Top 8 Must-Have Pieces Of Equipment For Independent Gyms And Fitness Clubs To Increase Membership Retention And Broaden Appeal Across All Demographics

It is a question nearly as old as the concept of a gym (which makes it pretty damn old, a good few millennia). 

“What am I going to put in my Gym?”

The answer has, unsurprisingly, changed over the years. But at the core, the answer is the same as it ever was. The equipment within an independent gym should be varied, of a high quality and it should be what the members of your gym want to workout on. 

And that is what we will be focusing on today. We will be looking not only at what type of gym equipment offers the most value for independent gyms, but examining how each piece can be vital in retaining members across all demographics.

And as you might have inferred from our title, we will be looking at how independent gyms can make the most of a growing trend within the fitness industry. Functional fitness and the new demographics that entails.

We have spoken to gym owners up and down the UK and Ireland and we are more convinced than ever of the potential for independent gym owners to capitalise on this growing movement. 

From Inverness to Galway to London to the rural countryside, independent gym owners have been using this new public demand for functional fitness and sustainable, life enhancing workouts to draw in crowds that were previously thought inaccessible.

While the answer to drawing in swathes of over 50s isn’t simply swapping out a few pieces of equipment, it is part of a broader shift that many independent gym owners are starting to look into. New (or refurbished!) equipment can not only help draw in new people, but can allow the staff and management to run new classes, new events and new promotions. 

So this list is a collection of what we know works and what we’ve heard the best feedback regarding, combined with tried and tested methods to help ensure independent gym owners can bolster their retention rates and increase the attractiveness of their fitness offering to new gym members.


1. Step Machine & Pedal Exercisers

Starting off as we mean to go on, the Step Machine has seen a rapid increase in popularity in the last few years. Along with its budget alternative for the independent gym on a budget, the noble free-standing pedal exerciser, these two are the first of several low impact pieces of gym equipment we will be recommending. 

And low impact, high result is the name of the game.

Though it might sound odd to older ears, the trend of ‘steps’ has taken off in a big way amongst the younger and older generations alike (finally something to agree on!) 

And it is little surprise, given the three major advantages it has as a piece of workout equipment.

Number one, you always have some energy for some steps. Whether it is warming up, winding down or a stop-gap between two harder exercises. It is downtime without it being dead time. A very important consideration in our fast-paced modern world.

It can’t be overlooked how important it is for independent gyms to keep their members engaged.

Second? Results. Unsurprisingly this governs a large portion of the positive reception that gym members have to their equipment. They want something that improves and enhances their body, burns those calories and strengthens those legs.

Whether it is a hike with a loved one or a day with the kids, the step machine and pedal exerciser give practical endurance that people use every day of their life. It might not be the most exotic, but that is the appeal and it is an appeal that independent gyms should not overlook.

And last? Though by no means least. Everyone knows how to take a step. One foot in front of the other on an upwards trajectory? It is the opposite of intimidating. It is eminently easy. Whether the person is 16 or 66, they will know what to do and (hopefully) that they can do it.

If you want something that is going to draw in that profitable over-50 demographic, the step machine is a classic. It is social, it is light but it is effective. It can get the heart racing and the leg muscles pumping. Same with the pedal exerciser. Just because they are simple. Doesn’t mean they should be overlooked. 

And while we appreciate this might seem more like a fitness club piece of equipment, the rise of informal, low-impact workout areas within independent gyms has meant that they can find a home anywhere.  

2. Exercise Bike / Stationary Bicycle

Take a lot of what we just said about the step machine and apply it to the exercise bike.

We know we don’t need to tell a lot of independent gyms to get exercise bikes. They are a staple and for good reason.

Accessible, safe to use, low impact and eminently popular. 

So what else is there to say?

We think there are two things that independent gyms don’t focus enough on when it comes to their stock of exercise bikes. 

And that is Quantity and Marketing. 

Otherwise put it is:

  1. Does your gym have enough stationary bicycles?
  1. Are they being utilised appropriately by marketing, social media and events

It may sound silly, but cycling is one of the most popular methods of transport in the western world. Not only that it is a method of transport and exercise that is becoming increasingly popular with our two main demographics. Younger people and 50+.

Just because something is common-place, doesn’t mean it can’t be utilised. We’ve seen great examples of exercise bike competitions taking place in independent gyms. Using social media to bench impressive benchmarks on virtual courses (Who cycled fastest around or did the most laps of an iconic route or circuit, such as the Le Mans cycle circuit). 

And if the answer is ‘our bikes don’t need marketing, they are always full!’. As we know, full is not always a good thing. One over-capacity means a member did not get to use the piece of equipment they wanted, and that can damage retention. 

So while we aren’t expecting any independent gym to adopt the exercise bike if they hadn’t already, perhaps this has helped to put them in a different light.

3. Rowing Machine

After exploding onto the scene in the 80s, the popularity of the Rowing Machine doesn’t appear to have aged a day. In fact, it would seem that many people from back then are still using it, albeit at a slightly reduced pace we imagine.

Much like the exercise bike, the Rowing Machine offers a great place for members to enjoy friendly competition and events at the same time as providing yet another staple of the low-impact zone we are creating. 

In a world of increasing bad posture from sedentary lifestyles and office jobs, the Rowing Machine comes sailing in to deliver us. If an independent gym has an office or a similar den of people in need of spinal-correction, this is the sort of posture-led marketing that can work incredibly well.

Equally, it targets just the right areas for the 50+ to ensure that they stay upright and limber into their older age.

The Rowing Machine is a great example for proving our point, it isn’t just about the machine. It is about how you spin it.


4. Balance Trainers and Resistance Bands

This one is perhaps a bit controversial. I don’t think we would include it on just any list. However given the topic of the day, I think that both the balance trainer and resistance bands make the cut and then some. 

While they don’t quite fit the criteria of machines, they are equipment. And invaluable, beginner friendly equipment at that.  

Light-weight, low-intensity and able to be used in recovery workouts. They have a lot going for them when it comes to senior appeal. 

Not only that, they are inexpensive items, all important in our challenging economy and they have a wide-appeal to the low-impact quality of life crowd. A useful tool in the arsenal for promoting exercise that will improve blood-flow, muscular health and recovery from more strenuous workouts.

Between their appeal and their price-point, we think this should be a big consideration for classes and events when targeting the all-important functional fitness crowd.

5. Appropriate Dumbbell Weight Sets

The next two are going to focus on staple pieces of equipment with slight variations to maximise cross-demographic appeal. Like the Rowing Machine or the Exercise Bike, this piece of equipment and its place in our list isn’t so much about quality but quantity. 

Instead, this one is about variety.

In the fitness industry, we all know that certain weights are ‘the popular weights’. And if a gym wants to start targeting the functional fitness crowd, that category is only going to get more narrow. 

Equally, I think we have all heard complaints about the number of dumbbells not being sufficient. Sometimes it is unavoidable, but not always. 

Ultimately every time a gym member can’t get the item they want, it damages the value proposition for staying at that gym. 

Our solution to avoid this rush on popular, low-impact and functional fitness weights? Have them be separate and distinct from your gym’s normal weight collection.

It is a subtle difference but not only does this free up capacity from the free-weight area. It also presents the weights in a different light. 

6. Pressurised or Low-Impact Treadmill

Unfortunately this next piece of equipment on our list won’t be quite as inexpensive as dumbbells or training bands, and we appreciate that might be a turn off for many independent gyms.

Especially if they already have a complement of treadmills at their disposal.

But with that being said, we’d be remiss if we didn’t point out the growing popularity of low-impact, pressurised and so-called ‘anti-gravity’ treadmills. 

Now we won’t bore you with an exhaustive explanation of what they do. We think most independent gym owners can intuit from the name. It is a lower-impact variant on the treadmill.

That in and of itself is fantastic, of course. 

But what we are interested in is how independent gyms can market that to their membership and prospective membership. 

Being able to say ‘we have a treadmill that you can use without the risk of impact-injury’ can be a massive draw for a certain demographic, concerned with fitness into their later years but also, rightly, concerned with injury.

To the young this might seem like a trifling concern, but for those with the injuries and ailments that you start to collect after a long life, such a piece of equipment can be a significant draw! 

And lest we forget, the quality of life improvement that such a piece of equipment can bring to older members cannot be overstated. For these reasons, it is worth considering even if an independent gym has treadmills already. 

7. Cross-Trainer / Elliptical Machines

Perhaps my favourite piece of low-impact equipment, the cross-trainer requires little introduction. Often called an elliptical trainer, it is often thought of as one of the poster-children for low-impact workouts. 

Relatively recent in the grand scheme of things (A child of the 90s, for those interested!), it has nonetheless made a huge impact in the fitness industry.

Or should that be a lack of impact? Designed to closely follow the action of running but without the heel or foot leaving the machine. It has the ability to target a variety of spots with very little tension or impact. 

Fit for training classes, events or just solo-workouts as you listen to music. The Cross-trainer has a lot of positives. As we spoke about earlier, the ability to market it as a machine that will leave you satisfied but not sore cannot be overestimated. 

And while unlike its cousin, the step machine, it might not be immediately as intuitive. It is very easy to teach and adapt into a routine, irrespective of the age of the member. This makes it a powerful tool for independent gyms looking to retain members who prioritise functional fitness.

Just because it is a piece of equipment that a significant number of gyms, independent and otherwise have. Does not mean that it should be overlooked. If we start to unthinking do an action or purchase a piece of equipment because ‘all-gyms-do-it’ without looking at the underlying reason and how to make the most of that piece of equipment. We are missing a key step in the thought process of running a successful independent gym. 

8. Training Bench

It isn’t the most revolutionary piece of equipment. In fact, if you exclude a couple of hinges and fasten-bolts it has basically no moving parts.

But that doesn’t mean it isn’t used in thousands of gyms across the country every day. 

Hard to build tension when the name is in the title. It is the training bench. A concept probably older than the Gym itself. It isn’t some fancy ‘anti-gravity’ treadmill, but it holds a vitally important spot in the journey towards functional fitness. 

You might be wondering why we’d finish on such an unassuming piece. And honestly it is an exercise in completionism. 

Throughout this article we’ve been building our theoretical ‘low-impact’ area, and without the training bench, we think it would be incomplete.

We all know that the humble Training bench can easily become part of the furniture. Which is almost forgivable…They are kinda furniture, after all. 

But as anyone running or managing a gym knows, they are an invaluable piece of workout equipment, and one that people from any walk of life can get a lot of benefit of.

Unfortunately I fear that a lot of people I speak to have this image of a training bench as the domain of only a certain type of muscle bound gym-goer.

But it shouldn’t be further from that image. The bench is designed to offer support for difficult workouts and for many weight or body-weight workout.

This versatility and support are perfect for low-impact, posture and functional fitness workouts. 

There will obviously be a more significant amount of ‘on-boarding’ when it comes to staff showing new members (and especially older members) how to fully utilise this equipment.

But that in and of itself is value that your independent gym can be giving to members. Skills that they won’t forget, exercises they otherwise may not have had access to.

With a bit of training or instruction, these can become a staple of low-impact workouts, allowing older members to access and train muscles that would otherwise take significant strain to train. 

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