Gym Buddies

Maximizing gym memberships

Two fit, young female friends laughing together after a gym workout. Photo: Flamingo Images/Adobe Stock
Photo: Flamingo Images/Adobe Stock.

Chances are, that gym membership you signed up for with the best of intentions on January 1 might already be underused. Next time, consider signing up with a friend.

New research by Asst. Prof. Rachel Gershon suggests that pursuing our goals with friends may make them more attainable. Gershon and colleagues from Washington University and the University of Pennsylvania specifically looked at gym visits and found that going with a friend—even with the hurdles of coordinating two schedules—increased visits by 35%.

In the experiment, participants were paired up with a friend and given either one dollar every time they went to the gym, regardless of their friend’s activity, or one dollar if the two of them went together.

The researchers concluded that two benefits eclipsed the logistical costs of coordinating with a friend. First, people enjoyed their visits more when the event was social, making future visits more likely. Second, they felt a greater sense of accountability.

“Our study identifies two types of accountability,” Gershon says. “People feel responsible to their friends, as they wanted them to get the reward, but they may also have reputational concerns that their friends would think less of them if they didn’t follow through.”

Beyond this experiment, the findings illustrate how building a social dimension into desired behaviors can promote follow-through. Companies wanting to increase employee engagement with skills training, for instance, could try a joint-incentive program to boost participation.