ALPHARETTA, GA — As many as 65 percent of new gym members drop out in the first six months, according to a 2003 study published in the European Journal of Sports Science. To improve retention, the YMCA recently launched a Coach Approach program at 15 YMCAs nationwide.

The scientifically based regimen matches the difficulty of workouts with a participant's tolerance of exercise pain and his or her self-management ability. The wellness directors set exercise goals that are continually modified based on levels of fatigue, stress and exhaustion.

Jim Annesi, a former tennis pro, launched the program three years ago after club owners told him they were continually replacing dropouts with new enrollees. He discovered that most clubs focus on the 20 percent of their members that don't need any motivation.

“It was an emphasis on getting quick physiological results and basically leaving people to their own resources,” he said in the San Jose Mercury News. “With Coach Approach, we're trying to first build the exercise habit, and then look to the physiological change that could last for a lifetime.”

YMCA officials said that the program had half the dropout rate of traditional programs and would be expanded to three additional cities each year.

The program is currently offered in Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Indianapolis and Washington.