Fitness testing has always been an invaluable tool in every professional’s repertoire. So in 2008, when I began a fitness boot camp in Manchester, NH, I decided to assess my clients using a battery of standardized, nationally recognized tests that went beyond before-and-after photos and qualitative numbers. Instead, I wanted to provide hard evidence of fitness improvements by using quantitative evaluations of muscular endurance, cardio respiratory endurance, flexibility, body composition, waist-to-hip ratio and more.

Initially, I planned to show clients their results month to month, but this idea evolved into a longer-term plan to collect data for different age ranges and genders so I could reliably predict the results members would get based on their average number of attendances. For four years, I input data into a simple spreadsheet system that allowed clients to track their progress. Clients could watch their numbers improve month to month, which motivated them, improved retention and increased the club’s reputation.

The process I developed was simple. First, I tested new and returning clients every five weeks. I sent clients their results in an easy-to-follow format with an explanation about how to interpret their results along with group averages. I also tested clients at the end of the program.

The cost of the testing was minimal. I already had Excel, so I simply designed a process to collect and organize the information. Two of my clients—one a statistician and one a web developer—helped me in exchange for free training. We put a form online so prospects could enter their age, gender and the average number of days they plan to work out to get calculations on what their average results would be. This form also collects the prospects’ contact information, which generates strong leads. (The form can be viewed at www.nlpstrength.com.)

Offering a program like this tells clients that we care about them. It establishes our program’s credibility by showing evidence of its effectiveness. It creates accountability because it tracks both attendance and results. We encourage clients to do a minimum of three boot camp workouts per week, which develops a group feeling because they see fellow classmates regularly, create friendships and develop team unity that encourages peer accountability in a non-competitive format. We have even had some clients marry each other.

Tracking clients’ results also helps staff get to know clients better, creating a sense of group personal training. The boot camp instructors actually know what is going on with everyone, something few programs deliver consistently.

The program ends up selling itself because when people see their results in black and white, they are more likely to renew at the end of the program. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard clients say they are no longer on blood pressure or cholesterol medications, how they can do things they have not done for 20 years, how their backs and joints are no longer in pain, or how their personal lives are much better and prosperous as a result of exercise. The data provides direct correlation between our program and these benefits.

After people see their results, the referrals start coming in. Of course, we incentivize clients to refer friends by offering friend referral discounts, but ultimately, the endorsement of a client who has seen great results visually and quantitatively is hard to top.

Using data to provide legitimate credibility to your program is something that is pretty tough to argue with. And being able to give people specific information, such as that on average they will lose 2 percent to 3 percent body fat, or 5 to 7 pounds of fat, in the first month is more convincing than just telling people that the program works, and if they sign up that day, you will give them $20 off. By doing regular assessments and sharing these results internally and externally, you can dramatically increase your retention and referrals, and you can establish your program as a cut above the run-of-the-mill programs that saturate the fitness market. In addition, the clientele you attract will be easier to work with because they are looking for a professional experience and environment and they are willing to pay more money to secure that quality experience.

Joel Bergeron is owner and director of operations at the NLP Strength and Conditioning Center in Manchester NH. He has worked as a university instructor, NCAA Division I track coach, professional football strength and conditioning coach and an international clinician. Bergeron is a published writer in a variety of coaching magazines and books. He develops educational DVDs and distance learning courses. He can be reached at Bergeron@nlpstrength.com or 603-627-7500.