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The Factors That Affect Attendance: In Detail

In order to improve your clients attendance there are a host of personal, environmental and cognitive fators that you must address. There may be a few surprises for you here...

As we have covered in previous pages there are a lot of things that affect whether someone keeps coming to the fitness club.  If someone comes back to the club every time they planned to we call this ‘high attendance’ (they are sticking to their plans).  If someone doesn’t come back to club very often, even though they planned to, we call this ‘low attendance’.

Some of the factors that affect attendance are ‘personal, some are about the club environment, and some are due to the person’s perceptions of themselves and their situation.  We call this last group cognitive factors because it’s what someone ‘thinks’ that is important here.

In this page we’ll look in a little more detail at specific personal, environmental and cognitive factors and how they help or hinder people ‘sticking to it’ (exercise that is)! By considering these factors we can identify ways in which we as fitness professionals can provide extra help to those members/clients that need it to improve their attendance and adherence to exercise.


Personal factors and their affect on ‘attendance’ (people sticking at it)

Personal factors include such things as; smoking, age, income, weight loss diet, level of education, weight, personality type, gender, exercise history, sporting history.

Personal factors are things about the person and their history.  Research has shown that some of these factors make it less likely a person will ‘stick’ to their exercise, whilst other factors make it more likely.  Here is a detailed summary of those ‘personal factors’, their effect on attendance, and some of the reasons that might cause this:

If the person is…


Negative effect on attendance – because if someone is smoking exercise is harder and often smokers take up exercising after they give up.  Therefore, if they take up smoking again they are highly likely to stop exercising.

Over 50 years of age

Positive effect on attendance – the mature are more likely to exercise than the younger.


Negative effect on attendance – possibly due to access to recreation opportunities, high number of work hours, and lifestyle factors (neighbourhood safety)

Quite wealthy

Positive effect on attendance – access to all recreation opportunities and wealth and education are correlated so it’s likely the benefits of exercise are better known.

On a diet

No effect on attendance – it appears someone who is dieting is just as likely to not continue to exercise as someone who isn’t.  As exercise introduces more change into someone’s life and has a caloric cost it could be reasoned that being on a diet and exercising is harder than just taking up and trying to stick to exercise alone.

Tertiary educated

Positive effect on attendance – the more educated may have a better understanding of exercise and its benefits; they may have also been surrounded by recreation opportunities through schools and universities for a larger proportion of their lives.


No effect on attendance – being overweight does not affect whether someone will attend to exercise or not.  The reason may be that an overweight person has more reason to exercise than a normal weight person, hence tries more often to adopt and maintain an exercise habit.

Of normal weight

No effect on attendance – as above

Focused and likes control type of personality

No effect on attendance – there appears to be little to suggest that particular personalities stick to exercise more than others.  It is more likely that the interaction and experience a person gets from exercise will cause attendance and that the exposure must cater for the personality of the person.

Gentle, caring and wants hand holding type of personality

No effect on attendance – as above

Is female

No effect on attendance – in long term studies no gender differences have been identified in exercise attendance

Is male

No effect on attendance – in long term studies no gender differences have been identified in exercise attendance

Unfit and hasn’t exercised much ever

No effect on attendance – there appears to be no difference as to whether someone has exercised previously or not on their attendance.  Some possible explanations include that a person taking up exercise for the first time may do so with more support and conscious effort than someone who has exercised on and off before.  It is quite common for the ‘mature and motivated,’ once the kids have gone from home, to take up exercise consistently for the very first time in their lives.  It can also be a function of the person’s wishes for self preservation with age.

Fit and has exercised a lot at times

No effect on attendance – as above.

Sporty and has been most of their life

No effect on attendance - Athletes are just as likely to not attend after their career is over as non-athletes.  The mechanisms could be exercise boredom or linking of exercise with a competitive outcome.  Once removed from the context of competition ex-athletes may struggle to motivate themselves to continue.

Not sporty and never has been

No effect on attendance – as above

As you can see there are some surprises but interestingly that simply means ‘do not presume anything’ about your members and/or clients.  Just do your best to help each and every one of them come back again and again.


What ‘environmental’ factors affect attendance?

personal%252520training%252520group%252520boxingA person’s exercise environment can also affect attendance.  Environmental factors include; group cohesion (whether someone feels connected to a group), social support (how much support they get in the group), economic cost (how much it costs to take part), disruptions (school holidays, kids illnesses), enjoyment of exercise (was it fun), feedback (was I encouraged).

Here is a summary of those ‘environmental factors’, their effect on attendance, and some of the reasons that might cause this:

If the person’s exercise environment is…

In a group where everyone is welcome and feels like they belong (social cohesion)

Positive effect on attendance – there appears to be a ‘group effect’ with exercise in that when people feel they belong and are comfortable within that community they are much more likely to keep coming back despite any apparent exercise result.

Has high levels of social support

Positive effect on attendance – groups and individuals providing social support to an exerciser improves their attendance.  It is thought that the dual pay-off of exercise benefits and socialisation is the reason.

Has low levels of social support – people are pretty much left to it

Negative effect on attendance – the reverse of the above holds true also

Filled with opportunities to be active in an affordable way

Positive effect on attendance – attendance improves as the opportunity to easily and affordably engage in exercise does.  It is thought that the inherent cues to exercise in an environment have an effect – an example may be the level of exercise undertaken at school due to its ‘breaks, open spaces and play mates’.

Not filled with many cheap exercise opportunities

Negative effect on attendance – price does appear to affect engagement and attendance in exercise as where there is a cost, budget restrictions can come in to play.

Often disrupted by holidays, work and family

Negative effect on attendance – habits formed can be broken by constant environmental interruptions.  A contingency plan and re-commitment are thought to assist with this level of ‘disruption’.

Full of fun

Positive effect on attendance – when people enjoy themselves they are more likely to come back.  The balance sheet can be stacked highly in the favour of continuing exercise where enjoyment is achieved.

Not set up for fun, but more just results

Negative effect on attendance – the reverse of the above.  Exercise which punishes, is solely goal oriented and not enjoyable for the individual, or requires significant effort or discomfort is very likely to be avoided.

Filled with instructors giving them specific feedback on how well they are doing

Positive effect on attendance – specific positive feedback increases attendance as it validates the exercisers efforts and enables them to receive further positive reinforcement from those in their social group (didn’t he do well!)

Lead by instructors who aren’t that available and don’t give much positive feedback

Negative effect on attendance – as above.  Exercising devoid of encouragement, validation for your efforts, or feedback on your progress is discouraging.


What ‘cognitive’ factors affect attendance?

personal%20training%20balancing%20actA person’s thoughts about exercise and their ability to do it (including fitting it in to their day) can significantly affect attendance.  Cognitive factors include; a perceived lack of time, self-efficacy (the level of belief they have that they can do the exercise), self-motivation (the level of desire they have to do the exercise).

Here is a summary of those ‘cognitive factors’, their effect on attendance, and some of the reasons that might cause this:

If the person thinks that they have…

A lack of time available

Negative effect on attendance – the perception that time isn’t available to exercise and that exercise is time consuming results in exercisers stopping or never starting

Heaps of time to fit exercise in

Positive effect on attendance – those who perceive there is time to exercise are much more likely to do so.

Little chance of doing the exercise properly or well

Negative effect on attendance – those who think that they can’t do it, or won’t eventually ‘master it’ avoid exercise situations

A great chance of being able to do what is asked of them

Positive effect on attendance – those who believe they can do things and/or can learn how to do them are much more likely to engage in and continue exercising

A good amount of motivation to keep going

Positive effect on attendance – those who are self determined and have an internal motivation to exercise are more likely to stick at it despite the challenges within their environment and from the exercise itself.  The most determined are often athletes who have to do hours and hours of training weekly.

Not much chance of sticking at exercise

Negative effect on attendance – people who believe they won’t stick at a particular exercise routine over the longer term are more likely to drop out sooner or not start exercising at all.


What can a fitness professional change to help the new member in the club?

There is a relationship between the positives and negatives relating to attending planned exercise sessions.  This relationship is never ‘stagnant’ but forever changes.  That is one reason why ‘attendance’ is a continual challenge rather than a ‘one-off’ fix.  Below we see some of the factors we’ve talked about that clearly affect attendance in a ‘see-saw’ diagram. 

As a fitness professional you need to essentially make sure that the positive variables always outweigh the negative variables and the see-saw is weighted towards good attendance for all your members and clients.


When you look at all of the personal, environmental, and cognitive factors there are a lot of opportunities for us to modify what is going on before, during and after club visits to make it more likely our members and clients will come back.

Thinking about it further, here is just a short list of things all fitness professionals can do to create a positive effect.  We hope you are starting to realise that as a fitness professional you have a fantastic opportunity to help others. Are you capitalising on this opportunity?

If the person is...


Be aware of who is stopping smoking and provide encouragement.  Make sure they don’t over exert themselves during cardiovascular training as they  may experience shortness of breath which could turn them off exercise

Quite wealthy

Encourage people to investigate other exercise options if they can afford it.  Tell members about upcoming opportunities within the club to be more active.

Overweight / normal weight

Given it has no effect, don’t dwell on it.  Just work to peoples’ capabilities and help them enjoy their time in the club.

Unfit and hasn’t exercised much ever

Given it has no effect; you can see that it’s more important to make sure programmes are flexible to cater for individual needs. 

If the person’s exercise environment is…

In a group where everyone is welcome and feels like they belong (social cohesion)

Introduce yourself to new people, make them feel welcome make sure you approach them during their visit and thank them for coming and ask for feedback – make a connection.

Not filled with many cheap exercise opportunities

Talk to them about their budget and find out what they can afford.  Offer group sessions, boot camps, fortnightly sessions or shorter sessions as a means to reduce the price barrier to exercise.

Has low levels of social support

Provide support before and after the visit, and get to know your members so you can share their stories.  Share yourself as a person, both personal things about your day and life, and by showing you are focused and care during your consultations.

Often disrupted by holidays, work and family

Know when the big holidays are and pre-empt the return of members.  Find out who’s going away for holiday’ or who’s taking the long weekend and going out of the city.  Before the break organize to see them again on their return or timetable in what day you should see them back in the club again.

Full of fun

Enjoy yourself and enjoy being with your members.  Clubs should not be cold, removed environments.  Get your smiley face on, have fun, be proud of your club and your business and be genuine.

Filled with instructors giving them specific feedback on how well they are doing

Give specific feedback on positives – ‘great back position Tim, nice and strong’.  Avoid identifying people ‘not doing this or that’.  Make yourself a golden example and point to others who are doing well.  Share it around and comment on what improvements you see in individuals.  Always be positive about ‘turning up’.  Without them coming, nothing would change.

Lead by instructors who aren’t that available and don’t give much positive feedback

Always be available to your members and clients.  If you can’t, then consider whether you should be in this line of work.

If the person thinks that they have

A lack of time available

Let people leave early without giving them a hard time.  Don’t berate the person who’s late, discuss why and try to help by adjusting their plan or programme and looking at the best time of their day with them. Avoid prescribing long sessions.

Little chance of doing the exercise properly or well

Congratulate people on making progress.  Give feedback when people get the techniques right, master another level of intensity or difficulty and are having fun.  If a member struggles with a particular exercise approach them and offer one to one coaching.

A good amount of motivation to keep going

Remind members of the value of exercise by instructing well – ‘we’re working the back now, that wonderful thing that keeps us upright and smiling’, following up with the benefits after a workout / during warm down – ‘fantastic session, we went for 45 minutes, worked solidly with lots of calories burnt and muscles toned – great job’


Consider your club as a big group of communities

There are many different ‘communities’ that operate and interact within fitness clubs.  There is usually a community of personal trainers, group fitness instructors, fitness consultants, reception/sales staff, management, morning members, mid morning group fitness members, the lunch time crowd, etc.  Each of these communities overlaps, as they interact, and one person can be a ‘member’ of several of them.

What allows us to define a community is usually what they do, where they do it, how they communicate, their ‘connectedness’, when they do things, their age, social status, common beliefs, etc.

personal%20training%20spinCommunities have cultures.  That is each community usually has a ‘set of behaviours or norms’ that makes up its culture.  An example might be the ‘group fitness community’ at a club whose culture might include behaviours of ‘enjoying music, liking dance, being outgoing, being conscious of appearance, communicating well in groups, being up to date with the latest classes’.

Each community has slightly different cultures.  The key to being an effective personal trainer is to be able to communicate with and understand a wide variety of these communities and ‘fit’ their cultural norms so that you can provide services effectively.  An  example might be that if you don’t understand the corporate community, it’s time pressure, direct communication style, need to be flexible with exercise, language and interests, then working with them as clients or members is more difficult.

Part of being effective is to go outside of your culture and in to theirs.  The effort is in understanding how they act, and why they act the way they do, how they like to communicate, what words they use and then to talk to them regularly.  It’s only once you are part of their community that you’ll be able to help them deal with any issues they are hindering their training.

You should also note that the sense of ‘belonging’ members/clients (and you) have to the club will be founded not on the club’s brand, but more on the ‘connectedness’ that exists between yourself and the communities within the club.  Great trainers are usually very good at getting on with a wide variety of people – so they can help everyone get what they need. 

Remember this when you first get into a club.  Be open to everyone and take it easy initially, get to know who’s who, and what’s what.  Develop rapport first, then, over time, you can become a valuable part of the communities you need to support in your club.

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