Get Fit or Get Fined: Web Service Offers to Charge You for Skipping the Gym

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Workout or elseToni Nadal, the uncle and coach of current world No. 2 tennis player Rafael Nadal, once explained to a journalist a lesson he'd drawn from life: "Victory does not feel so good as losing feels bad."

"When you have a son," Nadal elaborated, "you are happy. But it's no comparison to the sadness you feel losing a son. When you earn $1 million, you are happy. But when you lose $1 million, it hurts more. If Rafa wins Wimbledon, he's happy, we're all happy. But what if he loses?"

Two recent Harvard graduates are wagering that this principle -- the pain of loss outstrips the pleasure of gain -- can motivate Americans (a people by and large less dedicated to fitness than, say, star tennis players) to keep their commitments to exercise.

Yifan Zhang and Geoff Oberhofer, class of 2010, have founded Gym-Pact.com, a service that charges users money for skipping planned visits to the gym.

Zhang, who came up with the idea, was inspired by her study of behavioral economics, which taught her "that if you tie cash incentives to things that are concrete and easy to achieve like getting to the gym, it's very effective."

"People don't like losing money and it's one of the strongest motivators, much more than winning money," Zhang told The New York Times.

The minimum deduction for playing hooky from the health club is $5, charged to a credit card kept on file, but people can choose higher monetary stakes if they need greater incentives.

But Gym-Pact is not all punishment and no reward: The money from truancy fees is pooled in a PayPal account and divvied out to members who meet their goals.

All you need to use Gym-Pact is a smartphone -- an iPhone at the moment, although Android and HTML5 devices will soon be supported. After joining, users "set their pacts," making what the site calls flexible personal commitments. The minimum pledge is thirty minutes of exercise once a week. ("Don't stress if your life is unpredictable," Gym-Pact explains, because "you can change your Pact any week.")

To validate gym visits, users check in to their facilities using an iPhone app, and a smartphone's ability to track its owner's location. (There are currently 40,000 gyms in the company database.) If you try to duck out of a session early, your phone will warn you that the truncated workout will not count.

Live up to the terms of your contract, as it were, and Gym-Pact offers positive reinforcement -- but not very much (in keeping with the theme of loss trumping gain). The amounts disbursed to virtuous users depend on how much the lazy have lost, but rewards have been averaging a meager 50 cents per workout. Health and fitness will have to remain their own rewards.

Gym-Pact bills itself as "a fun, social and real way to get yourself to the gym." How does it sound -- a clever solution to a lifestyle conundrum, or just a cheap gimmick destined to disappear faster than the New Year's resolution crowd at your local fitness center?

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16 Comments

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Mike

ocommy fat police are coming!

January 08 2012 at 12:54 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Jose Dejesus

THE LOWER 50 ARE POOR ACCORDING TO CNN, WHO CAN AFFORD A GYM ?? MOST ARE HAVING A HARD TIME PUTTING FOOD ON THE TABLE AND PAYING THE BILLS.. ONLY THE WELL OFF AND THE FAT CATS CAN AFFORD A GYM MEMBERSHIP.

January 07 2012 at 7:15 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Mz

LOL Just give your phone to someone who actually works out or just sit in the parking lot and have a nap

January 06 2012 at 3:14 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Mz's comment
gdwtchg

That's true, but then why do it all if the financial gain is so little? It's not even worth the time expenditure.

January 06 2012 at 1:39 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Colette

Lol!! Really???

January 05 2012 at 11:50 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Howeird

Fine and dandy, what about people like me? I am 80 and disabled, I lost 35 pounds and 3 inches in the waist just by cutting out sugar. I now weigh 212.6 (the scales at the Doctor's office) Not everybody can get to the GYM.

January 05 2012 at 8:27 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Howeird's comment
gdwtchg

Unless you can create an app that has the ability to upload data from dedicated and calibrated scales, I don't think there will be a similar site for weight loss only. There are weight-loss sites that help you track based on the honor system but if money were involved, you would need more accurate data.

January 06 2012 at 1:38 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
cecilyad

I have been doing this for years, but I "share" my losses with some organizations which are, in my opinion, the most despicable on the face of the earth--my 'regular' choices are the KKK and the NRA. I have a "penalty box" on my kitchen counter, and I put $1.00 for each day (with one day off a week, for R&R) that I don't work out. I do the same for my other New Years' Resolutions. So far as of Jan 6, I am still "good". Only 359 more days to go, and then I will see how much I give to these truly awful worthless organizations. This is better motivation, for me, than sharing the money with other people

January 05 2012 at 6:28 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
Theresa Kirk

This is an option to help motivate people and it seems fun. I am NOT a 20 something yuppie. Why are you so negative people? Whatever works to help decrease obesity is fine with me.

January 05 2012 at 2:36 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Theresa Kirk's comment
justappraisals

Yea, sure, as long as it stays an "option" and it is by our will and not the Gov. or the public vote. You do not seem to have a problem with Tyranny. "What ever works?" By your decision or who's? Would you say the same when it comes to Politics or health care? Or how about Energy? Fossil fuel works. Is it your business what other people do? No, it is not. Are you one of those that say what ever you hate should be outlaw' d , and what ever you like should be mandatory? Live like you or not at all? One Obama is enough for the world. Thank God Obama and Hitler did not live at the same time.

January 05 2012 at 7:00 PM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to justappraisals's comment
gdwtchg

How is this tyranny? This is a site/app created by individuals for fun, not the government. Can you say quantum leap?

January 06 2012 at 1:45 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down
lgnu

I don't see any mention of how much the proprietors of this site are keeping for operating it.

January 05 2012 at 1:35 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
royalemary

A new internet con.The 20 something yuppies will really dig this scam.

January 05 2012 at 11:19 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
Mary

People are so stupid they should just put the money in a jar at home and then they have it instead of letting their iphone track them. It should be against the law to have the tracking device on the phones that the consumer can not turn off. When they do I will acquire one until then I will forgo the iphone and all it;s bells and whistles designed to let the government track your every move. People come on you do not want these things, one more freedom given away with nothing to show for it.

January 05 2012 at 10:02 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to Mary's comment
C

and if you left your phone at home like i do?

January 05 2012 at 1:35 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
gdwtchg

Although you can disable your phone's GPS, in order to a cell phone to work, it must connect to the closest tower which can be traced. You can always turn your phone off and only turn it on for emergency calls. Frankly I could care less if someone in the government tracks where I go, it would be rather boring to them. Besides, if they really want to know what you do, they don't need for you to use a cell phone.

January 06 2012 at 1:52 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply