How Gyms Can Trick You Into Buying A Membership


If you’ve ever signed up for a gym membership, but didn’t end up going that often, you were that gym’s ideal customer. Here are some of the clever methods gyms use hook casual costumers into buying a membership.

Photo by istolethetv

On a recent episode of NPR’s Planet Money podcast, hosts Caitlyn Kenney and Stacy Vanek Smith spoke with gym architect Rudy Fabiano and behavioural economist Kevin Volpp about the ways gyms entice new customers sign up. Here are some of the clever strategies they uncovered:

  • They hide the equipment: According to Fabiano, the casual customer will be intimidated by loud machines and hefty looking equipment, so they hide it from view. Instead, they will have a swank welcome lobby that makes you feel like you’re in a relaxing hotel.
  • They make you sign a contract: We don’t normally like contracts that lock us in, but when it comes to the gym we convince ourselves that the contract will make us go to the gym more. This is what Volpp refers to as “pre-commitment.” Whether you end up going or not, you’re definitely committed to paying.
  • They offer low prices: Low prices get you to sign the contract and keep you from feeling too guilty for never showing up, which they actually bank on.

In general, the consensus is that gyms don’t actually want you to use their facilities. They just want you to think that you will so that you’ll pay for the privilege every month without filling up their space or wearing down their machines. If you plan to sign up for a gym membership, make sure it’s something you actually plan on using. If you’re not 100% sure, you might be better off doing your workouts at home. To hear more clever ways gyms get people to buy memberships, listen to the show at the link below.

Episode 590: The Planet Money Workout [NPR’s Planet Money Podcast via Business Insider]


  • I joined a gym and then failed the mandatory medical and my doctor wrote a letter which I sent to the gym requesting a refund and did not get a response so yes, I was their ideal customer.

  • I go to Jetts they don’t have a membership term.
    All the equipment is in one room (though limited, they are small gyms)
    They also seem cheaper than most others.

    Never get the feeling that they don’t want me in there. But I do usually go very late when no one is there (24h gym)

    I did have a membership with other gyms and I hated the membership term crap, the high pressure sales and the unhelpful staff once you have given them money.

    Maybe the 24h small gyms have a different company model. would like to know what zap gyms are like, seem to the other option.

    Oh and I go all the time (usually late because I hate people, and want the gym to my self)

Comments are closed.

Log in to comment on this story!