Retaining The 65-Plus Member At Your Health Club

When thinking of the fitness industry, most people don’t conjure up visions of retirees, but attracting and retaining people who are 65 years old and older presents a great opportunity for fitness facility operators.

According to a profile of older Americans by The Administration for Community Living, over the past 10 years, the population of people over 65 years old increased from 37.2 million in 2006 to 49.2 million in 2016 (a 33 percent increase) and is projected to almost double to 98 million in 2060. That’s a huge pool of potential members.

Further, according to the Federal Reserve, the mean net worth for Americans between the ages of 65 and 74 is $1.07 million. This means many have money to spend on higher-ticket gym services, such as small group training and personal training.

Additionally, with more free time, older people can utilize your club at off-peak hours.

You can attract this audience in a variety of ways, including advertising, senior-centric seminars, referral programs and collaborations with local medical groups and physicians. But how do you deliver an effective senior program and keep them safe so that they return to make progress and live their best lives?

In my experience, gyms can be intimidating for seniors, especially those new to fitness, so it’s imperative to remove barriers, focus on relationships, build trust and offer benefits that transcend well beyond the walls of your facility. If done effectively, you will see a positive impact on your bottom line.

Below are steps that are implemented at my fitness facility that have proven to be successful in on-boarding and retaining senior members.

Step 1: Assign a key employee to manage this population. Choosing the right trainer will ensure the success of your senior programs, whether they are small group training or personal training. This person must be knowledgeable, approachable, quick-thinking and empathetic. Whether it’s someone with experience training seniors or a person with a heart for this population, offer this opportunity to your trainers and interview them to find the best fit.

Step 2: Start with an assessment. The assessment should be used to conduct a movement screen where limitations, imbalances and weaknesses are revealed. Make sure to test balance, core strength and movement patterns for fundamental movements used in general life (hinge, squat, push, pull).

In addition, lifestyle, goals, past training history and injuries should be discussed. From there, a plan can be laid out for them. Like with any person, those who have no training history or haven’t exercised regularly should start out slowly and appropriately.

Even if your club is offering a group program, the assessment is necessary. It would be irresponsible to throw anyone into a program without this step.

Step 3: Schedule personal training. As with any member, it’s imperative to sell one-on-one training in order to not only review the how-to’s of equipment use and exercise technique but to also teach modifications to full range-of-motion exercises. Progressions will be the key with this population. The more sedentary the client has been, the more sessions he or she may need.  

If the goal is to eventually be on his or her own in the gym, schedule as many personal training sessions as necessary to keep the member safe and to make them knowledgeable.

Same goes for group. Spend a few one-on-one sessions to make progress and build confidence before they are released to the group setting.

This step is critical in building trust.

Step 4: Provide a safe program. If the member desires to work out on his or her own, provide sound programming.

We all have seen the gym member who wanders aimlessly around a facility, not quite sure what to do, or the person who does the same “routine” every time. Avoid this by offering personalized programming.

Considerations are movement repetition in order to achieve adaptation and familiarity, appropriate volume and intensity, periodization and progressions.

If you are developing senior group sessions, the same rule applies.  And, also in both cases, simplicity is necessary. Don’t overwhelm.

Step 5: Focus on resistance training. A paper from The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research states that a properly designed resistance training program can counteract the age-related changes in aging human skeletal muscle and can enhance the muscular strength, power and neuromuscular functioning of older adults. Further, it can preserve independence, improving an older adult’s resistance to injuries and catastrophic events, such as falls.

Resistance training should be prioritized. Even one day per week can reap benefits in terms of overall strength, muscle recruitment and proprioception.

Imagine providing the tools to allow sedentary adults the ability to easily get up off the floor, carry groceries effortlessly or play more with their grandchildren.

Step 6: Get feedback. Especially at the beginning, regular check-ins should be conducted. Gauge their likes and dislikes. Ask how they are feeling outside of the gym. Celebrate the successes in your marketing.

It’s also a good idea to schedule a monthly one-on-one to review progress so you can continually get feedback and adapt the program and provide more variety.  

In summary, don’t discount the 65-plus crowd. Instead of simply having low-cost options and group classes, develop a team and offering that focuses on individualized, progressive programming and regular personal training. If you need assistance with creating beneficial, well-thought-out programing for this age group, there are companies that can help. When working with the 65-plus community, you will not only provide physical activity but also socialization and independence. It can become a successful part of your gym as it will be fulfilling and financially rewarding. 


Wendy Shafranski is an entrepreneur, marketing expert, owner of Vero Strength + Conditioning, and co-founder of Structure Training Systems. Shafranski has many members at Vero Strength + Conditioning who are 65 years old and older and is dedicated to providing programming and offerings that are effective and beneficial to this demographic. She saw there was a need for better, tailored programming and started Structure Training Systems to support gym owners with programming so they could better retain customers. She can be reached at [email protected]