The Golden Ratio: How Many Members Should Your Gym Actually Support


The Golden Ratio: How Many Members Should Your Gym Actually Support

Within the fitness industry, a lot of ink (and more recently, pixels) have been spilled on one question.

Just how many members can a gym or fitness club fit in it? 

It feels like a simple question, surely we aren’t still debating it over 2,500 years after the Greeks first coined the term Gymnasium?

As this article might indicate, we are! But luckily we’ve made a few strides in the last two and a half millennia. Some might even say we’ve got it down to a fine art.

But like all good enduring questions, there are multiple answers and many different methods to reaching those answers.

So today we are going to take a look into a few different ways to reach the fabled Golden Ratio of gym membership capacity. And as per our expertise, we will be specifically looking at how gym membership management software can be instrumental in not only providing the numbers to calculate capacity effectively, but also provide an agile, proactive and low cost way for independent gyms and fitness clubs to maximise their capacity at all times.   


What IS ‘The Golden Ratio’

The term Golden Ratio is thrown around a lot, and unfortunately it can mean different things to different people. 

To some it represents a formula that will effortlessly solve all the capacity quandaries of a gym or fitness club.

To others it is the ratio of which a gym or fitness club is at ‘perfect’ capacity.

But even the definition of ‘perfect’ varies.

Overcrowding, a topic that invariably comes up during talks of capacity and ratio and that we will focus on heavily, will always play a part. The ‘perfect’ capacity may be too much for some, constituting overcrowding.

It might be becoming apparent that there is no one-size-fits-all ratio that can be applied to every gym to ensure that ‘perfect’ capacity is reached.

But as the old saying goes, perfect is the enemy of good. So while we will use the term Golden Ratio as a catchy and unifying name for our objective, we are not here to sell some mathematically complete, silver bullet solution.

Rather we will use data, experience and methodology to help independent gym and fitness club owners understand gym membership capacities and ratios in order to better implement it in their own clubs and facilities. 


Managing Capacity

What are we trying to achieve by managing Capacity?

When we talk about Capacity Management in the context of a gym or a fitness club, what are we really talking about?

Ultimately it can be boiled down to two key goals. We are trying to ensure that the maximum number of paying members are signed on whilst mitigating the undesirable effects of overcrowding. 

And overcrowding is a pernicious beast. It can be hard to detect for the management of an independent gym or fitness club, it can even be hard to detect for the staff on the ground.

But for the gym member? It is monolithic. It is pervasive and it is a death by a thousand cuts. 

It saps the desire to go to the Gym. Knowing you’ll have to wait for a treadmill, push through a crowded changing room, or be frustrated that the dumbbells you wanted have once again been taken. 

This brings us to our first formula. 

And that is: Value = Utility – Price. First detailed in Blue Ocean Strategy, by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne.

It is a simple but powerful abstraction.

What we are focusing on here is Utility.

Specifically, overcrowding represents the death of Utility. 

It needn’t have anything to do with the quality of equipment or the staff, not even the location.

Just the simple fact that a gym or fitness club’s one true desire is to get more members, is also one of the greatest existential threats to retention. 

It is a story we have seen many times within the industry across our twenty-five years of experience. At a certain point of expansion, an independent gym or fitness club will cease to be a pleasant place for gym members to go at certain times. 

When it is no longer a pleasant place to go to, we look back at Value equals Utility MINUS Price and suddenly the amount of utility has been impacted, and the price has stayed the same, which means that in the mind of the customer, the value starts to plummet. 

It is a serious issue, with very real consequences if mismanaged for an independent gym or fitness club. Next, we will look at why overcrowding and utility represent THE primary retention metric that gyms and fitness clubs should be focusing on. 


Capacity Management and Retention

While this list is not exhaustive, in our lengthy experience in the fitness industry there are four main groups of reasons cited when a gym member departs.

They are as follows:

Change in economic circumstance

Change in Location

Lack of Use


Of these, we must look at what an independent gym or fitness club can reasonably control. It is no use focusing on those who have either had to move or have chosen to move location. And while there is an argument for being able to act upon changes in economic circumstances, ultimately we are not in control of the fortunes of our members.

So we are left with two very familiar sounding concepts that we can control in the grand and unending battle for gym membership retention.

Lack of use and Overcrowding. 

Utility and Value.

When seen through this lens, it becomes apparent that capacity management is one of the leading solutions to poor retention.

It is not a silver bullet, there are as many reasons cited for leaving as members. We are not suggesting that capacity management can solve things such as poor equipment or an undesirable location.

But what should be apparent is that capacity represents one of the few factors that is eminently controllable by the management of an independent gym or fitness club, with the right data, methodology and mindset. 


Data and Capacity Management 

With sufficiently advanced and powerful gym membership management software, capacity management becomes much easier. This is because it can help fill in a significant gap in one of the most effective gym and fitness club membership capacity management formulas. 

Before the implementation of gym membership management software, management and staff would have to either make assumptions, rely on vague intuition or take a leap of faith when it came to understanding just how long their average gym member was actually in their gym. 

Even the slightest disparity between reality and the assumed or intuited information about gym membership could result in wildly different numbers when it came to calculating capacity management.

And as we covered above, that could be the difference between tranquillity and a significant hammer blow to the value that a member is getting from their gym membership, in turn leading to reduced retention. 

So what can the best gym membership management software offer?

It will be able to track the length of every single visit a gym member makes to the independent gym or fitness club.

And from there, it will be possible to calculate an entirely correct average, to be used in capacity management calculations to help ensure that overcrowding does not occur. 

The difference between this and blind intuition will be like night and day.

Furthermore, while we will not be covering it here, it is possible to isolate and understand what times are the busiest with gym membership management software and factor that into a capacity management equation. While it is not the focus of today, we will hopefully explore further applications for gym membership management software in capacity management projects in further blogs. 

Example of a Capacity Management Formula 

So now our theoretical independent gym or fitness club is assured that the average length of a visit to their gym has been perfectly calculated from an up-to-date and verified pool of their membership. 

Now it is time to get down to the calculation. 

Step 1: First the gym or fitness club owner must collate the sum total of all individual pieces of cardio equipment (Treadmills, Elliptical Trainers, etc), all free-standing strength training equipment (Leg Press, Chest Fly, etc), and the number of benches, as well as determining how much studio space is readily available (with a sensible division, everyone cannot be expected to workout within 1m squared!).

It is important to also keep these individual statistics for Step 5. (Individual number of Treadmills, Leg Press machines etc). We will call each instance (aka, each machine or space) Floor-Capacity or FC.

Once all of those have been calculated, the owner will have the maximum number of members that can be actively using the gym at any one time.

Keep in mind this does not cover the reception or the locker rooms. 

Step 2: Understand how many people can use the locker rooms at any one time. Again, like the studio floor space, it is important to be honest about how much space you believe a member would be comfortable using.

Step 3: Combine these two sums for the total number of members that can be IN the gym at any one time.

Step 4: Take the figure for the average length of a gym member’s visit to the facility. (As specified above, should preferably be determined by data output from gym membership management software). 

Step 5: This part can either be done across the gym as a whole or across the individual sections of the gym, depending on the level of specificity required by the gym. 

Now we take the time our gym is open. For simplicity, it is open between 8 am and 10 pm, or 14 hours.


We will then take the average membership visit, as determined by our gym management software which comes to 60 minutes or one hour. 

Divide Operational Hours by Average Gym Visit for 14 divided by 1 hour in this case to equal 14.  

Now take the number of Floor-Capacity for an area or all areas, in our theoretical example we will do Treadmills, of which there are 15.

Multiple our two figures together (14 x 15) to get the total capacity of the treadmill section (210).

This represents the simplest Capacity Management calculation, not reconciling factors such as peak time and membership variance.

But what it does provide is both a solid number and a framework to expand in complexity. The true strength of capacity management is that a gym or fitness club can go as granular or as broad as they desire. 

What we are left with after our quick experiment is the hard limit of the number of members that can use those 15 treadmills in a given day. Given that we do not live in a perfect world where 14 groups of 15 members arrive every hour, it will need to be expanded and developed.

But that is where the increasing sophistication of data available to even independent gyms and fitness clubs means that capacity management is now more accessible than ever.

If we look at what can be achieved even with the simplest calculations, imagine what can be accomplished with sophisticated data outputs, quantifying gym membership attendance, and equipment usage not only across time but section. Establish trends and patterns that can be utilised to turn the above, simple formula into a powerful tool in the fight against overcrowding. A toolkit that can be used to increase retention, value and utility. 


Our Thoughts

Retention is what capacity management is all about. We all know it is less costly to retain members and battling the ‘churn’ has become a significant preoccupation for independent gyms and fitness clubs.

The delicate balancing act between expansion and value has become too valuable to ignore, as a lack of efficiency in this domain will significantly damage retention and by extension, profits. 

Luckily here at Ashbourne, we have channeled over twenty-five years of experience within the fitness industry into our gym membership management software, partnering with hundreds of independent gyms and fitness clubs to take their businesses to the next level.

As we showed above, with the help of a gym membership management service and software, an independent gym can go from operating in the dark to carefully planning out aspects of their operation such as capacity, secondary spending and control access. 

Have we piqued your interest? Excited to see how our cutting-edge software and data outputs could help inform the calculations and choices that will drive profit and growth? Look no further and book a demo here today! 

Get your club in shape.

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Simply select your preferred timeslot and we’ll be in touch to have a chat about your health club,
the goals you want to achieve, and how our system can help you.

Get your club in shape.

Want to discover how? Let us show you.

Simply select your preferred timeslot and we’ll be in touch to have a chat about your health club, the goals you want to achieve, and how our system can help you.

Get your club in shape.

Want to discover how? Let us show you.

Simply select your preferred timeslot and we’ll be in touch to have a chat about your health club, the goals you want to achieve, and how our system can help you.

Member of a gym? Simply text "HELP" to 60777 and we'll help you.

Member of a gym? Simply text "HELP" to 60777 and we'll help you.

Member of a gym? Simply text "HELP" to 60777 and we'll help you.

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