Do you know what I object to most in the fitness business? It’s those big-box chains that sign up members for the low monthly rate, but secretly hoping that customers never turn up to occupy space in any of their one million and six facilities. Low membership fees are fine in themselves, and it’s a good thing that gyms give their members the hope of getting off the couch and getting fit. However, it just offends my sense of honor and the principles that got me into the business in the first place. Also, a strategy that delivers premium services is going to add more value in the long term.

So, I happened to be reading about how scientists are finding ways to gently nudge people to take the actions that are in their best interests. The field of study is relatively new, a branch of economics named behavioral economics, and before I lose you, let me say that it has some fascinating implications for the fitness industry and it can help you increase the profitability of your small gym business.

A Super-Short Summary For Behavioral Economic Theoryincentives

The short version of this field states that people make economic choices not out of some rational understanding, but because of the nature of human behavior. The motives that drive a person’s actions might come from habits or fears; they might base their choices on a misunderstanding of the facts or cultural traditions. The key to this theory is that if you understand human tendencies, you can use them to “nudge” your members in the direction that you want them to go.

Some examples of how behavioral economics applies to the real world show how simple and powerful it can be. Schools in France tested changes in how they named subjects; changing the name of geography to drawing eliminated gender bias in the results boys and girls attained. A UK initiative to reduce energy consumption added a simple message to consumer monthly utility statements; it told them how much electricity they used in comparison to the average used by their neighbors. Apparently, the message had the desired effect of reducing consumption.

What Do Gym Attendance Nudges Look Like?

Human nature and cultural differences play a significant role in determining what works and what does not. In fitness the hope of getting fit without effort nudges millions to subscribe to fitness programs that they never use. Getting your members into your gym is the best opportunity that you will get to sell add-ons and premium services. The Insight software tools help you track attendance and work out how to get members onto the fitness floor.

  • Planet Fitness brings in free pizza to lead the less-hardcore members in the door. I assume the pizza is a nudge that, once you’re there, this incentivizes you to work off some of those calories.
  • On the premium end of the scale, Equinox refunds their high initiation fee if you attend a certain number of times after signing up.
  • You can nudge members by taking away something for their non-attendance; this was the premise of one study at the University of Pennsylvania, students in the study about working out lost points for failure; they apparently attended workouts more than the control group.
  • There could be enormous benefits in using nudges to promote wellness for corporate healthcare plans. One study has shown that paying employees to follow through on commitments to fitness, which produced results that demonstrated how nudges could reduce the costs of healthcare if you set them up in the right way.

Members Have To Turn Up So find The Right Nudge

I think that it is going to be interesting to watch how the developing field of wearable technology supports behavior-influencing techniques. Wearables look like a pretty good platform to measure your efforts to nudge members; let’s keep an eye on how that plays out.

You don’t have to spend every day hoping that the fewest possible number of gym members will turn up, although it might be a blessing of having too many customers. If you want to have the most rewarding experience of gym ownership, along with delivering the best membership experience, you are going to have to market premium products and services to your members. To reach your paying subscribers they have to show up, and that means figuring out how to nudge them to come in and hang out occasionally.


Fagan, Lawrence. On The High Road To Premium Gym Ownership Success. February 17, 2015. (accessed September 23, 2015).

—. Wearable Technology Delivers New Fitness Essentials. August 29, 2016. (accessed October 5, 2016).

Hyde, Tim. When do financial incentives lead to healthy habits? January 6, 2016. (accessed October 5, 2016).

Miron-Shatz, Tayla. How Behavioral Economics Can Make You Exercise. October 29, 2011. (accessed October 5, 2016).

Schwartz, Elaine. Explaining the Health Club Memberships We Don’t Use. January 18, 2015. (accessed October 5, 2016).

The Economist. Nudge nudge, think think. March 24, 2012. (accessed October 5, 2016).


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