Research shows that signing up for an expensive annual gym membership doesn’t get people to work out. But you can save money and keep your New Year resolution.
Resolutions to lose weight, eat healthier, or exercise more dominate New Year’s goals. Nearly one-third of Americans set a weight-related resolution in 2016, but only 44 percent of people maintained their resolutions for six months.
That is exactly what gyms are counting on this January. Fitness centers thrive on selling 12-month memberships at the start of the year to people who will give up on their exercise goals after a few months.
By targeting casual exercisers with nice facilities, well-designed lounges, juice bars, and free bagel days, gyms make money without overcrowding their workout space or putting too much wear and tear on equipment.
Case in point: Planet Fitness. The Midtown location in New York has about 6,000 members, but it can only fit about 300 people at a time, Planet Fitness officials told NPR’s Planet Money.
The average monthly cost of a gym membership is $58, but in cities like Brooklyn, monthly spending tops $100.
Since 67 percent of gym members don’t go to the gym at all and many more don’t go often, infamous iron-clad gym membership contracts keep members paying all year long, while they rarely see the inside of the fitness facility.
Many people with a resolution to move more in 2018 actually want to be locked into an expensive annual gym contract.
“Joining a gym is an interesting form of what behavioral economists call pre-commitment,” Dr. Kevin Volpp, director of the Center for Health Incentives and Behavioral Economics at the Wharton School, told NPR.
Based on pre-commitment, many people think that throwing down a lot of cash will make them feel guilty if they don’t workout.
This motivation strategy doesn’t work. It’s also expensive for wannabe fitness enthusiasts.
“If you are an exercise person — you know who you are — paying a large up-front yearly gym fee will save you money in the long run. However, if you are on the fence about exercise, paying large fees on January 1 isn’t the secret to getting you motivated,” Rachel Straub, an exercise physiologist and personal trainer, told Healthline.
A study of nearly 8,000 gym members called “Paying to Not Go to the Gym” found that members paid an average of $17 per visit, more than they would have spent for a 10-visit pass costing $10 per visit.
“The guilt of using your gym membership because you are paying for it will only take you so far. What will sustain your gym attendance long-term?” Janna Young, the founder of Seek to Find Coaching and Training, recommended people ask themselves.
“Internal motivation is more powerful than external motivation,” she said.
Straub explained that switching your mindset to appreciate the long-term health benefits of exercise is a difficult process, but it will help people sustain an exercise habit.
“This doesn’t happen overnight. So, thinking that making a one-time payment will change your thought processes is simply not practical,” she pointed out.
Fitting in cardio and strength training consistently is essential for overall wellness.
Exercise is associated with good heart health, improved bone density, and reduced stress.
But going zero to 60 not only isn’t necessary — it sets people up for failure.
“If you are already exercising five days a week, great,” Straub said. “However, if you aren’t exercising at all, don’t try to compete with your overzealous friends. What’s the point of making unrealistic goals and burning yourself out?”
Instead, she recommends making small, attainable goals, then increasing frequency, duration, and intensity over time.
Young agrees that realistic goals are key to success.
“The achievement of smaller goals helps you to build your confidence to tackle larger goals. Managing expectations is key to creating new habits and maintaining motivation. Set a percentage of execution that you can realistically hope to achieve your goal. That way, you can get back up when you fall instead of expecting perfection,” Young said.
If just thinking about the grind of going to the gym turns someone off, they aren’t likely to keep their fitness resolution. That is why Young believes “the most important thing is to find a workout and location that inspires you to keep coming back for more, while meeting the minimum CDC fitness guidelines.”
She warned that “there is a bit of a learning curve to finding what works for you, but have fun in the process of discovery.”
For cheaper and just as effective workouts as those at the gym, there are a variety of apps and online resources for every type of workout personality.
- Nike Training Club (free, iOS and Android): “Nike Training Club is a favorite app of mine because it’s free and a great resource for workout routines and exercise ideas,” Young told us. By creating a four-week plan based on fitness level and goals, users feel good about hitting monthly resolution milestones.
- Aaptiv ($9.99/month, iOS and Android). Watching a video on a small mobile screen isn’t always ideal. Aaptiv is an audio workout program, featuring personal trainers who coach you through a wide range of workouts through your earbuds.
- Daily Burn ($19.99/month). With a library of more than 1,000 workouts, and a new workout posted every day, no other app can match the Daily Burn’s depth and variety of exercise videos. Check out the 30-day free trial before committing to payments.
- Freeletics Bodyweight (free, iOS and Android). “Body-weight exercises are my salvation when I cannot make it to the gym. Squats and pushups (the latter on the floor or using an elevated surface) are my top two favorites, but I also do leg presses (in bed), lunges, single-leg step downs, rows, reverse flies, and more,” Straub said. This app, featuring coached videos at all levels, provides unlimited ideas.
- Stair stepper. “I have a stair stepper that costs only $50 at home that I use on days that I can’t make it to the gym. It’s portable, easy to store, and does the trick,” Young said. Increase variety in home workouts with a few pieces of equipment, such as free weights, sliders, or a resistance band.
- 8fit (free, iOS and Android). There’s a saying that abs are made in the kitchen. That’s why 8fit combines several exercise programs with meal plans. The paid pro version offers customized plans.
- Gaiam’s Yoga Studio ($2.99–$6.99, iOS and Android). With 65 classes grouped by level (beginner, intermediate, and advanced) and the tools to create your own flows, this app can take you to the end of 2018.
- 5K Runner: Couch Potato to 5K (free, iOS and Android). The only required equipment here: running shoes. This free app takes users through a realistic and rewarding eight-week training program that assumes you’re starting from square one.
- Spitfire Athlete (free, iOS and Android). This app is for women committed to working hard to build strength and maximize their athletic performance. The training plans are based on real female athletes’ regimens, complete with their inspiring bios.
- Balance Body Video ($19.99). Pilates is effective when done properly, but can be confusing or cause injury without an instructor. Young recommended this site for quality fitness instruction for in-home workouts at a low cost.
- Johnson & Johnson Official 7-Minute Workout (free, iOS and Android). Created by fitness pros at the Johnson & Johnson Human Performance Institute, this free app is packed with quick workouts and video tutorials so that beginners can make sure they’re doing each exercise correctly.