Why Do Gym Members Cancel Their Memberships?

Membership retention is vital for a healthy business, and gyms will find it easier and cheaper to keep the members...

Membership retention is vital for a healthy business, and gyms will find it easier and cheaper to keep the members they currently have than to keep trying to attract new ones. Between 60 and 80 percent of a gym's revenue comes from its monthly membership fees, but acquiring new members is expensive. Marketing and onboarding costs quickly add up. According to the IHRSA, recruiting a new member is five times more expensive than retaining an existing one, and keeping a consistent membership base also makes for a more stable monthly and annual income while indicating higher levels of customer satisfaction and a greater chance of referrals. On top of this, the IHRSA also suggests that increasing retention rates by 5% could increase profits from anywhere between 25% to 95% 

The average gym membership lasts 3.3 years, but most new members will quit within the first six months. Investigating the causes behind these cancellations is helpful to gym owners as membership fees are vital to a gym’s financial success, and especially now given the sharp rise in energy costs. In 2023, gyms faced price hikes of up to 150% compared to previous years.

Members and future potential members are also facing rising living costs. People are having to make difficult decisions about what to spend their money on. Essentials like rent and mortgage payments, food, utilities, etc., will be of greater priority to many than taking out or maintaining a gym membership. 

But gyms are also in a strong position both to attract new members and retain existing ones. They can be more than just places to go in pursuit of a specific aesthetic. Gyms can (and many do) support people of all ages with their physical and mental wellbeing. Some are also stepping up to be more community-centric, providing services that might otherwise be difficult for people to access  

We know that exercise can improve mental health and help manage the symptoms of depression and anxiety. Exercise also has a long history in aiding rehabilitation and helping people recover from illness or injury. It can also support an ageing population remain more mobile and physically able for longer. Earlier this year UK Active CEO, Huw Edwards argued that gyms should be used to support community health and wellness as the population ages to help relieve some of the strain on local health services. The hope is that Government funding and support will recognise the valuable role that gyms can play in the country's future health. This can only be good news for attracting new and retaining current members.  


Why Do People Cancel Gym Memberships?   


People cancel gym memberships for many different reasons. Some are entirely specific to the individual. Others may have more to do with the gym itself. Here are some of the more common reasons for people to quit their gym.   


  • A lack of time  
  • A lack of motivation to go  
  • A lack of results  
  • Boring classes  
  • Classes held at inconvenient times 
  • The cost  
  • A member relocating somewhere else 
  • A lack of enjoyment  
  • Poor equipment selection  
  • Broken equipment  
  • Unavailable equipment   
  • Poor atmosphere and community  
  • Intimidation from other members  
  • Anxiety about how to use equipment and facilities 
  • Poor customer service   
  • Poor hygiene of equipment and facilities  
  • Gym too busy or overcrowded  
  • Preference for home workouts  
  • Inconvenient opening hours 
  • Difficult to get to 
  • Significant changes in personal or financial life 
  • Long-term illness or injury 


Xplor partnered with a research company to put numbers behind some of these common reasons. It found that 48% of people gave a reason about why they’d quit.

A lack of use, lack of time and lack of interest accounted for 14% of cancelled memberships. Relocation 10% and dirty facilities 6%. Interestingly, another study found that one of the most common reasons behind cancelling was failed payment, leading the article to suggest that younger people are more likely to practice ‘quiet quittingthan older generations. Gyms may not realise a member is on the verge of quitting until they fail to collect a payment. By then, it’s often too late to reengage with that individualThe gym also then loses out on the ability to understand a person’s reason for quitting.  


How Can Gyms Improve Retention?   

Ask Your Members 

Knowing the numbers is useful but using that information to then improve retention is what’s key. The importance of this can’t be overstated. This is where the IHRSA report is worth mentioning again: increasing member retention by just 5% can increase profits between 25% and 95%.

Cancellations will happen. Some will be entirely beyond your control. A person may be facing financial difficulties or moving out of the local area. The best way to find out why people are cancelling their membership is to ask them. Feedback is vital for any business. Collect this information and compare it with other answers. You’re looking for any common denominators among responses. You may be surprised at what people are unhappy with. You can then work towards fixing those areas that are within your control.  

Exit questionnaires can also be eye-opening. People may feel they’re able to be more honest. You can’t please everyone, but it’s important to approach criticisms or suggestions with an open mind. If someone is cancelling and you can help them, reach out to discuss the issue further with them. This may not always be appropriate so use your judgement. For example, if someone is leaving because they’re not hitting their goals or making use of the equipment, you could offer them an extended induction with a trainer, suggest relevant classes or group sessions or give a free short-term expansion to their membership. You may need to revisit your onboarding process. This isn’t a sales pitch but rather a genuine offer of support. If nothing else, it leaves a good impression, and that person may return in the future or advocate your business to friends and family.  

Current members are also a great resource. They can highlight any long-term or emerging problems that you may not have considered. Getting a member-eye view of your facility will give you a different perspective. Criticism shouldn’t be taken personally. You don’t have to accept every suggestion, but each one should be considered with an open mind.  

You can ask your employees to initiate feedback requests during conversations with members and clients. You can send out questionnaires via email or use tablets loaded with surveys in public areas or changing rooms. You could also provide physical forms and distribute them around the facility. Completed questionnaires could be filed in an anonymous box. Offering rewards or incentives can be helpful for obtaining a larger number of responses. You could also offer a free month of membership in a prize draw or a voucher for a sport’s brand, or a t-shirt for example. 


Look at the Numbers

You can also leverage data from your own classes and equipment. Are there times when it’s very busy or very quiet? Is the equipment easily accessible? How long are people staying at the gym? How many times are they visiting each week or month? Are classes fully booked very quickly or struggling to fill up? Ask your instructors or target specific classes and give members the chance to offer feedback. Are your instructors or employees noticing long wait times for equipment? How often have you called someone in to fix broken equipment in the last 6 months? These may sound like simple observations, but logging and quantifying this information is important for seeing patterns that may be missed in the day-to-day running of the facility.  

Gym management software can help. It can send push notifications to members and make it easier for them to book classes and make payments. It can also help track and manage memberships, including attendance history, which is important information as at-risk members will often stop attending several months before they finally cancel.   

If you can spot these members before they quit, re-engage with them, address any concerns or criticisms, and help them reassess their goals and motivation. You could end up turning an at-risk member into a retained one.

Is Your Equipment Working for You?

Of course, you should ensure that your equipment is regularly maintained and serviced, and old equipment should be replaced. People expect bikes and treadmills to be out of order occasionally, but when it happens regularly, it looks bad and sends a message that you don’t care. Competition in your area is probably already fierce, so don’t give your members a reason to sign up with someone else.  

Technology plays a big role in fitness now. Wearable fitness trackers and smartwatches make it easier for people to track their progress and performance. One study found a 14% increase in membership retention when people were able to track their progress. Health Club Management reported on one study that found people who wear a fitness tracker were twice as likely to enjoy a gym session than those who didn't. Performance monitoring can have a positive impact on motivation and progression, so make it easy for your members to use technology and reporting to better understand their fitness. 

Gamification can help make fitness more fun and engaging. Software can help too. It can encourage new members to sign up (especially those entirely new to fitness) and help current members remain engaged with the facility. Energym’s electricity-generating fitness bikes, for example, aren’t just great for supplementing a gym’s energy use. Its software makes indoor cycling classes more fun and riding hard more likely. It also makes performance metrics easier to understand.  



Of course, technology won’t be front-and-centre for all gyms. Some are wildly successful keeping technology to the absolute minimum. It will depend on the demographic you’re trying to attract and retain. It will also depend on the type of gym you’re running—boutique, cross-fit, strength and conditioning, functional fitness, commercial, etc., and the cost of membership and the associated expectations of that audience.  


Up Your Class Offering 

One study found that 56% of people exercising as part of a group class were less likely to cancel their membership than those exercising alone. A strong offering of engaging classes, therefore, may be very useful in boosting retention. Attention should also be paid to how classes are marketed and scheduled to maximise the number of people attending them. Encouraging referrals is also a good idea. If people join with a friend, the added accountability may boost attendance which in turn will boost retention.  


Set a Challenge

Fitness challenges are also a great way to engage with your audience. You can make them fun and off-the-wall or tailor something for people who struggle to set and achieve fitness goals or whose motivation has lapsed. Challenges can be group-based or individual. They could be as simple as walking a specific distance over a 30-day period. It could be a competition between members for attendance or beating personal bests. You can find more about using challenges on our blog.


Good Onboarding Process

A good onboarding process is key. It’s a great way to integrate new members into the community and give fitness newbies the confidence to make a strong start. This is also where a fitness challenge can be useful. Onboarding should be supplemented with targeted marketing to new members. Aroma suggests a 5-month drip feed email campaign covering equipment usage, hints and tricks about the venue, an introduction to instructors and suggested classes. 

During onboarding, employees should help a new member identify the key areas they want to focus on and introduce them to the classes, equipment or trainers most suitable for them. For people who’ve been in the industry a long time, it’s easy to forget that people can be intimidated by the gym environment and by the vast array of equipment. Employees should work hard during the initial introduction to make members feel supported and at ease.    


Nurture and Support Members

Members who pay annually should be contacted before their membership ends with an engaging and personalised email. Make it easy for them to pay for another full year or suggest switching to monthly payments if they’re concerned about an upfront cost.  

Allowing members to temporarily freeze their membership can give people experiencing short-term personal or financial issues a little breathing space, allowing them to resume their membership in the near future.   

You can build an online community so members and potential members can receive announcements, follow updates, celebrate good news, and share workouts. Create email campaigns that nurture new members and re-engage with existing ones. Social media is a great way to build a community with members, even when they’re not on site.  

Ashbourne recommends having automated follow-ups for failed payments or expiring cards. This means people won’t have an interruption in their membership. If someone is cancelling, it’s a good opportunity to ask why.  


Keep the Gym Clean

Make sure the gym is clean. In the introduction, we mentioned that poor hygiene was one of the main reasons for cancelled memberships. Cleanliness is entirely within the control of the gym’s management and cleaning staff, so there’s really no excuse for this, especially if this is becoming a long-term issue.  


Create a Supportive and Inclusive Environment 

Are the opening hours, class schedules, and equipment availability reflective of the gym’s business levels?  

Maintaining a welcoming and supportive environment is key. Intimidation or sexual harassment must not be tolerated. Manage members who are disruptive. Build a community where people feel safe to exercise. Make it easy for people to raise concerns in advance. Gym memberships aren’t cheap, so don’t give people an excuse to train somewhere else.  

Good customer service should be a priority for all staff. It not only helps create a supportive and happy environment, but it also makes communication easier, giving your staff a heads-up on any issues before they become a bigger problem. A friendly environment can also make it easier for anyone struggling with goal setting or motivation to speak up. This is also true for management. It may be helpful to put staff through training to help achieve this.  

Are there other services you could offer members or visitors? Sports Massage? Swimming? Nutrition classes or dietary specialists? Health screenings?  Etc. 


Membership retention is vital for any successful gym. Attracting new members is important but it’s important to work at retaining existing members too. Above everything, it creates a more stable income stream and suggests that you’re doing something right and that your members are happy.   


Electricity-generating indoor cycling bikes can transform a cycling studio. Riders enjoy an immersive class and a super-charged workout while your gym captures human power and converts it into clean energy to help power your studio. 



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