Enhancing Exercise Adherence

A key behaviour related to improved member retention is exercise adherence. While retention measures the time between joining and leaving, exercise adherence measures the number of session completed compared to the number of sessions a member plans to do.

If a member plans and succeeds in completing twelve training sessions per month we would report this as 100% adherence. If, however, they only completed six of the planned twelve sessions they have 50% adherence.

So we measure retention in months and adherence in sessions per month. 100% adherence is rare, unless the target frequency is so low that it’s easily achieved. 

Exercise intensity is directly related exercise adherence. As intensity goes up adherence goes down.  The tougher the workout the tougher we find it to maintain a regular routine. That may surprise experienced exercisers with the current fascination with HIIT.  However, the more difficult an exercise programme becomes, either by intensity or complexity, the less likely members are to stick with it.


When Gin Miller introduced Step to the world it was a basic workout where the participants could manage intensity by adjusting the height of the step and complexity by including arm movements with foot movements. It was basic, repetitive and attracted a wide range of participants.  Over time, choreographed and complex movement patterns eventually lead to classes that only experienced exercisers could complete. Adherence went down and it almost killed Step.

To build adherence we need to include activities that increase in intensity and complexity over time, to develop a sense of confidence and competence in the member. The self-protection theory teaches us that people will avoid situations where they feel unconfident and incompetent. So, for us to increase adherence, we need to build confidence and competence.


When we think adherence we should think routine. Not dance routine, but routine behaviour.  Our goal must be to assist members to build routine behaviours they can maintain for an extended period of time.

Many independent personal trainers are selling 8-12 week body transformation packages, which require 100% adherence to the exercise and diet programme. While this may be effective in achieving results in the short term, it’s yet to be shown if this is long enough to build a routine.

And while promoting a message of 150 minutes per week might be physiologically sound, a better message would be build up to 3 x 60 minutes per week. This would allow even those doing a minimal amount of exercise to achieve some level of adherence.

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