Turning New Members into Lifelong Clients: The Importance of Accountability and Community for Getting Active

Turning new Members into Lifelong clients: The Importance of Accountability and Community for Getting Active
By Erin Phelan

By Erin Phelan

Fitness Industry Council of Canada

What makes someone stick with a fitness program? The research continues to show that there are many reasons someone starts – a health scare, wanting to look good in summer shorts, a family history of heart disease. But often these studies show the start line – not the marathon of a never-ending fitness journey.


There is no finish line.


Embarking on a fitness journey can be daunting, but accountability and community support can significantly enhance compliance and success. Research underscores the critical role these elements play in helping individuals stick to their fitness programs, leading to long-term health benefits. As gyms continue to break records in new member sign ups and revenues, we are in an opportunity moment in time to seize upon the power of what we do as the fitness industry to not only change the physical and mental health of our members, but impact their social health, and their joy.


How do you turn a new member into a lifelong client? Read on.

Tip #1: Hello? It is the gym calling.

Accountability could be the secret sauce. For our members, it can be as simple as greeting the front desk staff (and having them call you by name) or checking in with a coach, trainer, or workout buddy. This sense of responsibility can dramatically improve adherence to fitness programs. A study from the “Annals of Behavioral Medicine” revealed that participants who engaged in self-monitoring and received feedback from others were more likely to achieve their fitness goals. The study highlighted that the external accountability provided by feedback mechanisms plays a pivotal role in maintaining motivation and adherence to exercise routines.


A study published in the “Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology” found that individuals who received regular phone calls about their exercise habits significantly increased their physical activity levels compared to those who did not receive such calls. The study demonstrated that the act of reporting one’s progress to another person fosters a higher degree of commitment and consistency in exercising.


Tip #2: Stronger together.

The fitness family is a powerful tool in accountability and compliance. Joining a gym, becoming a “regular” in someone’s fitness class can provide a sense of camaraderie and support, making exercise a more enjoyable and sustainable activity.


A 2015 study in the “American Journal of Health Promotion” investigated the effects of group-based versus individual-based exercise programs. The researchers found that participants in the group-based program exhibited higher attendance rates and greater improvements in fitness levels compared to those in the individual-based program. The study stressed that the social interactions and mutual encouragement inherent in group settings fostered a supportive environment that enhances adherence to exercise routines.


Moreover, the psychological benefits of community support cannot be overstated. A 2019 study published in “Frontiers in Psychology” examined the impact of social support on exercise behavior. The researchers discovered that individuals who received emotional support from their peers were more likely to maintain their exercise routines and experience greater psychological well-being. This underscores the importance of a supportive community in not only promoting physical health but also enhancing mental health.


Tip 3: There’s an app for that.

We live in the digital age, and using technology to enhance accountability is a smart practice for gyms whether it is creating your own app, or engaging with members on their fitness apps and through wearables to track progress and provide reminders and feedback 


A 2016 study published in “The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology” evaluated the impact of wearable fitness trackers on physical activity levels. The researchers found that participants who used these devices increased their average daily steps by approximately 2,500 compared to those who did not use trackers. This increase was attributed to the continuous feedback and self-monitoring capabilities provided by the wearables, which served as constant reminders to stay active.

Additionally, social media platforms offer opportunities for users to join fitness communities, share their progress, and receive encouragement. A 2017 study in the “Journal of Medical Internet Research” highlighted that participants who engaged in online fitness communities reported higher levels of motivation and exercise adherence. The study concluded that the social support and sense of community provided by these platforms play a significant role in sustaining engagement in fitness activities.


As we head into summer, you are going to want to leverage the tools available to keep members engaged in your community.


Here are a few ideas:

  1. Partner Up: If you know members are spending time at the cottage or are going to be away on and off, create a “buddy system” in your gym! Finding a workout buddy or joining a fitness group can provide mutual motivation and support. The shared commitment helps both parties stay on track and makes exercising more enjoyable. If one is away, they can share pictures from the gym – FOMO is real!


  1. Track it: Create a challenge where your members track specific, measurable, and time-bound fitness goals can enhance accountability. Create a leaderboard on social media of who came to the gym the most that week! Sharing these goals with a friend or a fitness coach can further reinforce commitment.


  1. Create experiences: Participating in group fitness classes can create a sense of community and accountability and summer is a great time to “step outside” – why not move your equipment to the parking lot one Saturday for a circuit class?


  1. Give Back: Many of your members have a philanthropic heart, and partnering with a local or national organization to raise funds or awareness is a great way to bring your community together.


  1. Check In: Scheduling regular check-ins with a fitness coach or mentor can provide ongoing support and guidance. These check-ins can help address challenges, celebrate successes, and adjust goals as needed.

This June, Fitness Industry Canada (FIC) partner Participaction set the Community Challenge – where communities are competing against each other to be the most active community in Canada. Let’s keep this energy going all year long.


Accountability and community are essential components of a successful fitness program. Studies consistently show that individuals who receive regular feedback, support, and encouragement are more likely to adhere to their exercise routines and achieve their fitness goals. By leveraging the power of accountability and community, we can enhance motivation, enjoy the journey, and ultimately improve overall health and well-being for all.

Fitness Industry Council of Canada (FIC) is the not-for profit trade association that represents the voice of fitness facility operators across Canada. Representing more than 6,000 facilities with more than six-million members nationwide, FIC pursues a legislative agenda in the hope of bettering the fitness industry for both consumers and operators. FIC aims to work with both industry and government to improve the health and physical activity levels of Canadians.

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