It’s the first week of 2012, and if you’re like millions of other Americans who made a fitness-related resolution for the new year, you likely also just signed up for a new gym membership. You may have good intentions and may also be highly motivated at this moment (especially after consuming high quantities of food during the holidays). But what will be your incentive to continue working out regularly — especially once you realize that you have a very busy schedule and constant social obligations? If you find yourself already making excuses to avoid going to the gym, you may need something more than the long-term goal of toned obliques or a lower BMI to entice you to head to your gym tonight and tomorrow. The emergence of game mechanics in apps like Foursquare have proved that people are encouraged to do more things and go to more places when there is a reward attached — even if it’s just a silly little badge to brag about via your social networks.
But what happens when that reward is a financial incentive? Some new startups, such as Stickk and Health Rally, are allowing users to set goals for things they’ll do in real life with the option to add a financial reward if they accomplish their goals. Another new startup, Gym-Pact, is following suit, offering people who need motivation to hit the gym a real, tangible reward for setting and meeting goals to work out. Gym-Pact is a mobile app with a Web-based component that allows those of you with a gym membership the ability to set a goal to work out however many times per week that you determine, and place a financial stake on meeting those goals by setting a price on what you’ll pay if you miss a workout. Gym-Pact then asks you to check in to your gym each time you work out to ensure you actually work out as you promised. (The app also tracks the time spent at the gym to ensure you’re there long enough to actually complete the workout.) The app is designed to provide both motivation and incentive. Yifan Zhang, co-founder of Gym-Pact, says the hardest part of going to the gym is just getting to the gym. To provide some motivation, Gym-Pact offers to reward people who commit to working out a certain number of times per week by paying real cash to those who meet their goals. But where does the reward come from, you might ask? Zhang explains that the payout is pulled from the pool of those who failed to make it to one of their workouts that week.
The idea for Gym-Pact was founded on the basis that people will find a reason that that they don’t have the time or even just the motivation to actually go to the gym. In one of her last economic classes at Harvard in 2010, Zhang realized the benefit of financial incentives and kicked around the idea of how the idea could be applied to fitness, since she was having a difficult time finding the motivation to go the gym herself. Zhang admits that Gym-Pact takes game mechanics previously found in apps like Foursquare to a whole new level, utilizing real incentives for doing things in the real world, as opposed to just badges or points. The risk for using apps that integrate financial incentives with game mechanics is obviously higher than those like Foursquare that don’t offer any real risk (or, for that matter, any real reward, either). But is the risk of real-life game mechanics too high?
In a pilot program of Gym-Pact in 2011, Zhang and her co-founder discovered that users actually made it to 80-90% of their committed workout sessions. Though these users each had individual pacts with different levels of commitments per week with varying financial stakes, users with successful weeks earned between $3-4 per week, and even more during the holidays. Of course, those who failed to make it to a workout session had to pay up. Now that Gym-Pact is live, Zhang admits that this type of program is not for everyone, and that there are risks involved. However, users can set realistic goals, and always change or cancel their pact if they find that they just can’t make it to the gym on a regular basis. Based on the pilot program, though, most users see a financial benefit — and not a loss — from using Gym-Pact. And now that 10,000 more users have signed up since the public launch at the beginning of 2012, with over 1,000 already using the app actively, the benefit for those keeping their pact with Gym-Pact can only be better as more people will likely not be able to stick to their commitments.
The idea behind Gym-Pact is to help motivate you to just get to the gym — the type of workout you do is up to you, and not for Gym-Pact (or anyone else) to judge. Zhang also admits that, yes, you could cheat. Someone who works at a gym, for instance, could leave their phone there or just hang around and read a magazine while Gym-Pact registers their compliance (which is obviously not the the purpose of Gym-Pact). However, if you need a little extra incentive to work out at least three times every week, there’s no better way to both benefit your health — and your bank account.
What do you think of apps like Gym-Pact that take game mechanics to the next level? Would you ever put money on the line to accomplish things in your life or to motivate you to achieve a goal? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.