Is Your Daily Leaderboard Still Serving Your Clients, Your Business?

Repeatable and measurable: These concepts led to CrossFit’s daily leaderboard, a perfect way to measure fitness, and progress against others, and build community in the process.

And so thousands of gyms around the world started encouraging their clients to log their scores on the daily leaderboard.

Two decades later, the leaderboard has almost become part and parcel with being a functional fitness gym…

But is a daily leaderboard really the best way to encourage client retention? Is it the best way to get your clients results? Is it the best way to encourage community?

In our experience, it wasn’t, so we moved away from it.

So you don’t track your clients’ fitness?

We do. We just don’t test them everyday, nor do we track fitness via a leaderboard (more on what we do later).

But first, why the daily leaderboard might not be serving your clients (and, in turn, your business):

For us, it came down to this: A daily leaderboard featuring Rx and scaled workouts sent the wrong message in terms of what is important for most of our clients. For two reasons:

One: I need to be able to do all the movements

Most gyms that offer a leaderboard program as prescribed, or Rx workouts, meaning standardized workouts with specific loads and movements to ensure everyone is doing the same workout, so they can then be accurately represented on the leaderboard.

For those who can’t do the workout as prescribed, there’s a “scaled” option or two. And as a result of doing the “scaled” version, your score on the leaderboard comes with an asterisks next to it, as you didn’t do the workout “the way it’s supposed to be.”

Because this is the message it sends to the client: Rx is as prescribed, and therefore, it’s what the client should be striving to be able to achieve. It’s the way the workout is supposed to be done.

Cue client’s thoughts: I can’t do a pull-up, so that means I’m not meeting the standard. I’m not at the level that I’m expected to be at.

This leads clients to start to care about being able to do all the movements—movements like snatches and thrusters, double-unders, muscle-ups, toes-to-bar or handstand push-ups—because they think if they can do the movements they’ll get closer to the ultimate goal of being able to do the workouts as prescribed.

Food for thought: Is a muscle-up or a handstand push-up, or being able to do a particular workout with 135 pound squat cleans, really what the average person needs to be striving for? Are handstand push-ups, or even barbell thrusters or snatches for that matter, ever going to be truly appropriate movements for the 50-year-old man with an old shoulder injury, who first showed up at your gym because he wanted to lose some weight and improve his blood sugar levels?

(Any coach who has watched a client grimace through doing thrusters and snatches and kipping pull-ups knows there are probably better movements this client could be doing)...

Ultimately, though, you track what you care about. And a daily leaderboard with Rx workouts as the standard means this is what your clients will start to care about and therefore want to track. And for many, striving for these standards is not what’s best for them.

Consider this: Many of your clients first come to you as clean slates, so to speak. When they show up, they don’t even know what a power clean is, let alone is it their goal to clean 200 pounds.

If you told them their goal should be to do jumping jacks for 60 minutes without stopping, many of them would believe you….

In this sense, most of our clients are then influenced by whatever their coach tells them is important for their fitness. And if you have a daily leaderboard with Rx and scaled workouts, this is what they then believe is required of them to be fit.

Point 2: Everyday Becomes a Test Day

Further, having a daily leaderboard essentially means that you’re asking your clients to test themselves everyday, which we found was a clear recipe for burn out.

Even elite athletes (or maybe especially elite athletes) don’t test themselves every day.
It comes down to training versus testing. Training is where the gains are made (we all know this), and it’s where 90 percent of an athlete’s time is spent (in some sports, this might be closer to 95 percent). Testing, or “game day,” on the other hand, happens infrequently.

We believe the same should be true of training in the gym. A daily leaderboard, however, by design, gets people testing themselves way too much. End of story.

This is, in a nutshell, why we scrapped the daily leaderboard a number of years ago.

But didn’t it crush your community? How do you measure progress?

Let’s address the latter, and then the former:

How We Measure Progress

To understand this, we need to explain how our programming is done today.

In short, we do not program movements, but rather movements patterns (hinge, squat, push, pull, midline etc), as we don’t believe all movements are appropriate for all clients.

For example, we might program 5 sets of 3 squats at 75 percent of your 3RM, and some clients will choose to back squat, others to front squat, others to goblet squat, and others still to do a landmine ramp squat. The decision depends on their individual abilities and goals (which they work with a personal coach to determine).

In this sense, we measure personal progress (and like most gyms we have an app where clients can log their scores), but it’s a more individualized progress, rather than a head-to-head leaderboard approach.

Worth noting: We also have benchmark workouts we repeat (usually each one gets tested once a quarter), which include a 10-minute AirBike, a 2km row, a one rep max deadlift variation, a 3 rep max squat, and pushing and pulling gymnastics capacity tests.
In this sense, our clients are still very in tune with their personal fitness level and how they’re progressing.

Further, our clients know well in advance when they will have the opportunity to retest a benchmark, because, well, nobody ever appreciates a pop quiz!

How Community is Maintained

We admit, when we abandoned the leaderboard because we saw how counterproductive it was largely to client retention, we were a bit concerned about how it might crush the vibe for many who loved the leaderboard.

But it didn’t. It simply changed the dialogue our clients have around training.
Instead of it being, “Whoa, Wendy did that workout in 5:02. Savage!” it became, “Whoa, those sled pushes were hard. I didn’t trust myself to drive for 30 minutes after the sleds.”

Essentially we found it came down to how we educate our clients about movement selection for their unique needs, as well as concepts like rate of perceived exertion.

The Result for Us

Abandoning the traditional CrossFit-style leaderboard and moving to a movement pattern way of programming with periodic test days, ultimately helped us expand our network of clients, and we’re now able to coach a broader range of people than we once were.

More importantly, since making the switch our client retention improved considerably and today sits between 90 and 92 percent annual client retention (further, our average client sticks around for 4.7 years, compared to the industry average of 7.8 months). We believe, humbly, this largely comes down to the more individualized, more inclusive approach we take now compared to a decade ago.

Coach Tom put it this way: If you want your gym to be about “the movements” and getting better at the moments, in my opinion, you’re pigeon holing yourself, because it puts limits on what you’re doing. And if you’re testing your clients everyday through a daily leaderboard, your client retention probably won’t be where you want it to be, as the large majority of people get discouraged and burn out.

If you found this article helpful and would like to see exactly how these types of strategies could improve your sales and dramatically increase your revenue on a consistent basis,

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