5 Things That Will Help Your Gym Members Stick to Their Exercise Habits

Nearly 11% of all health club members join their gyms in January, but 80% of New Year's resolutions are abandoned by February. Here's how to help your members beat the odds.

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During the month of January, health and fitness are at the top of many minds. Google searches for health and fitness peak at the beginning of the year, and according to the 2017 IHRSA Media Report, 10.8% of all health club members join their gyms in January. Yet many who embark on fitness resolutions in the new year struggle to stick with their new habit, and as many as 80% of resolutions fail by February.

Clubs can’t completely guarantee the success of their members, but there are a few things you can do to set them up to achieve their resolutions. Studies have identified several factors linked to better exercise adherence in various groups of people, and here are just five of those factors that clubs can use to help members stick to their resolutions all year long.

1. Enjoyment of exercise

The best type of exercise is the exercise you’ll keep doing. One study found that, among previously inactive, overweight people who tried high-intensity functional training, those who enjoyed the exercise at baseline were more likely to stick with it, and to continue doing similar exercise after the study.

Clubs can offer and encourage members to try a variety of exercise styles and regimens until they find something they enjoy. People should also feel comfortable exploring different types of exercise if they get bored with the same routine. The type of exercise someone does is not as important as how much time they regularly spend performing that exercise.

2. Self-efficacy

Aside from time and cost, intimidation and lack of knowledge about what to do in a gym are commonly cited as both barriers to exercise and reasons for quitting. In a study of people with coronary artery disease, both self-directed motivation and self-efficacy were important determinants of short-term (6-month) exercise adherence. According to the 2013 IHRSA Trend Report, 9% of people left their health club because they felt out of place, and 3% left because they didn’t know what to do there.

Support from gym staff, a personal trainer, friends, or online resources (like your gym’s blog or social media) can be great ways to boost self-efficacy and build members’ knowledge around exercise technique and workout structures. Group fitness is another way to build self-efficacy.  Learning yoga, weight lifting, cycling, or functional training in a coached group setting can better prepare people to exercise on their own and feel confident doing so.

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Google searches for health and fitness​ peak at the beginning of the year

3. Social support

It is often easier to stick to a habit or behavior when your social and family network is supportive. In a study of 100 middle-aged and older adults, social support—in addition to pain and perceived benefits of exercise—predicted adherence to a 12-month, at-home exercise program. It is important for people to build social support by inviting friends and family to join in the new exercise habit and/or seeking out new social opportunities with people who share their new, active interest.

Clubs can encourage people to involve their social circle by offering family memberships or using passes and referral incentives to make bringing a friend easy. People are a lot more likely to stick with exercise if their friends (or family) are there too.

4. Accountability

Along with support, accountability can also be a motivating factor for many people. A qualitative study with a group of middle-aged women indicated that accountability was one of several factors that enabled exercise, and research has shown that people who exercise in groups are more likely to see results.

People can establish accountability by working out with a friend or two, or a coach. Sharing their exercise journey online can also build accountability. For instance, if someone posts on Facebook about going to the gym, they might be more likely to actually go. Clubs can encourage check-ins and progress sharing on social media, or use apps or challenges to help them stick with it.

5. Integration into the daily routine

Lack of time is often cited as a barrier to physical activity, but it doesn’t have to be. Planning ahead is a great way to help overcome this barrier. In the same study of women, having a daily routine that incorporated physical activity also helped enable regular exercise.

Club staff can encourage members and clients to schedule weekly workouts in their calendar to make sure it fits into their day, and can offer shorter group exercise options in the mornings or around lunchtime to accommodate busy schedules. Workouts can also be broken up into smaller blocks to better fit into the day. For example, someone could spend one hour in the gym, or they could spend 30 minutes in the gym and take two 15-minute brisk walks throughout the day.

Taking up an exercise habit can be challenging, but making sure the exercise is enjoyable, enhances a person’s skills and confidence levels, encourages sociability and accountability, and fits into someone’s daily routine can help new fitness enthusiasts stick to their New Year’s resolutions for years to come.

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Alexandra Black Larcom @ihrsagetactive

Alexandra Black Larcom, MPH, RD, LDN, is the Senior Manager of Health Promotion & Health Policy for IHRSA. She spends her days working on resources and projects that help IHRSA clubs offer effective health programs in their communities, and convincing lawmakers that policies promoting exercise are an excellent idea. Outside the office you'll most likely find Alex at the gym, running on the Charles River, or, in the fall, by a TV cheering on the Florida Gators.