A Gym Where It Costs You to Skip a Workout

A lot of people who join gyms or health clubs find it very easy to stop going. Gym-Pact, a new program in Boston, aims to change that. “Gym-Pact offers what [co-founder Yifan] 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,” explains Susan Johnston of The Boston Globe. “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 launched a small pilot program last fall at Bally Total Fitness in Boston, and expanded its program at two Planet Fitness gyms in Boston in 2011. Currently, participants are fined $25 if they fail to follow the schedule in any given week, but Gym-Pact’s founders are still refining their model. “Zhang and [Geoff] Oberhofer plan to tweak the fee structure to allow it to be customized to a customer’s goals. Future iterations may include a combination of discounted gym memberships and smaller penalties that apply daily rather than weekly.” (HT: Marginal Revolution) [%comments]

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  1. Ian Kemmish says:

    Surely just good old “enlightened self-interest”?

    Such a pricing policy is naturally going to deter people who don’t reckon they are going to be able or willing to attend all the sessions they book (at least, until every gym jumps on the bandwagon). So the gym gets fewer casual customers, and if they get the pricing level right, more committed, loyal customers than their competitors. Any business likes that.

    Like any other retained consultant, it’s against a gym’s interest to actually solve the customer’s problem too well, because if they do they’ll run out of customers. They just have to look as if they’re trying.

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  2. Ian Kemmish says:

    Sorry to post twice, but maybe what you really want is a gym that gets paid like a hedge fund: they get an agreed performance fee every time your weight/blood pressure/whatever falls to a new low. If your weight increases they don’t get paid until it dips once more below the previous low.

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  3. tim says:

    I’m curious what the incentive for a gym to do this?

    More people using the gym doesn’t necessarily mean that the gym makes more money as a certain percentage pays and never shows up. Which reduces wear and tear on the facility.

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  4. nemo says:

    @tim

    I have a second-hand anecdote from a manager of a gym chain that says they make a great deal of their money the first month of the year when all the new years resolutions are made. Shortly thereafter, membership counts decay to approximately standard levels.

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  5. Cyril Morong says:

    Who decides what a “scheduled workout” is? Do you have to do a certain number of reps? Work at a certain number of stations? Who monitors you to make sure you do all that?

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    • Yifan Zhang says:

      Hi Cyril,
      I’m one of the co-founders of Gym-Pact and wanted to send out some answers! Our members decide where they want to work out, and a “scheduled workout” is any 30 minute period that they spend in a fitness partner facility. We have a simple attendance system at each partner facility. We don’t specify or monitor workouts directly but rather monitor attendance. Most members find the hardest part to be just getting out the door and into the gym!

      Cheers,
      Yifan

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  6. di says:

    Well, there go all the parents (because they have to stay home with Junior who is throwing up), caregivers (because Granny needs extra help one day) and anyone with a job that schedules meetings or travel on short notice (middle aged, mid or upper level professionals). Sounds like a way to attract only a certain type of crowd, young people without a lot of commitments.

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    • Yifan Zhang says:

      Hi Di,
      I’m one of the co-founders of Gym-Pact and I want to thank you and everyone else on this comment chain for your feedback. It’s really great for us to be able to hear what concerns you all have as well as what you like about our program. We actually hope to make it a flexible enough program for everyone. With a minimum commitment of just one day a week, we hope to make exercise a priority along with family, work and all the other things we fill our schedules with daily!

      Please feel free to continue the dialog with us via Twitter (@gympact, @yifanz) or Facebook!

      All the best,
      Yifan

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    • Eric says:

      Junior throws up 7 days a week !? Besides some gyms will provide facilities for children and actually most For women only gym cater precisely to those crowds. And if 35% of the American population find the means to become obese (Not overweight … OBESE.) Surely they can find time to skip the KFC and go to a gym 90 minutes a week instead.

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  7. Becky says:

    Cyril –

    If a person goes to this gym and says that they want to work out 3 times a week (Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, for example), then they’ve signed up for scheduled workouts, especially if they’ve signed up with a personal trainer.

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  8. KevinM says:

    Would it work better to let people “work off” part of the charge? That is, could the gym charge, say, $500 for a one-year membership, but refund $10 each month if you work out some prearranged number of times?
    True, this is economically equivalent to a $380 gym membership with a $10/month “fine” for noncompliance, but it has the advantage of being structured as an incentive. When you’re trying to get yourself to work out, a financial incentive might work better psychologically for some people. There’s the initial resistance to paying the higher price, to be sure, but most people can steel themselves once and commit themselves to stick to a regime. It’s the ongoing discipline to stick with it that’s hard. This is a way of lashing yourself to the mast.

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