Turning paying fitness clients into staying clients requires as much finesse as it does the appropriate application of science. Just because you get the client in the door or on the screen, is not a guarantee that they will stay with you for the long haul. Client retention is an important nonscience, human skill you need to grow your fitness business. Before you start to grow your list of clients, review the common reasons clients leave their personal trainers. Fitness clients will have different reasons for discontinuing their personal training sessions – some are out of your control (and not anything you can change). However, the most common reasons clients quit are avoidable.

Top 5 Reasons Fitness Clients Quit

Poor program design. Workout programming design is not just about reps, sets, volume, and exercises. For any workout program to be successful it must be connected to clients’ goals, needs, and likes. In other words, taking a cookie-cutter approach will ensure client (and personal trainer) failure. Engage with your clients in the process of goal setting and try to understand their history with exercise and activity as well as what they like. Make the program robust and reflective of those interests.

Restrictive or inflexible programming. It is true, consistency is important. We want our clients to be consistent with their activity levels and dietary habits. But this does not require that clients follow the exact same routine day after day, week after week on end. Clients’ optimal performance will fluctuate and look different each session. There will be times you have to abandon the plan in favor of something fun or less stressful. That is ok (in fact, it is necessary). This helps clients avoid burnout and boredom. Switch up the plan. Change the exercises, the base of support, or the general movement pattern. Create challenges or obstacle courses or throw in a yoga session. Do not fear a creative approach.

No chemistry. Like any relationship, the client-trainer connection must be present and nurtured. Clients leave trainers who do not invest in them as individuals and who do not try to get to know them. Clients are more than the goals they set with us. They are people with busy, noise-filled lives. As you work with your clients and track their reps and sets, keep anecdotal notes during the session. Take note of important comments your clients make such as an upcoming deadline, a project they have at work, a birthday, holiday plans, social events, a new book they are reading, etc. Ask follow-up questions and check-in with your clients about the topics they mentioned to you. Each time you meet with your client, you have an opportunity to make a deposit in the rapport bank account. Make that a priority. Doing so changes this interaction from transactional (paying for a service) to relational (meaningful connection).

Poor or slow results. Clients make progress (or don’t) at different rates and for different reasons. We cannot control what clients do outside of their time with us, but we can influence it. If someone is not achieving results, we first might want to know how they define success and what they determine is a result. Is it increased energy? Is it better sleep? Reduction in body fat and increase in strength? Mental clarity? Take time to understand what your client sees as success and dig deeper into their daily habits and patterns. For example, are they sedentary all day except for their time with you during sessions? That’s a barrier to tackle. Are they lacking in sleep? Talk about a sleep fitness routine. And, as always, make sure the program they are following is rooted in their goals and connected to their likes.

Lack of professionalism. This is one of the top reasons clients walk away. Professionalism is more than the title or certification a person holds. It is behavior, strategy, communication, and appearance. It also includes focus and guidance. A personal trainer who spends the entire time on their phone or conversing with other individuals in the gym instead of motivating, cueing, and encouraging their client is not behaving professionally. We all have “off” days where we are running late or feeling fractured; that is a normal part of life and living. However, when it becomes a pattern, it becomes unprofessional. Arrive early, equipment organized, workout plan ready, space clean and safe, and dress the part (no bootie shorts or shirtless wonder acts).

As you work to build your business, consider drafting a client retention plan (recruiting is the easier part). Think about how you will connect with your clients personally. How you will demonstrate professionalism and celebrate client wins. Contemplate how you will stand out from the mainstream and why what you have to offer is the best value for your consumers. Most importantly, ask for feedback from clients and consider seeking a mentor to help guide you in your early career days.


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Erin Nitschke

Dr. Erin Nitschke, NFPT-CPT, NSCA-CPT, ACE Health Coach, Fitness Nutrition Specialist, Therapeutic Exercise Specialist, and Pn1 is a health and human performance college professor, fitness blogger, mother, and passionate fitness professional. She has over 15 years of experience in the fitness industry and college instruction. Erin believes in the power of a holistic approach to healthy living. She loves encouraging her clients and students to develop body harmony by teaching focused skill development and lifestyle balance. Erin is also the Director of Educational Partnerships & Programs for the NFPT. Erin is an editorial author for ACE, IDEA, The Sheridan Press, and the Casper Star Tribune. Visit her personal blog at belivestaywell.com