Going Vertical:  Something New:  Attracting new Members in the New Year

by: Lori Sherlock, Ed.D, ATRIC, AEA Training Specialist, CSCS, Wavemaker Coach

West Virginia University

As summer turns to fall and fall turns to winter, facilities across the country are beginning to prepare for the new calendar year.  Programming focused on getting more patrons and clients through the doors to make a splash in your facilities is the ultimate goal.  With this in mind, aligning your facilities goals with the general populations can infuse potential for growing membership and community engagement.

The New Year brings with it New Year’s resolutions with the most common resolutions revolving around wellness.  Nearly one third of  resolution makers set their focus on becoming healthier through physical activity, eating better, and weight loss (1).  With this in mind, planning programming that aligns with these resolutions could result in a substantial membership growth.  Highlighting programming that can build fitness, support weight loss, and promote positive lifestyle changes can grow membership numbers and any facilities’ bottom line.  Statistics show that 10.8% of gym memberships are purchased in January (2).  The aquatic industry can capitalize on this trend by marketing the benefits of immersion and aquatic exercise to novice exercisers, individuals looking for something new and different, as well as those with physiological limitations.  Examples of this style of programming could include:

Aquatic Health Club:  This is less of a type of programming and more of a change of mindset for the aquatic facility seeking new and exciting programming for the diverse consumer population.   The Aquatic Health Club concept, first coined by Sue Nelson, embodies the resolution seeker with a central focus on both fitness and wellness.  Additionally, developing an Aquatic Health Club can promote a community within the walls of your facility and beyond.  It can open doors to new partnerships and collaborations.  For instance, your aquatic health club may choose to offer “Water Walk with a Doc” programs that showcase local medical professionals that can provide health-oriented advice for various concerns during a water walking program.  This collaboration has the potential to educate your members while introducing a medical professional to the amazing benefits of water exercise.  Indeed, someone that has experienced exercising in the water is far more likely to recommend aquatic exercise to their patient populations.  Both structured and unstructured programming, opportunities to learn about health and wellness, as well as vertical and horizontal aquatic exercise are all included in this exciting model.  Check out these additional resources to learn more about turning your facility into an Aquatic Health Club.

Integrated Programming:  If you like the idea of an Aquatic Health Club but it seems like too big of a step, try developing a total package program that utilizes a team approach to achieve health-related goals.  Integrated programming can take many forms with the basic idea of creating a team to assist individuals, small groups or larger groups with their health and wellness goals.  Teams consisting of doctors, dietitians, exercise physiologists, behavioral psychologists, and, of course, aquatic professionals have the ability to provide a comprehensive approach to successfully achieving a lifestyle change.  You could choose to hire or contract professionals to work within your facility or collaborate with external programs to provide services.  Existing programs such as medical weight management or insurance-based programming would be prime, established programming that could benefit from the infusion of aquatic exercise.  Additional consideration to groupings of diagnoses that would prosper from exercise in the water should also be given.  Creating programs that revolve around diabetes, arthritis, cardiovascular disease and even stroke could be beneficial for both the client and the bottom line.  Here are a couple of links to provide you more information on the concept of integrated programming for weight loss:

Try This!:  Many aquatic professionals recognize that once we get clients in the water, it is hard to get them out.  Offering programming to allow prospective members to try it before they buy it can be a valuable means of leading new members to water.  Structuring these classes to provide a sample of aquatic options from vertical to horizontal and high intensity to relaxation can showcase the diversity that your aquatic facility has to offer.  Charging a daily, weekly or reduced monthly fee for facility entry and use while offering a series of free classes during a set timeframe can aid in weeding out those that just want to take advantage of the free offer.  This fee-based strategy has also been noted to show a higher conversion rate for retaining new members.

Aquatic Personal Training:  When making a wellness resolution, many need help getting started and staying motivated.  Many resolution makers seek out the assistance of personal trainers to educate them on how to train safely and with results.  While people commonly link personal trainers with land-based workouts, the water is the perfect starting block for novice exercisers as well as those with physical limitations.  It also offers a novel experience for those that need a new form of training to keep workouts fresh and interesting.  Certified aquatic professionals including those holding an Aquatic Emphasis, Wavemakers or Aquatic Exercise Association credentials can provide such services.  Personal training can be marketed in a myriad of ways:  one-on-one training, small group training, or even fitness assessments with an included exercise prescription.  Personal trainers should charge $60-$75 per hour with small group training ranging from $35-60 per hour depending on your location.  For more information, check out these resources:

The trick is not only do you want to welcome the impending influx of exercisers, you also want to retain them.   Research suggests that 80% of new exercisers will quit within 5 months and many of those that joined in January will not make it past February (2).  Group fitness classes have been found to aid in maintaining membership and adherence rates (3, 4).  Introducing your new members to these group classes that meet their physical and social needs can be paramount for maintaining members.  Moreover, maintaining your current member happiness should also be on your radar.  Statistics tell us that over 50% of your current members don’t enjoy the influx of new clients (5).  Provide perks and accommodations to your regulars to show that you appreciate their patronage.

As you prepare for the January rush, consider how you can diversify your program, provide an opportunity for community purpose, and build a network of healthy collaborations to make this year your best year yet.  Consider going vertical to help boost your bottom line, grow your membership range, and meet the needs of so many trying to meet their wellness goals.

Lori A. Sherlock, Ed.D. is an associate professor in the School of Medicine at West Virginia University.  She coordinates and teaches the aquatic therapy curriculum within the division of Exercise Physiology and is proud to state that it is the only one like it in the nation.  Lori is an AEA and Wavemakers trainer and a member of the Aquatic Exercise Association’s Research Committee.  She travels around the globe to educate others on various topics concerning aquatic therapy and exercise.  Additionally, Lori contributes often to scholarly publications and has a great interest in furthering the field of aquatics through research.


Links:            https://waterexercisecoach.com/





  • NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist Poll National Tables November 28th through December 4th, 2018.
  • The 2017 IHRSA Global Report. 2017
  • Gottschall, J. S., Jones, J. L., Mills, J., & Hastings, B. (2013). Group fitness is effective in reducing cardiovascular disease risk factors in healthy adults. Open Journal of Preventive Medicine, 3(01), 132.
  • Maher, J. P., Gottschall, J. S., & Conroy, D. E. (2015). Perceptions of the activity, the social climate, and the self during group exercise classes regulate intrinsic satisfaction. Frontiers in Psychology, 6, 1236.
  • Conner, L. 6 New Years REsolution Gym Statistics.

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