Gyms and behavioral economics – 10 questions for the Gym-Pact duo

Yifan Zhang and Geoff Oberhofer, the duo behind Gym-Pact, the behavioral economics gym plan in Boston we posted about earlier this year, have taken a 10-pack of questions about fitness, business, and human behavior. While Gym-Pact has arrangements with Boston-area gyms, the company has just released an iPhone app at to help people keep commitments at gyms anywhere. Yifan and Geoff answered our questions over email. A transcript is below.





Nudge blog: How do you make money from your plan? Just like a regular gym, you seem to profit more when people miss their appointments. Is that the case?

Gym Pact: We actually get people to the gym on 90% of the days they commit! Gym-Pact’s model does not profit from people missing appointments. Rather, our main revenue comes from the service we provide to gyms (selling discounted memberships, referring people, etc).

NB: You don’t own a gym. Instead you partner with existing gyms. What kind of success have you had with these partnerships in Boston? Do your members visit more frequently? Are you tracking data, particularly on success and failure rates?

GP: Yes! We love data, and so far the data loves us back. We’ve held our 90% success rate for now over 5 months, and our members commit on average to 3.5 days per week!

NB: Have you experimented with the design of the penalty itself? Are certain size penalties delivered at certain times more effective than others?

GP: While we don’t want to change things up too much for our current members, who find our existing system very effective, we are launching an iPhone app. We’re accepting 100 beta testers currently at, and we will be trying a few motivational fee designs, including just tracking attendance without the fee. If you’re interested in giving this a shot, all you need is an iPhone and we can set you up at any gym in the country.

NB: How do you enforce the commitments people make?

GP: We have our patent-pending attendance system placed at partner gyms, where Gym-Pact members text us a constantly updating code when they check in and out of the gym. We (now have an) iPhone app to track attendance as well. Our members put up money to motivate their fitness commitments, and we enforce those commitments based on attendance.

NB: By putting the penalty for missing the gym in financial terms, does it actually boomerang and lead people to skip more often? In other words, do financial penalties crowd out personal norms?

GP: Not that we’ve seen so far. Regular exercise is something all of our members strive for, and they know it’s good for them! We just give them the extra kick to get to the gym with the regularity they’ve always wanted.

NB: What have you learned more generally about human behavior and fitness since you first conceived of this idea?

GP: When given the opportunity, people will cheat! We have to make sure that our Gym-Pact(SM) system is cheat-proof so that there are no excuses and no opportunities for members to cheat themselves of regular exercise, only results.

NB: Do you have any intentions to revise Gym Pact’s business model by incorporating more behavioral theory?

GP: We have a few ideas that we will be testing out with our iPhone app – more to come on this!

NB: If you owned your own gym and could design it from top to bottom drawing on behavioral economics, what sorts of features would you consider?

GP: We would definitely structure the membership fee to incentivize regular exercise. Regular attendance is not only good for members, it’s great for gyms because it’s the strongest signal that a member will continue being a member of the gym.

NB: How does your iPhone commitment app work?

GP: We use GPS technology and our database of gym locations in the U.S. to take attendance. Other than that, it is the same Gym-Pact(SM) program. For our beta testers, however, we will be adding a few more options so if you’re curious, feel free to try it out!

NB: Do you have any plans to incorporate social media in the device to enforce commitments through peer pressure?

GP: Yes! Sharing your successes and competing with friends is one of the strongest motivators, and we definitely will be incorporating these aspects to our app and regular Gym-Pact program.

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