We’ve been tracking data on adherence and retention for years. When Two-Brain gyms began to pivot online because of the COVID crisis, we focused all our attention on that transition.

Within the first week, our huge data set and reporting system made a few things clear:

– Coached classes online (like CrossFit) have a low adherence rate. Attendance drops after three to five days.

– 1:1 online coaching (even just personal attention to modify the group workouts) showed a 90 percent conversion rate for CrossFit-style clients. This was huge for gyms trying to keep their monthly revenues alive. And this platform set many gyms up to grow right away.

– Kids classes actually have a higher attendance rate when done as a virtual class than through 1:1 customized workouts. And early data says that bootcamp-style classes have higher adherence rates than CrossFit classes. My experience makes me think there are three factors at work here:

1. Bootcamp instructors are different; they’re more like Peloton instructors in their ability to hold an audience.

2. It’s hard to spot “movement flaws” and correct movement with video classes, which is what coaches are taught in CrossFit courses.

3. The clients at many “bootcamp” style classes are really invested in the “group feel” instead of constant exercise novelty or performance.

– Finally, planning an online “challenge” lasting five or six weeks is a solid move. Retention through challenges is high, and we’re going to need to keep clients engaged until the COVID crisis is over.

 

More Data

 

But, of course, as we enter this new land of online training, I didn’t want to rely only on our data. Yes, it’s the biggest data set in the world of gym ownership, but it’s not robust in online training (yet). So I turned to the top 10 software platforms and asked questions.

“Who are the top trainers and coaches on your platform?”

“How many clients can they handle at one time?”

“What do they typically sell?” (You’ll find the answer interesting. It’s below.)

“How long do the best coaches keep clients around?”

My goal was to find definitive best practices supported by evidence.

Unfortunately, very few of the software platforms had any answers. They had lots of hypotheses and lots of ideas. But most big software platforms don’t actually know what their top users are doing. (That’s crazy to me, but many franchises are the same—I’ll come back to this another day.)

Here’s what’s known:

 

Accountability and Interaction

Since COVID hit, there’s been a rapid rise in workout programs designed as “at-home” specific, where no equipment is needed. That’s to be expected. But here’s the weird part: Some platforms say the actual “workouts per day” number is dropping, but the stickiness and app sessions are trending up as members are interacting with their trainers on other aspects, such as communication, nutrition and habits. In other words, people now value daily routines and habits more than ever.

 

Fitness Moves Online

Digital sales are spiking as gyms adapt and sell subscription-based online training products. For example, some big chains are now promoting just digital training on their websites.

 

Always in Touch

Constant communication aids retention. Coaches are giving more lifestyle suggestions to keep members engaged. Trainerize alone said, “We’re seeing over 100,000 (and rising) daily messages sent between clubs and members in the mobile app, and previous averages were about 60,000 messages per day.”

 

Wearable Fitness Tech

More and more fitness trainers and businesses are connecting to their members’ “wearables” through apps such as Trainerize so they can monitor movement, sleep and steps. The numbers Trainerize is seeing from this shift are:

– Daily Apple Watch connects and Fitbit connects have doubled to almost 1,000 daily (and rising).

– Members are moving, but not as much. Before the crisis, members who connected their wearables to their clubs’ Trainerize app were tracking about 1.2 million steps per day as a group. There’s been a slight drop to about 1.1 million steps a day, but this is most likely due to the fact that people are self-isolating and not moving as much.

– Clubs are checking in more on sleep. Before the crisis, data showed about 50,000 sleep syncs from members to clubs a day. Today, that number is about 110,000 sleep syncs a day (and growing).

 

Observations From Trainerize

 

Trainerize also reported some other interesting details:

“We are also seeing a rise in trainers/clubs deploying ‘habit programs,’ to influence positive behavioural changes on top of just doing a workout a day while members stay at home. … Below is a breakdown of the top habits we’re seeing coaches in clubs assign to their members to focus on at home through the Trainerize mobile app.”

(Alcohol = abstain from alcohol.)

More from Trainerize:

“Usage of our ‘groups’ feature has spiked. The reason being: Gyms have shifted to putting members into digital communities, where they can follow workout programs together, watch motivational video messages and motivate each other with messages. We’re also seeing trainers doing online group challenges and even pasting live Zoom video links to deliver live classes.”

By the way, we recommended Trainerize as the best fitness coaching software platform in our 2019 review. The company seems to pay close attention to how coaches use its software; maybe there’s a correlation there.