I go through a lot of gyms. I move around a lot, spending 1-3 months in each location (it has to stop at some point... just not yet), and in each location I sign up to a martial arts club, powerlifting gym, or CrossFit gym.

Every time I do this it's a bit of a chore. I have to find the local good gyms and sift through them, talking to the owners and figuring out schedules and so on.

Yes, in the process I meet good people. But it takes effort!

As part of every gym sign-up process there's nearly always a trial class or period. It might be a week of free classes if you're in a big city, a single free class, or maybe a discounted first week if there's not much competition.

In every case, it's really important to know how to get the most out of your trial class, so that's why I've put together this guide of five questions to ask yourself.

Background: Why Gyms Use Trial Classes for Marketing

For gyms, the trial class is a really clever marketing tactic.

For service providers, they're always effective as a marketing tactic, because at the end of it the customer will usually have had a positive experience, and will then feel indebted to the gym.

You just got something for free, you used all their stuff and sweated all over the equipment, and you feel full of endorphins. At that moment they ask you "So, do you want to sign up?".

It's really clever because at that moment you are very vulnerable. You feel both good and indebted, and you want to keep feeling good, so you sign up. It's done!

Coaches / instructors aren't necessarily good salespeople. When they are, they can be a powerful force for converting trial customers to full-time members.

But the trial class is an opportunity for you to really evaluate whether a gym is a good fit for you. You have to think of it more as a first date. Imagine you were paying, even. Would you pay for this again?

The Trial Class — Five Things to Analyse

Before the class, assess things that you don't need a trial class to analyse, like pricing, location, schedule convenience, and so on.

Then, for the trial, book a time slot you'd regularly go to. Then, ask yourself these questions, depending on your priorities.

  • Coaching: Do you like the coach / connect with him/her? Are they actively coaching the new people (including you)?
  • People: Do you like the other people — are they people you want to work out with every day?
  • Equipment: Is the equipment clean and tidy?
  • Space: Is there enough room to move around? (I hate over-crowded gyms... it depends a bit on the time of day, and the neighbourhood.)
  • Content: Do you enjoy these movements? Some of the movements you may like, and some you may find a bit boring.

After the trial class

At the end of a trial class, don't sign up right away. Say you're going to do a couple of other trial classes.

It's really tempting to sign up right away, just because then you're done with it. The class was fine right? Wrong! You're full of endorphins! You have no idea what's good and bad! (If you have no other options it's OK, of course.)

But you can build up a better picture of what suits you by doing at least a couple more trials.

If you are still curious about that gym, I'd definitely consider paying for just a week — or even doing day-by-day payments for a few more classes. You can get more information that way. Plus, when you're paying, you can be a bit more objective about the experience.

The flipside — What Gyms should be doing

I write this from a consumer's perspective, but it really puts into focus what a coach should be doing during a trial class. It's amazing how many gyms and coaches I've seen fail in this regard.

For example, I've seen coaches/gyms

  • Spend much more time with the long-term experienced members; I felt unimportant and even at times like an obstacle
  • Not really address the needs of the new member, just let them figure things out
  • Not be clear about what to come with / bring with (gear, timing, etc. This can be a simple onboarding email)
  • Give insufficient information about how to find the location (once I was just given a suburb and told it was behind a bank... so I went to another branch of that bank in that suburb, 15 minutes drive away... sigh)
  • Not making time to engage properly with the customer after the gym. Did you like it? Any questions? Do you want to sign up right now? I'll help you do it, and book you into your next class.

How to onboard new customers isn't the point of this — but there are definitely some easy things to do.