSA research and shows the distribution of attrition (note that attrition is just the % of members who didn’t rejoin – another way of showing retention)


Here we see that the majority of fitness clubs have an ‘attrition’ rate of 30-50%, i.e. every year the majority of clubs are loosing up to 50% of their members.  And a very small minority (5%) of clubs are loosing less than 30% of their members annually.  If you consider the controllable reasons members leave clubs then it’s pretty obvious from these statistics that the majority of fitness clubs (and all the fitness professionals within them) have a significant opportunity to connect with more members, more often in a more meaningful way.


What do we know about adherence within clubs?

Well, not a lot actually.  One of the reasons for this is we don’t have an easy way to collect the information.  How can we tell if the member is exercising at their prescribed levels when we don’t collect this information centrally?  Only the gym instructor/fitness consultant or personal trainer knows both the prescription and member well enough to deduce whether the prescription is being followed.  This usually happens during programme card reviews and/or formal progress reports. 

However, if we accept that attendance and adherence creates results then we can look at information about the affect of ‘achieving results’ on retention.

Members do want to feel and see results as an outcome of their involvement with a club. 44% of all members agree that staff helping them achieve their initial fitness goal(s) contributes to their satisfaction with their membership.

Such results validate the value of the membership. There is an important lesson here for the industry: In many members’ eyes, customer service is not simply about being friendly or involved; it is about helping members get results.  As such, a focus on both the attendance and adherence of members, which creates results, msut be a very central focus for all fitness professionals.

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