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Yifan Zhang and Geoff Oberhofer, the duo behind Gym-Pact, the behavioral economics gym plan in Boston we posted about earlier this year, will answer your questions about their business.

 

 

 

Post your questions in the comments section or email them to nudgeblog@gmail.com by the end of the week (Friday, May 13). Zhang and Oberhofer will answer on May 18th, the day Gym-Pact releases a iPhone app that lets people make their commitments at any gym. Before you send a question, you might check out the FAQs on the Gym-Pact site.


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If you need an example of behavioral economics for one of your classes, you can never go wrong with the gym. Men’s Journal explains the standard gym business model:

Commercial health clubs need about 10 times as many members as their facilities can handle, so designing them for athletes, or even aspiring athletes, makes no sense. Fitness fanatics work out too much, making every potential new member think, Nah, this place looks too crowded for me. The winning marketing strategy, according to Recreation Management Magazine, a health club–industry trade rag, focuses strictly on luring in the “out-of-shape public,” meaning all of those people whose doctors have told them, “About 20 minutes three times a week,” who won’t come often if ever, and who definitely won’t join unless everything looks easy, available, and safe. The entire gym, from soup to nuts, has been designed around getting suckers to sign up, and then getting them mildly, vaguely exercised every once in a long while, and then getting them out the door.

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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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Marginal Revolution posts this item from a reader:

A Danish chain of gyms is now offering membership free of charge, with the only caveat that you have to show up, in order for the membership to be free. If you fail to show up once per week you will be billed the normal monthly membership fee for that month. This should solve the problem with incentives that gym membership normally carries – there is suddenly a very large (membership is around 85$ per month) incentive to show up each week.

Continue reading the post here.

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