A gym membership where you pay more if you don’t workout

Two Harvard students use behavioral economics to reinvent the gym membership.

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.

“If you have a toothache, you go to the dentist. If there’s a cavity, you know it needs to get filled in, but if it doesn’t hurt right now, you may not bother,’’ Mullainathan said. “In traditional gym memberships, not going is not very costly. In this one, you actually might feel the pain of not going immediately.’’

Zhang and Oberhofer translated that principle to workout motivation. If missing a workout cost people money, they’d be more motivated to stick with it, they thought.

Details on two pilots with Bally Total Fitness and Planet Fitness in Boston are in the Boston Globe.

Hat tip: Derek Reed

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  • http://derekchristensen.com Derek

    Chris Anderson shared a similar business example in his book Free. There’s a gym in Europe that charges no membership fee… as long as you exercise every week. If you miss a week, you pay the full monthly fee.

  • adora

    I think it might backfire. Like the case of one Israeli daycare centre mentioned in Freakonomics. After they implemented penalty for late pick-up, more parents pick up their kids late. The money spent took the guilt away.
    I also suspect those who are currently sedentary would be less motivated to start working out.

    • http://www.naidle.com naidle

      Interesting comparison but that would probably relate more to the current model where you pay for a membership to remove your guilt.

  • Mike

    Great idea- how about a comparison study between a gym that charges a dollar for each workout you miss and one that refunds a dollar for each time you work out. Wonder which one would be more motivational?

  • http://creditunionwarrior.blogspot.com/ CUWarrior

    I like this approach to saving/thrift as well. Pay interest when regular deposits are made, charge fees when a savings plan is not followed.

  • http://www.joetaxpayer.com JoeTaxpayer

    There’s the law of averages. Over time, such a gym would find the slugs not renewing, and the jocks staying on. They’d have the best looking non-paying clientele of any gym in thr area.

  • edward

    Wrong….they just won’t workout!

  • Stephanie Sheng

    Check out the SF Bay Club, this is already a part of their billing structure. Must swipe in 8x/month or pay more that month.

  • primeexecutivefurniture

    They implemented penalty for late pickup, more parents pick up their children late. The funds spent took the guilt away.

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    I think ,Pay interest when regular deposits are made.They’d have the best looking non-paying clientele of any gym in thr area.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Lynn-Brown/100002931948494 Lynn Brown

     I am not sure how I feel about this type of billing structure. Is there any gym management software out there that would allow gyms to bill this way? I know for sure that if my gym was charging me more for not going then I would think twice about joining that gym because what if something happened and I couldn’t go to the gym for a long period of time?

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  • Feonacy Tyson

    Wow that is something amazing and I think it will motivate the people to work out in gym and get healthy.

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