Resolution to Finally Lose that Beer Belly? There’s an App for That

There’s an animated woman in tiny gym shorts running after cash on a fishing hook, and she’s the new face of GymPact.   Developed by…

There’s an animated woman in tiny gym shorts running after cash on a fishing hook, and she’s the new face of GymPact.

Developed by Harvard graduates Yifan Zhang and Geoff Oberhofer, GymPact is a new iPhone app that offers cash rewards to regular gym goers and penalizes the couch potatoes. Participants download the free app and make a weekly pact – how many days will they make it to the gym and how much money are they willing to lose for each day they don't. The minimum is $5 and the default is $10, but users have the freedom to choose any amount they want. All you need to get started is an iPhone (although Android and HTML5 devices will soon be supported).

Users check in when they arrive at the gym and their GPS confirms they are in the right spot, where they must stay for at least 30 minutes or they will not be credited with a workout. At the end of each week, GymPact charges those who haven't met their goal. The company reasserts its tough love philosophy by taking about 3-percent of the winnings and then dividing the rest of the funds among those who managed to meet their weekly pact commitment. But there’s good news for all those commitment-phobes out there: financial commitments can be changed at any point up to Sunday night, and GymPact can be frozen for vacations or injuries or even indefinitely if a user doesn't like it. GymPact already has more than 40,000 gyms in its database. Users may also add their own locations, but the app functions on a kind of honor system, in hoping that the location added is a legitimate gym and not just that treadmill in your living room.

This system is how most gyms work already. The people who use them regularly have their memberships subsidized by those who don't. Much like Snooze, an alarm clock app for the iPhone that will donate a set amount of money to the charity of your choice every time you hit the snooze button, GymPact operates on the basis of a daily penalty. Since it's not just that lump sum charge to your credit card, presumably it’s a lot harder to simply forget about.

Although there’s an entire gamut of fitness apps available, from the appropriately named C25K (Couch to 5k) at $2.99 to the FitnessBuilder at $9.99, they all run along the same lines, offering a number of set workouts that help users build stamina and endurance, tracking their progress every step of the way. Downloading GymPact, however, is free; the app doesn’t presume to tell you how to increase fitness, focusing simply on getting you off your rear and to the gym.

While the idea behind the app is a sound one, firmly rooted in behavioral economics, there seems to be a rather obvious problem. GymPact doesn’t allow users to log any exercise outside of their specified gym location. Thus, even if a run outside proved to be more beneficial and enjoyable, the app wouldn’t credit the user for it. Even worse is the possibility that this kind of system will be taken advantage off - what’s to stop a user checking into a gym, only to hang out at the juice bar for a couple of hours?

Furthermore, the payout each user receives for regular attendance is minimal, amounting to about 50-cents per completed workout for the average user who pledges the minimum of three workouts a week. Although the payout is not going to make or break someone, users should keep in mind that missing one week can undo 10 weeks of going to the gym on time. What GymPact really seems to come down to is not a user earning more money, but simply trying not to lose his originally pledged sum. Would you be more inclined to go to the gym if you knew you would lose $5 if you didn’t? Most users would probably say yes.

One of the most common critiques of the app seems to come largely from trained professionals like personal trainers and regular exercisers, who say the app is no more than the current gimmick of using apps to make our lives easier. According to these exercise junkies, there is no substitute for self-motivation. So what is GymPact, really: a clever solution to an age old problem, or just another parlour trick whose impact will be forgotten as quickly as all those other New Years’ resolutions?

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