Your Gym Needs an On-Ramp Program. Here’s Why.

Your Gym Needs an On-Ramp Program. Here’s Why.

Chris Cooper: (00:01)
Hey guys, I’m Chris Cooper. I’m the founder of Two-Brain Business, and today I’m gonna tell you why you need an On-Ramp or another onboarding program for your fitness business. Whatever that fitness business is, an onboarding program will help you set up clients for success, avoid early churn or even injury, and keep them around long enough to actually change their lives. This is Run a Profitable Gym, and if this is helpful to you, please hit subscribe. You can also join where we can chat about this in person. It’s a free public Facebook group with over 6,000 other gym owners in there where we keep things light and positive and supported by evidence. Now, why do you need an onboarding program? I’m gonna use an example as a CrossFit gym, because that’s where I was back in 2008 when I started learning about this stuff.

Chris Cooper: (00:51)
And it’s really important to CrossFit gyms right now because there are people who are saying, you don’t need an On-Ramp, just jump people right into group. Well, these people mean well, but they just simply don’t have the experience or the data to understand what the actual value is to having an on-ramp program in your gym. So I’m gonna be saying CrossFit a lot, but if this applies to your gym and if it’s kickboxing or jujitsu or whatever, by all means, take the lesson anyway. So when we started doing CrossFit back in my gym, we were a bunch of early adopters. We found it and we thought, Hey, this looks kind of crazy. I wouldn’t say that we were really bought in, but we were very CrossFit curious. And so we tried it. We threw up in our mouths and put pictures of torn hands up on Facebook, and we were bought in, right?

Chris Cooper: (01:40)
And all of our early clients who were trying the program out were all personal training clients. At my personal training studio, this would’ve been late 2007, all these clients already had a good foundation in fitness. They all had a really good relationship with us. They’d been doing one-on-one personal training for up to three years. They had good strength base, they had good movement patterns, they had good mobility. And so when we started introducing higher intensity workouts, they loved it. And we said, okay, great. This is working awesome. 12 out of the 13 people in our trial CrossFit program loved it. They’re gonna keep doing it. So let’s go open up a second location. And at that second location, we followed the advice that was on the CrossFit message boards at the time, and that was just run a free trial. Come and try a class.

Chris Cooper: (02:33)
And what we found was that people didn’t automatically love this, especially if they didn’t have a history of exercise. So people were leaving, they’d come and do the free class or whatever, and they would just get crushed and they’d leave and they’d say, well, I’m bad at this. I’m bad at CrossFit. I’m never going back. And even the early adopters who did love it, they loved that feeling of, oh, I’m gonna be sick, or I’m gonna rip my hands today. I’m so hardcore. What we found was that after seven or or eight months, they weren’t very open to coaching. And so around 2006, Nikki Violetti wrote this blog post, started her blog and Nikki and her husband Rob Wolf were the fourth CrossFit affiliate, and Nikki published this program called the On-Ramp at their gym, CrossFit NorCal.

Chris Cooper: (03:22)
And it was this 21-day introduction to CrossFit at their gym. And what she’d noticed after doing this for a couple years, because she was a few years ahead of us, was that the free trial- joining a class, just trying it out- led to very high churn. It led to very quick burnout. It led to premature injury rates. It led to people feeling uncomfortable in joining their gym. And so they changed it to start with this consultative process and this 21 day On-Ramp. Now, in my first few months of owning a business, I had already read this and thought, this makes sense. The reason that your first CrossFitters at CrossFit Catalyst were so good was because they had a year or two years or five years of personal training with me already. So it made sense the next people to come in and try the free trial did not have that background or that experience or that exposure.

Chris Cooper: (04:15)
And so I got to compare these two groups. I even shared this in a CrossFit Journal article way back around 2010, 2011. It’s called “The Secrets of Sticking With It” if you look it up, and you can just Google it if you want to. So what we started doing after reading Nikki’s article was just On-Ramping our clients. And what we found was that they were still getting a lot of people who were early adopters into the gym. They’d heard of CrossFit, and they were excited to try it. And so these, for us, were mostly military people or firefighters or police. Service industry professionals with kind of a dangerous job. And so they came in and we’d say, okay, we wanna start you with On-Ramp to make sure that you know the movements. And they’d say, yeah, great. And then we would get 10 days into this 21 day process and they would say, well, this doesn’t look as fun as what I see on, or can I go join the people over there in that class?

Chris Cooper: (05:12)
They’re doing real CrossFit while I’m learning the front squat. I didn’t see On-Ramp anywhere and come in to try On-Ramp, and when can I join the group? And so after 21 days, maybe it wasn’t as appealing or as exciting to them. For that audience, the 21 day On-Ramp might have been a bit long. So later we switched to 14 days and eventually we switched to seven days. Seven days for us, that was really the sweet spot. But a couple of things were happening at once there. So first, the early adopters were open to doing on-ramp, but 21 days was really just prolonging something in front of the thing that they were excited about. So a shorter on-ramp back then might have worked better. Today, now that all of those early adopters, especially in North America, they’ve all joined gyms and left, or they’ve joined gyms and then opened their own, or they’ve joined gyms and become coaches.

Chris Cooper: (06:04)
Now we’re dealing with a different audience, and a longer on-ramp might be better. So here’s what the data says. If a client comes in, they do a free trial and join the group. They’re likely- if they sign up, which is low, but if they sign up, they’re likely to stick around for just under eight months. At the eight month point, they’re almost always gone. Now, this could have something to do with burnout, it could have something to do with injury, sadly. Or it could just be that they don’t understand how this is helping them achieve their goals because their goal is not get better at CrossFit, where the early adopter’s goal was “we wanna try CrossFit, we wanna do really well at it, we wanna win the Games”. That’s not their goal anymore. So if a client is brought in through a consultative process and properly on-ramped, not only are they higher value, but they’re likely to stick around for 14 months.

Chris Cooper: (06:59)
And what’s interesting about the 14 month mark is that if a client makes it to the 14 month mark, they’re twice as likely to stay for two years. And if we can keep a client for two years, then we can change their lives because at the two year mark, they generally don’t quit exercise. Even if they quit your gym, they might go somewhere else. They might take up cycling or swimming instead, but they do not stop exercising. So two years is a great goal to hit for length of engagement with every client in your gym. And to do that, you have to have an on-ramp process. That’s what the data supports. The second thing that an on-ramp process does is it increases the value of every client, not just because they stay longer, but because they’re exposed to real coaching. Most on-ramps are done one-on-one now instead of in a group.

Chris Cooper: (07:50)
And what that does is it allows the coach to form a one-on-one relationship with the client, make a better prescription about what they should do in the future, and also know enough about the client to tell coaches even in a group setting, Hey, you know, watch out for Mary. She just doesn’t have the mobility in her left shoulder to be overhead squatting. That’s just not a good idea for her yet. So make the substitution for her instead of telling her that she needs to scale. So starting with that one-on-one on-ramping process is great. How long should your on-ramp be? It really depends where you are in the world. If you’re in Western Europe right now, the data shows that the rapid growth of affiliates means that you’re getting exposed to an audience of early adopters. So these people should have an on-ramp, but it should probably be shorter, maybe five to 10 sessions. If you’re in North America or one of the larger cities in Australia where CrossFit has been around for a while, you can have a longer on-ramp and you should.

Chris Cooper: (08:51)
And so many cities in North America now report that their best retention comes from an on-ramp of 90 to a hundred days long. That means that the client journey is plotted out in advance for up to three months. Now, that might include some group classes, but it’s not a free trial. It’s a consultative process where the coach is guiding the client to learn the movements one-on-one safely. Effectively, they’re making rapid progress. And when they’re ready, they are asked, do you want to try a group class? That means that the client is doing some group training in on-ramp, but they start with one-on-one and then they slowly shift their delivery or the way that they exercise from one-on-one to group. The last reason that I wanna share to have an on-ramp is that a lot of people perceive group training as a massive barrier to entry for them.

Chris Cooper: (09:40)
They’re new to exercise, they’re not going to openly share their goals with strangers for the first time. They don’t want to throw up in front of a group, they’re scared they’re not gonna do a good job, or they’re gonna collapse or seize up or even have a heart attack. They’re scared they’re gonna hurt themselves, they’re scared they’re going to fail. They’re scared more than anything that they just can’t do it. And so allowing them to have a one-on-one consultation first with somebody who then says, Mary, don’t worry, we’re gonna slowly ramp you up. And then when you feel ready, you can try a group. That is going to appeal to the high value client that a coaching business actually serves. The best part is that about 10% of your clients will stick with personal training, more or less forever. These people would not have joined your gym if there was no one-on-one meeting and no on-ramp, or they just had to jump straight into group training.

Chris Cooper: (10:37)
That means you are exposing people to fitness who would’ve been turned off by group. Training on-ramp is not a barrier to entry, it’s a barrier to exit. On-ramp keeps people around longer and creates a pathway for people who are scared but want coaching. Now, this data that was published way back in 2006 by Nikki Violetti, it was based on her gym alone. We’ve been collecting data for the last 10 years, and the data strongly supports a consultative process and on-ramp program, usually done one-on-one. And the length varies by where you live in the world. And then goal reviews and follow ups long-term extend the client’s lifespan so that you can keep ’em long enough to actually change their lives. Now, there are people out there who will say, you don’t need an on-ramp, just throw people into group. And these people mean well, believe me. They just don’t have the experience or the data that actually shows them that you need to have an on-ramp program to get people ready for your group training. Whatever it is, your on-ramp should be designed any way that you want it, but it should fulfill the goal of making people safe and comfortable before they join your group class. This will keep them around longer, long enough to meaningfully change their health. I hope this helps. This is Run a Profitable Gym podcast. Join if you want to chat about this episode or any other, and I will be happy to answer your questions there.

Chris Cooper: (12:08)
We created the Gym Owners United Facebook group to help you run a profitable gym. Thousands of gym owners just like you have already joined in the group. We share sound advice about the business of fitness every day. I answer questions, I run free webinars and I give away all kinds of great resources to help you grow your gym. I’d love to have you in the group. It’s Gym Owners United on Facebook, or go to to join. Do it today.

Thanks for listening!

Thanks for listening! Run a Profitable Gym airs twice a week, on Mondays and Thursdays. Be sure to subscribe for tips, tactics and insight from Chris Coooper, as well as interviews with the world’s top gym owners.

To share your thoughts:

To help out the show:

  • Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help, and we read each one.
  • Subscribe on iTunes.

One more thing!

Did you know gym owners can earn $100,000 a year with no more than 150 clients? We wrote a guide showing you exactly how.