Why Gyms Want You To Skip Your Workout

Brilliance | Dec. 11, 2017

It's a familiar story: for your New Year's resolution, you pledge that this is the year you'll lose weight. The next day, you show up to your local gym, hand the staff your credit card, and boom—you're a member. Fast forward to April, and you realize that despite that membership fee leaving your bank account each month, you haven't gone to the gym in forever. Sure, that's bad news for you, but it's great news for the gym. Their business model relies on the fact that some members never show up.

How It Works

Every additional member means more money for the gym, so it's in their best interests to amass as many members as possible. There's a cost, though: too many members, and the gym gets crowded; a crowded gym means unhappy members who are more likely to take their money elsewhere. That's why forgetting about your resolution to become the living embodiment of the Brawny Man is a win-win for the gym: they get your money, and not your presence.

This isn't just an overlooked quirk of the gym business model. Gyms know this fact well, and do their best to attract people who are likely to stop going. It's why they keep the sleek cardio equipment in front and the intimidating free weights hidden away in back—anyone can jump on a treadmill, whereas free weights require enough dedication to learn correct form and individual exercises. It's why they have free pizza and bagels, in extreme cases. Decades ago, gyms were intimidating places that looked not unlike dungeons, and therefore attracted mostly committed fitness buffs. "Once gyms started looking more like hotels, coffee shops and restaurants," says NPR, "People who weren't bodybuilders started feeling comfortable in gyms. The casual gymgoer was born."

How You Benefit, Too

There's good news hidden in this pretty negative business model. The slackers who stay in bed while you hit the gym are the reason you pay so little—their membership is essentially paying for yours. If every member worked out regularly, gyms would have to limit their membership, so every member would have to pay for a bigger slice of the pie, so to speak. So if you do hit the gym regularly, thank a slacker. And if you don't, know that you're making someone else's New Year's resolution go a little more smoothly.

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