Daily Life

Why your gym hopes you won't go

The average Australian gym-goer spends about $72 per month on their membership.

The majority don't go as much as they thought they would, if at all. And, it turns out, gyms are banking on you not turning up.

Membership sales spike as much as 40 per cent at this time of year as people look to kickstart a healthy new year. But, about 54 per cent of gym members don't turn up much, according to a new survey by consumer research group, Canstar Blue.

"It's mostly a lack of time that prevents people from using the gym as much as they thought they would, but there are a range of other factors that put people off," says head of Canstar Blue, Megan Doyle, who notes that many members also feel intimidated by gyms and don't like working out in front of other people.

This is not news to many gyms, despite often aggressive sales pitches to lock you in with promises of a whole new healthy you.

Consider one National Public Radio feature from 2014, which gave the example of one large American gym chain, Planet Fitness, which sells about 6000 memberships for a 300-capacity gym.

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"Frankly, this is the way gyms like it," NPR says, "customers who pay but don't cost the business a dime... Gyms want to be this product that everyone buys but no one uses."

So how do they do this?

They appeal to atypical gym-goers; they make the gym look less like a gym by hiding the weights rooms, and seduce with fancy extras.

For instance Virgin Active, who has 1.4 million members worldwide and 262 clubs (so that's an average of about 5300 per gym, which we'll guess is fairly well above capacity) has just launched nutrition coaching to compliment its workout regime.

The press release to launch their new Collins Street club last year, which features sleep pods, a spa and a cafe, states: "The new Collins Street Health Club is très more luxe and élégante than any gym before it."

Similarly, Fitness First has more than 850,000 members worldwide and 317 gyms (about 2680 per club if you average it out).

They offer a premium 'Black Label' membership which provides benefits including an in-house laundry service and free access to send your child to their PlayZone.

It's enticing stuff.

And a way to keep even those who don't make the most out of their membership, which is significant given most gyms lose about half their clients each year, according to NPR.

Gyms, like any other business, position themselves differently, aim for a different clientele and some charge higher prices to coax clients inside more often.

For others however, even if they count on you not turning up too much, there is a pay off.

"Basically everyone who signs up and doesn't go is subsidising your gym membership – it makes it cheaper for everyone," NPR says.

"If you have willpower and everyone else doesn't, you can actually work out for a ridiculously low price."

Which makes the moral of the story; make the most of your membership and you will reap more rewards than just greater fitness.

Not all gyms are the same. Some are designed to attract hardcore fitness fanatics, others for people who like a less intimidating environment. How do you find the right one for you?

"If you're considering joining a gym, try to look past all the marketing gimmicks and promotional offers, and consider exactly what type of gym you want to join, because there can be a big difference between them," Doyle advises. "If you can, ask for a trial period or just use the gym for a couple of one-off visits to get a real idea of what it's like. The atmosphere of a gym is just as important as its facilities."

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