Gym regulars might grumble when classes and locker rooms fill with resolute new members each January, but the crowds rarely last long. I’m sure many gyms’ revenue models depend on members who pay monthly fees but use the facilities infrequently, if at all. These people (and I’ve been one in the past) are essentially throwing money away by not going to the gym, but that doesn’t seem to be enough to get them out of bed and into spinning class at 6am. The rewards of better fitness are much more distant than the allure of another half hour of sleep.

The Boston Globe’s Susan Johnston reports on a Boston business that’s trying a different approach:

Gym-Pact offers what Zhang calls motivational fees — customers agree to pay more if they miss their scheduled workouts, literally buying into a financial penalty if they don’t stick to their fitness plans. The concept arose from Zhang’s behavioral economics class at Harvard, where professor Sendhil Mullainathan taught that people are more motivated by immediate consequences than by future possibilities.

… Gym-Pact negotiated a group rate with Planet Fitness, then paid the membership fees for participants, who in return for a free membership agreed to work out at least four times per week. If they fail to follow the schedule in any one week, the participants pay $25. If they leave the program for any reason other than injury or illness, they will pay $75. For now the fees will be used to pay for the gym memberships and to build a financial aid fund.

These days, what gets me out of bed and into the pool is the knowledge that if I don’t, I’ll feel worse all week. For those who join a gym but don’t manage to get there, would a Gym-Pact-type system be enough of an extra push?

Comments

  1. #1 Wow
    January 28, 2011

    Finding someone else to go.

    You don’t want to let them down, so you go. They don’t want to let you down, so they go.

    Doesn’t work as well if you share abodes, though.

  2. #2 ERV
    January 28, 2011

    *points to comment #1*

    It doesnt even have to be an ‘official’ gym buddy.

    If you go to a class regularly, if you lift weights regularly, if you use a cardio machine regularly, you will meet people who also do those activities regularly.

    Not only does this end up being a great way to make new friends, unofficial gym buddies still worry about you when you dont show up at your regular time, which can keep you on track :)

  3. #3 Robin
    January 28, 2011

    Right. I think it’s not so much the financial penalty, as the fixed schedule and the fact that someone else will notice if you’re not there.

    Myself, I know far too often in the morning I’ll promise myself “I’ll go after work”, and in the evening I promise myself “I’ll go tomorrow morning”. Weeks and even months can slip by that way.

  4. #4 Daniel J. Andrews
    January 30, 2011

    Wish our gym would have that gym-pact–I’m at the gym 4 or 5 times a week so I’d get free membership. What drags me to the gym are the consequences of not working out–heart disease runs on both sides of my family tree.

    Plus, in the summers (and sometimes in the winters) I’m doing field research in the far north or the arctic, and that can involve some strenuous activities (long-distance hiking/slogging/snowshoeing with heavy backpacks, etc). If I’ve kept up with my workouts I go into the field feeling confident. If I haven’t, I’m nervous and get stressed wondering just how miserable the first week or so is going to be.

  5. #5 Ian Kemmish
    January 30, 2011

    Well, the gym that does this will presumably end up with higher utilisation rates for the equipment and therefore be in a position to offer lower rates to those customers it does have. It’s a win for the gym because so long as relatively few gyms do it, it will be able to cherry-pick the most committed customers.

    The gym is, however, losing casual customers. Force people to think more carefully about whether they will be able to stay the course, and many will decide that they are not sure enough about it to take the risk. So they’ll go to the other gyms, the ones that might offer more expensive courses but without the penalties.

    Overall, it’s probably detrimental to public health….

  6. #6 Old Federalist
    February 1, 2011

    A great incentive is simply to enter into an outlandish bet with a friend, in which the “loser” pays the “winner.”" A kinder variant is to agree upon a fixed goal: loser pays, but if both win or if both lose, then neither is out of pocket. Easiest tailored to diets, but other tests can be agreed upon.

  7. #7 The Other Doug
    March 23, 2011

    No, money is something of a poor incentive. The loss of a few dollars here or there would have no effect on my day-to-day priorities – ratchet it up to a gun in the face, and we’ll talk. I just go because it’s *good* for me to stay fit. Same goes for not eating crap food. Do people just not understand these things, are they weak-minded or what?