How Gyms are Working to Retain Clients with Closed Doors

In the last two weeks, hundreds of gyms and studios around the world have had to close their doors due to uncertainty surrounding COVID-19. We recently did a survey with various gym owners across the city to uncover more information and best practices during this time.

In the survey, roughly 60% reported 10+ members have placed their membership on hold or cancelled, and a handful of others have reported between five and 10 holds or cancellations.

Some good news: About 25% have said they’ve had zero cancellations or holds so far. A few even said they have picked up some new members who approached them after their gym closed, using this as an opportunity to find a change of pace. Finding a way to rent out your equipment has proven to be a valuable asset to keeping members involved and accountable during these times.

The most common remote services gyms/studios are offering include:

  • Daily at-home programming
  • Online Zoom group classes
  • Team fitness challenges
  • Equipment borrow/rental
  • Individual programming

Though many gyms have experienced positive outcomes during this time, most have only been closed for seven to 10 days and many are aware of what could happen should this pandemic cause use to be closed for many more weeks, or even months. If you’re a realist, you’d fully expect if we go into month two, people will hold or cancel their memberships.

In Italy for example, some gyms that have been closed since February – with no end in sight – and most members are no longer paying at all. If your membership is designed to be sold for three, six or 12 months up front, there can be pros and cons to this payment plan, but many members will be hesitant to renew as they come up for renewal again.

Watch your numbers: If you are live streaming classes, make sure you are keeping track of your numbers. If they start to drop, you’ll know your audience is getting tired of Zoom classes. Right now, they’re a great way to buy good will, but plan ahead and develop a back-up plan should things start to go south. Brainstorm ideas with your team.

Keep in mind coaches have limited programming options hosting at-home workouts too. Having air squats, burpees, and lunges on repeat will lead to hip problems, boredom and people finding themselves with some aches and pains if done too much.

Think about keeping your Zoom workouts shorter than a normal class and begin offering individual programming in addition to your go-live classes. This will introduce your members to an elevated service option too.

Focus on the relationships: If a gym has decided to cancel all of their services and membership fees, this might put you in a better position to collect some new members. Remember you are in the relationship business and retention comes down to engagement. Get creative with how you’re going to add value to your members during this time of isolation.

Pick up the phone and call each member if you have to. Ask them how they’re doing and how you can help. What do they need and how can the gym be of service to them during this time.

Assign specific coaches to specific clients: If you have more than 300 members, assign clients to your coaches and provide them with personal accountability. Perhaps you will not be reaching out to each client every single day, but it’s important to stay in touch more often than not at all.

Members helping members: If some of your members decide to place their membership on hold, offer your other members an opportunity to pay-it-forward and do whatever they can to help their community. If all of your members agreed to increase their membership fee by $1, would that save a member? What about $2 or $3? The price of a cup of coffee could save a few members while building community.

Johnny Wilkins, owner at QNTM Fit Life, suggests keeping your community engaged and accountable with a creative hashtag tied to your brand. “Our company tagline is ‘Make It Count’, so we’re using #MakeQuarantineCount.

Reduce the price of membership: Others have said they have lowered their monthly fee, or intend to lower it, should the closure carry on into a second month. Think about this possibility. After all, some money is better than no money.

Additional programming options: Some gyms/studios are also offering more specific classes or programming options, such as nutrition consulting, mobility classes or running or endurance programs.

Similarly, offer a “quarantine responsible” community night. Hosting a Friday night Sip n’ Stretch class via Zoom where members can come together for mobility with a glass of wine, or alcoholic or non-alcoholic drink of their choice is a great idea. You might end up with even more people attending this class!

Bottom line: Getting through this pandemic as unscathed as possible will come down to your relationships. Reach out to people and check in daily with your members if you have to. Whatever it takes, do not let them feel isolated or unsupported during this time.

Although this may be a scary time and a lot of us are anxious to get back to some sense of normalcy, we must also recognize the opportunity in front of us to fix that was perhaps broken before. Use this as a strengthening opportunity for you and your members.

“This is the best time in the history of fitness to show your members you aren’t four walls and some gym equipment,” says the Morning Chalk Up. We couldn’t agree more.

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Where Do We Go From Here?

Estimated read time: 3 minutes. Contains 632 words

by Ryan Freebing

Nashville has been hit hard over the last couple of weeks. After a tornado swept through parts of East and North Nashville on March 2, trainers and staff were adamantly rallying their members to support not only their own gyms but the community at large, accepting donations and raising money for various relief efforts.

Seven days later, the stock market crash of 2020 began on Monday, March 9, with the largest point plunge for the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) up to that date. It was followed by two more record-setting point drops on March 12 and March 16 which included the three worst point drops in U.S. history.

Today most of the country is in some form of lockdown mode. Having received our own “stay-at-home” mandate by Mayor John Cooper, gyms and studios in Nashville have followed suit and closed their doors along with all non-essential businesses. Now, our fitness community, like the rest of the nation, is adapting to the change on the fly.

The Digital Shift

In response, there has been a frenzy of live streaming and on-demand content, a massive surge in social media activity and an inevitable shift toward online fitness. I have spent many years in the fitness industry, but I have never seen more digital fitness content created or consumed over the last few days than I have in the last few years. From local studios and brands to personal trainers and coaches, everyone is rapidly churning out workout videos or going live and hosting their own classes and cooking seminars.

While some are sharing their content for free, others are attempting to market to new clients in the hopes of maintaining their revenue stream. I have spoken to a few groups about this in the past, but the current crisis is quickly speeding up something brick-and-mortar owners have been struggling to face now for many years. “Will on-demand fitness offerings steal some of my members?”

Prior to the mandated COVID-19 shutdown, the problem was lingering but not an immediate threat. “Now, the shift to digital is nearing a tipping point, in what could end up being an exodus – albeit a forced one – from studios to apps and at-home equipment,” says

There is however, the issue of equipment. Members of indoor cycling studios, for example, can’t take a class without a bike. To satisfy customers, gyms are renting out their equipment to go along with their at-home workout plans for the near future. Jonny Diaz at Fit Factory explains, “Our equipment is not ours. It’s yours,” meaning their members. But is their enough to go around?

So What Next?

Around the nation, the overall consensus seems to be that COVID-19 is an accelerated shift to digital and at-home fitness, but what does that mean for Nashville’s small businesses? “Depending on who you ask (and who you believe), once we hit this tipping point, the pendulum may not swing back to exercising in-person,” reports

For many others (including myself), social distancing all day will leave people craving their community now more than ever once things are get back to normal. The question of when still remains though. Others who have responded to the pandemic by purchasing a Peloton, outfitting their own home gym, or downloading a fitness app might never look back.

Then there is the gut wrenching reality that some of our favorite small businesses may not survive this shutdown at all. And if that’s the case, there won’t be a gym for some members to come back to.

There is no need to panic though. Right now it seems as though there are more questions than answers, but in this moment, there is no doubt in my mind that fitness may have changed forever.

Be on the lookout for more events from Nashville Fit and ways you can help your community!

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Local Business Owners Take Nasal Breathing to the Next Level

OptiO2 Labs is a local company based out of Nashville, that has recently unveiled the world’s first line of performance enhancing mouthpieces designed to promote optimal breathing technique.

Among many others, owners Jake Shuler and Austin Mallette believe breathing through the nose can be critical to basic health. Along with reducing stress, increasing focus and regulating blood pressure and body temperature, using the nose to breathe has been shown to delay muscle fatigue, slow the effects of dehydration and reduce lactic acid build up in the muscles. These benefits only scratch the surface of what studies have continued to uncover.

Jake and Austin both grew up playing sports and have a passion for training at a high level as well as understanding how the human body can increase its potential. While he was in school, Jake studied Exercise Science and worked in the Tennessee Volunteer football weight room as an Assistant Strength Coach where he learned a number of different training techniques that he still utilizes today.

Even though the human body was designed to use the nostrils as the primary means of breathing and filter the air we breathe, it can be tough to maintain proper technique, especially under physical stress and exertion.

“For athletes, nasal breathing helps develop aerobic capacity and can also keep us in check with our technical or mechanical limitations. We can always get away with going faster or harder with breathing predominantly through our mouths, but breathing through our nose encourages us to focus on efficiency and forces us into a biomechanically optimal position to access our diaphragm and a full breath,” says Brian MacKenzie of Power Speed Endurance.

“After discovering the performance and recovery benefits of nasal breathing, I looked for something that would remove the option of mouth breathing. I couldn’t find anything, so I got together with Austin to brainstorm and the result was the OptiO2 Sport,” Jake explains.

The OptiO2 Sport mouthpiece (shown in the diagram) is designed to help athletes breathe better, train harder and recover faster. The lightweight piece resembles a traditional mouth guard with an added shelf that slides under and elevates the tongue, which fully opens the nasal airway. The device also features an ergonomically shaped front wall that serves to prevent any airflow into or out of the mouth. By eliminating the ability to breathe through the mouth, an athlete’s body can intake the proper amount of oxygen through the nostrils.

The OptiO2 Sport also features a bite pad that encourages an aligned jaw while protecting the teeth. Training with a bite pad and proper jaw alignment helps to open airways and has been shown to enhance posture, increase strength and improve reaction time.

“Athletes have a lot to think about when they are training,” Jake says. “Breathing shouldn’t be one of them.”

By combining the athletic benefits of nasal breathing with the performance enhancement of a mouthguard, Jake and Austin believe they have created the ultimate training accessory for serious athletes.

“I was surprised at how much more I breathed through my nose during a hard HIIT workout compared to when I simply ‘think’ about breathing through my nose,” says Ben Greenfield, a fitness coach, author, and former NSCA Trainer of the Year when utilizing the product.

“What’s great about this product is that we’ve developed it through research and science,” says Austin. “The OptiO2 line is not only designed to help athletes of all skill levels get the most out of every breath, but it’s also revolutionizing the way we breath as human beings, which is pretty groundbreaking and has been a inspiring to be a part of.”

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