The Prescriptive Model: Your Key to Survival as a Microgym

Image of Chris Cooper with title text reading "The Prescriptive Model: Your Key to Survival as a Microgym"
Diagram of the Prescriptive Model.

Andrew (00:02):

Intense workouts used to be rare, but now they’re everywhere. So how do microgyms stand out? The answer is coaching. Real coaching. In this episode of Two-Brain Radio, Chris Cooper tells you how to survive in a world where the fancy studio in the nearby strip mall is offering the exact same workouts you are. Here’s Coop with everything you need to know about the prescriptive model that will save microgyms.

Chris (00:27):

Hey guys, it’s Chris Cooper. Your members are buying supplements somewhere, so they should buy them from the person who cares about them the most: You. And you should work with my friends at Driven Nutrition. Jason Rule and the Driven team put customers first, every time they’ve got a ton of products with high margins and they’ll even train you so your retail program adds revenue to your business. Kirk Hendrickson from Iron Jungle CrossFit says Driven Nutrition has some of the best support I have seen from any company we’ve partnered with. To make more money with supplements and retail sales, visit What’s the future model for successful microgyms? As other fitness chains, like Orangetheory and F45 enter the market for high intensity training and they succeed by commoditizing that training, it’s more important than ever to be a coach. What I mean by commoditizing that training means wrapping a nice brand around it, making it exactly the same for everybody, making it deliverable by a lower qualified coach, driving the costs down, driving the expense down, and then driving the price down to clients.

Chris (01:33):

By introducing this sameness where it looks like what they’re selling is the same as what you’re selling and doing it cheaper, that’s commoditization, and you can’t win that fight. So if you’re just selling group classes, that’s what you’re competing against is a commoditized version of intensity now. But a coach is an authority figure who sees the overall picture of a client’s health. The coach guides a client through their changing needs over a long period. And that’s what the prescriptive model is all about. And the prescriptive model is the future model for successful microgyms. And I first started talking about this around 2017 and we were using it primarily as a retention tool. And the real test of retention back then was time. Now in the post COVID fitness world, the real test of retention is crisis. Can you keep a client engaged, pursuing their fitness, maintaining their buffer of health through something like a lockdown?

Chris (02:31):

The key is if you’re running a prescriptive model, if you’re running a coaching business, instead of a gym, you can pivot people to being trained online and you can help them in places other than their daily workouts. You can coach them in their sleep and their nutrition in their mindset, in their self management. You can do all of these things against the backdrop of the prescriptive model because you’re setting yourself up to be the coach instead of the access point for fitness equipment. The reason that the big chain gyms really fail, struggle, filed for bankruptcy during the COVID crisis was because they’re selling access. You pay a membership fee and you can show up and you can use their equipment, which you don’t have at home, but that’s not what you and I are selling. We are selling coaching. And while the gym was a neat toolkit for the coaching that we were delivering, it’s not our only tool kit.

Chris (03:21):

And we can adapt really quickly and use different tools when our clients were forced into lockdown or we couldn’t access our gym. The key that made Two-Brain gyms so much more successful than other gyms during the COVID lockdown was that we were using the prescriptive model. Shifting people to online training really wasn’t hard. All it required was a little conversation. And that was it. So let’s start with this. Clients at your gym don’t do CrossFit or HIIT or Pilates just for the sake of doing CrossFit or HIIT or Pilates. At least not for long. When they start, they have some other goal like weight loss, and your CrossFit program or your personal training can be the tool that they use to get there. After a few months, they might have different goals from weight loss. And in fact, it’s almost a hundred percent certain that they will.

Chris (04:12):

And after a few years, they’ll be completely different person and no longer satisfied with the same service offering that you’ve been doing, no matter how novel your programming is. So how do we stay ahead of client boredom and provide them with the optimal fitness prescription to keep them moving forward at a constant pace, on track with the changes that they want and the changes that they see in their body? How do we set them up to pivot online when our toolkit is taken away, or we have to change our delivery model? This is the prescriptive model. Now in the show notes, I’ve given you a picture of an updated prescriptive model to include online training, but I’m going to walk you through the steps here one by one first. A potential client books a no sweat intro. So the prescriptive model really starts when the prospect becomes interested in your service.

Chris (05:02):

They’re not quite a client yet. So you sit down with the client, they come in, you establish their story. You ask them for some bright spots. What are you already doing? Right? Because when you want to change somebody’s behavior, you have to start with a behavior they’re already exhibiting. Then you talk about their future bright spots. What are the first signs you’ll have that we’re being successful? Then you take an objective measurement of some type. Now, usually this is an aesthetic metric because people are usually coming in concerned about their aesthetics, their appearance. So you take a body fat percentage or like a biometric measurement. You don’t do a functional movement screen unless they come in and say, I want to move better. Now, you and I know that most clients don’t say that. That’s the only time you should really be doing like a functional movement screen. In a therapy setting,

Chris (05:49):

that’s totally warranted because the client is coming in to fix an injury. They understand that they have a movement problem or a disability that they have to correct. In a gym though, doing a movement screen before you do anything else just highlights to the client,how bad they are at your program. They’ll associate, you know, the test with your program and say, I’m bad at that. Or I can’t do that. Or this is too big of a leap for me. So you have to measure what they care about. The second step is that you make a prescription for exercise or nutrition or both. So you say, given your goals and where you want to be three months from now, this is the best path for you. I think you should exercise four times a week and follow a habits based nutrition plan. Do you agree?

Chris (06:37):

The third step is the coach modifies that prescription based on what makes the client feel most comfortable. So for example, you could ask, would you prefer to do these workouts in a small group setting? Or would you prefer to do them one on one with me? So you’re changing your prescription. You’re modifying it based on what makes them most comfortable, what fits their schedule and what they can afford. If you say here is your best solution, do you agree? And they say yes, then you pull out your sales binder and you say, OK, well, you know, do you prefer to do this in person or online? Do you prefer to do this one on one with me or in a small group setting? And then you say, OK, well, you know, let’s look at your schedule. What can you fit into your week?

Chris (07:25):

Well, I could probably make it to the gym twice a week. OK. Well then let’s do the two personal training sessions that you said you’d be most comfortable doing twice a week with me. And I will give you homework to do the other two days at home. How does that sound? Great. What equipment do you have at home? And you write up that prescription. If they say, OK, but I can’t afford that, you can say, what’s your budget for fitness, for personal care, for health, and they’ll give you their budget. And you say, OK, if that were my budget, I would prioritize this thing. So here’s an example of how this has worked for me in the past. A woman came in, I was still doing no sweat intros at the gym at this time. And I sat down with her and she was really proud to tell me that she was budgeting a hundred dollars a month to her personal health.

Chris (08:13):

Now, in her mind that included probably healthier groceries, included a gym membership, and she might even be able to buy a personal training, right? This is what she thought, but a hundred dollars doesn’t buy you anything at Catalyst. So I said, OK, well, if that were my budget, I would prioritize a nutrition and walking plan. So here’s what I’m going to do. We’re going to do a nutrition plan for one month. We’re going to book an appointment for a month from today. And all I’d like you to do is walk five days a week for an hour. How does that sound OK. But I thought I was buying a gym membership and I said, yeah, I totally understand that. What’s going to get you to your goals fastest with your budget is a nutrition plan and a walking. Do you want to try it for a month?

Chris (08:57):

She said, OK. A month later, she comes back and she’s lost four or five pounds. Fantastic. I say, OK, the next step here is to start with some personal training. Has your budget changed? And she said, well, it depends. And so we started talking about personal training and her budget, and she became a 299 a month client in our ID program at the time, which was, you know, 300 bucks a month. So you have to understand that when somebody comes in for a consultation, number one, don’t project your budget onto them. Don’t assume you know what they want. Let them tell you, make sure that they don’t feel embarrassed about it; nobody should. And understand that their budget is probably going to change over time as they understand the value of your service better. Now, you’re not going to argue them into the value of your service.

Chris (09:44):

You’re not going to quote, sell them. You’re not a good enough salesperson to do that. You’re going to show them the value by starting them where they can, without discounts, and gradually over time, proving your value and letting them take the next step. The bottom line is that the a hundred dollars a month plan for this client worked. More on that in just a minute. Arbox is a leading gym management system offering a full suite of tools and features. Arbox provides gym owners with a dashboard that includes quick access to Two-Brain Business metrics that are key to optimizing your business. With a glance, you can usually review length of client engagement, average, monthly revenue, new versus lost members, and so much more. Visit arbox /TBB to schedule a demo and learn how you can take your gym to the next level. For Two-Brain Radio listeners, Arbox is offering a special deal where you can save 50% off your first three months using the platform. So when the client immediately signs up for an exercise plan though, which is really what happens most of the time, a lot of people who start in our program are absolutely shocked to find out that people really will pay three to $400 a month for their plan. As long as they know that the coach is building the plan around their goals and not just selling them a fitness class, like Orangetheory is selling for half as much. So if the client immediately signs up for an exercise plan, the coach provides a nutrition tracking sheet and they schedule the first workout appointment, either on-ramp or personal training. And then you follow the bright spots process to reinforce their progress. You find reasons to put them on a podium, you find quick wins for them, and you do that all the way through on-ramp and whatever the next step of the client’s exercise program is.

Chris (11:30):

So your OnRamp program is different from my OnRamp program. You finish up your OnRamp program with the client and you say, are you comfortable trying this in a group setting? Or would you be more comfortable continuing to do personal training with me for another five sessions? The client makes their choice. You carry on with whatever they’ve chosen and you book a goal review session for the three month mark. Now the three month mark is the longest. You should wait before talking to a client about their goals again, because in that first three month period, that’s when they’re going to see the most rapid progress. So that’s when their goals are going to change. And that’s also when they’re most excited about your program. So there’s two big benefits to this number one, they’re more likely to make a larger, longer term commitment to you in the first three months than if you wait, and number two, they’re more likely to refer a friend to you in the first three months than if you wait to ask. So you need to book that goal review at the end of the three month mark. Now several gyms in Two-Brain actually book the first goal review with a client at the three week mark. So what these gyms do is they sell a personal challenge to a client when they sign up. So they’re online, they’re advertising sign up for our 28 day challenge or whatever it is. The client comes in. The challenge is personalized. It’s not a group challenge. It might include some group classes. It might be just, you know, their on-ramp program is called a challenge, whatever. At the three week mark, they sit down with the client again and say, let’s plan your next steps. You’ve got some great momentum going into your second month at my gym.

Chris (13:04):

I want to make sure that we have a plan so that we can capitalize on your gains here, but whatever it is, you have to book a goal review session. And most gyms just don’t do this. They sign the client up. The client starts showing up to class and there’s no retention plan for the client. The plan never adapts to the client at all. So at this three month goal review session, or even at the three week, you ask your client for their bright spots, for their future bright spots and an updated overall goal. Then the coach makes an objective assessment, right? Using the same tool that you used at intake. And then the client is asked, are you perfectly happy with these results? This is a key question. So here’s an example, goal review meeting number one. I haven’t seen this client for three months.

Chris (13:55):

The first time I met them, I put them on the InBody and I gave them a printout. The second goal, the second time I meet them is this goal review, I put them on the InBody again, I compare their results. Good. I show them progress. I say, are you perfectly happy with these results? Now, depending on what their answer is determines what the next sentence is going to be out of my mouth. So if the client says, yes, I am perfectly happy with these results, then you say, wonderful. Keep doing what you’re doing. Let’s book our next goal review for three months, four months, whatever that is. If you don’t know when people quit your gym, like what your LEG score is, then book the next goal review for three months out. If you know that people tend to quit your gym around the eight month mark, then book your second goal review for the seventh month mark.

Chris (14:48):

Talk to them before they can quit, update their prescription, ask them if they’re happy. If they say I’m not perfectly happy, I thought results would come quicker. Or I don’t really like the group classes, or I hate this diet. And so you would say, OK, well then I recommend option B. And my phrase in this situation is, well, if I were in your shoes, here’s what I would do. So option B is a new prescription. So you go back to square one and you say, OK, well, you know, you’ve lost three or four pounds, but you’d like to speed it up. You as the coach know what it’s going to take to speed this up. And so you make the prescription as if you’re talking to your mom or your sister or your dad, or your brother. And you say, you know what would really speed up your results is a solid nutrition plan.

Chris (15:31):

And then you tell them the price, because that is, you know, the value based thing to do is to tell them the truth. Here’s what you need. Here’s what it costs. And then let them decide if that’s the route that they want to take. Now, if they say, yes, I am perfectly happy. This is the best chance you will ever get to increase your client headcount with the type of clients that you want. And that’s by asking for a referral. I’m going to come back to that because I want to stick with the prescriptive model here. But when you change a client’s prescription, because they’re not happy with their results, remember that you’ve got four options. You can help them with sleep with eating, with exercising or self management. And you have to ask yourself as a coach, like which of those four things is really going to solve the problem here.

Chris (16:23):

They’re not happy with the results, but they’re only sleeping for four and a half hours a night. They’re not happy with the results, but they’re drinking five or six nights a week. They’re not happy with the results, but they’re really inconsistent. It’s showing up for their workouts. So you have to identify which of the four categories, sleep, eat, move, or manage is going to actually solve the client’s problem. And then you have to make a new prescription. Now, what you should have done before all of this happens is write down all of your possible prescriptions in a pricing binder so that you don’t have to calculate a rate or figure it out on the fly or look like you’re just making a number up or pulling it out of thin air. What you want is to be able to flip to a page and your pricing binder and say, OK, we’ve agreed that the best prescription for you is this. Here’s the price. Would you like to get started?

Chris (17:12):

And that’s it. OK. Then you book your next goal review sessions for three or four months later. Our data shows a 30 to 40% upgrade in the first 10 clients who are given goal reviews. So if you haven’t done goal reviews at your gym before, book 10 people. You’ll see three or four of those people upgrade their membership based on your prescription because they trust you as a coach. And they know that you’re not just upselling them. The purpose of a goal review is to get them on the fast track. And so you’re going to tell them exactly what it will take to get them results faster. And of these three or four people out of who upgrade, they upgrade by 30%. So that means if you take 10 people, take your 10 best clients, do a goal review. On average, they will upgrade their membership by about 9%.

Chris (18:03):

So if they’re all paying $200 a month, they will all be paying $218 a month on average after you do 10 goal reviews, and that’s an extra 180 bucks a month for you, which is the same as getting a new client and you’re keeping these clients longer and you’re getting them better results. So I’m going to just recap the steps here. Number one, a potential client books a no sweat intro. Number two, the coach makes a prescription for exercise and or nutrition. Number three, the coach modifies the prescription based on what makes the client feel most comfortable, what fits their schedule and what they can afford. Number four, at the three month mark, the client meets with the coach for goal review. Number five, the coach makes a new prescription with two options. Keep doing what you’re doing or here’s how to speed this up.

Chris (18:51):

Number six, the coach books the next goal review session for three or four months later. Now Orangetheory, World’s best bootcamp. Barry’s bootcamp. F45, they sell workouts. You sell coaching. Be an authority figure. Bringing this into gyms can add, in our research, $45,000 per year in net profit just by keeping clients longer. And by keeping them longer, I don’t mean like keeping them for three years. What I mean is taking a client from an average retention of 13.1 months to 16 months. Keeping them three months longer can add $45,000 a year in profit if you run a gym with 150 people, and you’re charging 150 bucks a month on average. So let’s come back to what I said about referrals. This podcast episode is an overview of the prescriptive model. Obviously it’s simple on purpose because I want it to be flexible. I want you to be able to do this online.

Chris (19:49):

If you have to, I want you to be able to do it in a 10,000 square foot if you have to, I want it to work for one client. I want it to work for 500 clients and you can do it either way. Here’s how you get referrals. When you’ve got somebody in that goal review session, they know you, they like you. They trust you. They’re getting fast results because they’re at the beginning of their client journey with you. This is also the time when people are most likely to be evangelists for your brand. They’ve found this amazing thing. They want their friends and family to also do this amazing thing for a bunch of psychological reasons. This is the best time to say, is there anybody else in your life who you feel would benefit from the same program that you’re on right now?

Chris (20:33):

You can ask that question if you want to. And that’s what I would start with. If you know your clients really, really well, if you’re a personal training studio and you’re trying to get more clients, then you probably know who they live with, like their spouse or their parents or their kids. You probably know where they work. And maybe even who some of their coworkers are, and you probably know what they do for recreation on the weekends. You know, they take their boat out to the lake and they meet up with these other people or they play golf or they do this other thing. When you know that much about your client, this type of marketing works best. If you can target the person that you want to attract as a client. So instead of saying, is there anybody that, you know, you would say, how can I serve your husband?

Chris (21:18):

I know your husband Bill has been trying to lose weight. I have an idea. Do you think Bill would come in and do a personal training session with you or, Hey, I know it’s a stressful time a year at work for you right now. I really want to help you out. Is there anything that I can do that will help your coworkers? What if I came in and gave a nutrition seminar? What if we did a Friday night wine and WOD at the gym here where you brought your coworkers in? I brought in a box of wine and a case of beer. We did some fun, little challenges for team building. We had a drink together and everybody went home by nine o’clock, something like that. It doesn’t have to cost you a lot of money. All it has to cost you is your care.

Chris (21:59):

You have to care enough to want to change the environment in which your clients live every day. And changing the environment means helping the people that surround them, helping their neighbors. You’re also going to want to change your environment. There are other stages to affinity marketing, but when you’re sitting in that room face to face with a person who knows you, likes you and trust you, and you want to do the best thing for them, and that best thing overlaps with the best thing for your business and your sanity in your coaching career, you’re crazy not to do that. It’s very, very simple. You’re not asking anybody to do you a favor. You’re not asking them to do anything that makes them uncomfortable. If they say no, I don’t know anybody or no, my husband would hate that, drop it, come back to it in three months later, but I’ll tell you, this is the process that really grew Catalyst.

Chris (22:50):

We don’t run Facebook ads because we don’t need to. We have amazing referrals because we don’t wait. Everybody knows in the marketing world that referrals are better than any other type of marketing. The problem is that people are too passive. They just wait for word of mouth to magically happen. They think that our clients are going to walk up and down wearing their gym T-shirt, and there’ll be like a billboard for health and fitness. And everybody will just, you know, stand in shock and awe and follow them like the pied piper through your door. That doesn’t happen. People aren’t salespeople, they don’t raise the subject of their fitness or their health, or how happy they are with their workouts when they’re hanging with their friends. You need to take control of this, just like every other part of your client’s life. And the goal review process is a natural, easy place to have this conversation.

Chris (23:42):

So the purpose today was to give you an update on the prescriptive model. What’s really been added since we use this, and we’ve been tracking this for years, is the online option. The ability to say, would you be more comfortable doing this in person or online? And it’s a really amazing option because a lot of us have found out during the COVID crisis that like our clients might even prefer to work out online, or sometimes, you know, might just prefer to stay home. If I’ve got a 20 minute commute at the end of a long day, and I have to make a choice between getting home to cook my kids dinner or going to the gym, I’m going to go home. But that doesn’t mean I have to miss my workout. And if you’re in Northern Canada, like I am, the roads are closed because of the snow.

Chris (24:25):

It’s dark at four o’clock in the afternoon, man, you get home. You don’t want to drive another half an hour to get back to the gym. No problem. Here’s your workout today. Come to the gym. Tuesday, Thursday, I’ll give you a homework out Monday, Friday. That does not decrease the value of my membership. It increases its value because you’re doing something that’s customized for me. That online option is one that people have adopted across a broad spectrum. At one extreme are the people who say, man, I tried online and I hated it. I can’t wait to get back to coaching people in person. And I get that. At the other extreme though, just as many people have said, why in hell am I paying $5,000 a month in expenses to maintain this gym? When I could just be working with 20 people at home and making the same money in a quarter of the time. Most of us fall in the middle.

Chris (25:18):

We see the value of online training. We see it as a safety net in case our gyms have to be shut down because of another pandemic or whatever. We see how it can help our clients who maybe don’t want to come to the gym every day, but want to stay fit. We see it as an opportunity for our coaches. The prescriptive model is simple and that’s what makes it flexible enough to include online training. If we had to start including virtual training, which is coming in the next three years, boom, we could do that. If we have to start using apps like Woop or Strava, and adding that into a client’s training, we can do that on the prescriptive model. The prescriptive model is really just a schedule for your relationship with your client. I hope this helps. This week, I’ve been talking to you about motivation and client retention, unfortunately way too many of us sign the clients up for a service. And then we don’t change our prescription for them ever. When they find that same service or a similar service done better, done closer to their home, done with more novelty or done for a cheaper price, they quit our service and join that other service. But that doesn’t happen with the prescriptive model because you are the overarching umbrella that determines the client’s path forward. Thanks for keeping them safe and well.

Andrew (26:35):

That was Two-Brain founder Chris Cooper, and this is Two-Brain Radio. Chris offers advice and tactics like this every day for free. Visit the blog at for more ways to grow your fitness business and generate more profit. That’s


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