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How to Improve Attendance and Adherence

It's not rocket science! This page looks at the simple things all fitness professionals need to do to help club members and clients build a productive exercise habit.

How can all fitness professionals affect member attendance?

The key to getting club members and personal training clients to come back and train time and time again is to build a strong relationship and understanding of the person, create an achievable plan and work with them to follow through on the plan.

Tpersonal%25252520training%25252520consultationhis involves doing the following things;

1.  Conduct a consultation/screening with the member/prospective client extremely well so that you can learn what their goals, needs and preferences are

2.  Customise an exercise plan with them to specifically meet their short term goals, address their needs and cater to their preferences

3.  Put in place an ‘intervention strategy’ which tells you what, when and how to help the member/client if they don’t adhere to their plan

personal%20training%20designing%20programme4.  Design exercise programmes that will achieve short term results, that include progressions, and ensure the exercise experience is as enjoyable as possible for the member/client

5.  Teach them to exercise effectively and enjoyably adjusting the programmes where necessary

6.  Monitor their attendance and adherence and provide specific, positive and individualized feedback as soon and often as possible.

7.  Where the member/client is not attending execute the ‘intervention’ strategy immediately.

As a fitness professional, your execution of the above tasks significantly affects club member’s attendance, adherence and therefore results.  And that affects retention in the long term, not only of club members but of your individual PT clients.


How can fitness professionals affect member adherence

When a member/client attends regularly you are half way there!  The next step is to encourage them to adhere to their programme or talk to you to get their programme updated to better suit their needs.

Some of the keys to creating adherence are;

  1. Setting clear expectations
  2. Expecting improvement and programming it in
  3. Inspect what you expect (check the work is being done, the progressions being actioned)
  4. Positively reinforce progress as often as possible and be available/ask for feedback
  5. Troubleshoot programmes with clients as soon as you see deviations


The practical programming guidance you will receive at will show you how to achieve the above for the members and clients you will work with in your fitness role.


What sort of programmes seem to help most with attendance

Unfortunately there isn’t a lot of research available on programming factors and their relation to attendance, and the research there is has to be taken in the context that it is hard to isolate any single programming factor as causing more or less attendance.

Here are some of the programme factors (frequency, intensity and duration) and their influence on attendance as reported in research and referenced in the following text: Exercise Adherence – Its impact on Public Health – Rod.K.Dishman1988.  We'll now look at the key findings and make some 'commonsense' assumptions from them.


Frequency of training

personal%20training%20effect%20of%20frequency%20on%20attendanceBased on Dishman’s research it appears that either infrequent training (at 1-2 x per week) or more frequent training (at 5 x per week) cause greater retention.  A possible explanation for this is that infrequent training is easy to stick to because it demands less of your weekly time, and may be more ‘event’ like by nature (e.g. I get together with someone once a week for a game of tennis and a coffee).  Contrastingly, training five times a week means that the exercise is truly a daily habit and so easier to do consistently once the habit is established.

Interestingly the most common prescription frequency amongst fitness professionals of 'three times per week' appears to be the most difficult frequency to stick to.  The ‘day on, day off’ prescription may suit the body’s need for stress and recovery, but it doesn’t seem to fit as well with people’s patterns of behaviour compared to more or less frequent exercise.

Ultimately the take home message for personal trainers is that there is no set rule for an ideal training frequency.  The ideal training frequency will be different for every client depending on the goals and timeframe for achieving these, and the time they have available for training.


Intensity of training

personal%20training%20effect%20of%20intensity%20on%20attendanceIn Dishman’s study (which was based on running) the higher intensity interval and combination (half interval and half continuous) running were much more likely to cause a person to stop attending.  Significantly other research shows that attendance and initial exercise intensity are inversely correlated for the general population.  Fundamentally, the harder it is, the less likely they’ll keep coming. 

So, it’s a fine balance between getting enough exercise to create positive results, without getting so much that the member decides it’s not worth it.  In the human behaviour folder at we talk about the ‘decisional balance sheet’.  You can predict that if someone is very tired, sore or the workout is uncomfortable, that the pro’s and con’s of exercise can quite quickly tilt in the wrong direction.

So as personal trainers when exercising new clients we need to take into account the potential negative effects of higher intensity exercise on attendance.  In most cases its NOT a good idea to train people so hard they can’t walk for the next week!

Interestingly, at the conclusion of the Dishman’s study the combination group were asked which program they preferred and 90% said they preferred the continuous jogging over the high-intensity intervals.

Training duration

personal%20training%20effect%20of%20duration%20on%20attendanceDishman’s study also showed the longer the training duration was the lower the percentage of people that continued to attend.  This relates to the significant barrier to exercise of ‘perceived time’.  Not only do people tend to exercise close to home or work (reducing travel time), but they also stick to exercise better if they have shorter workout options.

Frequency, duration, mode, and intensity of exercise must be carefully managed to ensure under or overtraining is prevented, perceived time is low (you can always give them the option to add time on), the exercise is able to be scheduled in to the week, and the exercise experience is not too uncomfortable but still enough of a stimulus to cause change.  Hopefully you can see from this why we consider exercise prescription to be more of an ‘art’ than a science - i.e. you absolutely must consider and prescribe according to the members/clients personal factors as much, if not more than the scientific factors.


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