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Are You Up For A Challenge?

Keeping Members Engaged.

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Jeffrey PinkertonJeffrey Pinkerton

A recent study published in Nature released the findings of a multi-scientist, multi-university, "megastudy" set out to determine what interventions could increase gym visits. There were 54 different intervention strategies tested: everything from personal scheduling, text messages, email reminders, short surveys to reinforce values, to positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, earning points for certain actions and losing points for not taking other actions. So, what did they learn? They learned what my mom has always known.

My mom was a teacher, so in our house, school was a big deal. We were expected to work hard and take our schoolwork seriously. When we came home with a solid report card, the response was usually kind and congratulatory, but never in and of itself a big reason to celebrate. “Great job! I knew you could do it. What time is soccer practice?” But, what about the families that paid their kids cash rewards for good grades? One kid in our neighborhood got $5 for every A and $2 for every B. I sheepishly brought up the subject to my mother, hoping to score an extra $30 of baseball-card money. “WHAT!? No. Absolutely not. We don’t pay you for doing what you are supposed to do.” End of discussion.

Did my mom encourage us to create better study habits? Of course. We did our homework at desks and tables, not in the bed or laying on the floor. Did she teach us strategies that would lead to better results? Definitely. Note cards were a must-have resource and quizzing together or with her (if you dare) was encouraged. Now, did she provide us some unexpected rewards to congratulate us when things went well? Absolutely. She celebrated our successes, tactfully bragged about us to grandparents and would reward us periodically and surprisingly with a new Star Wars figure or Atari game. She made sure that we had the best chance of success and that we would become lifelong learners. But, she never made us sign a pledge to our studying intentions; she never told me how much my brother and sister were studying in an effort to peer-pressure me into studying more; she never used a strategy called temptation-bundling, where we were allowed to enjoy a form of entertainment while simultaneously studying; she never asked us to try a study habit that “intuitively seems most effective” for us; and she never asked us to agree to a commitment contract where we promised to lose something like a favorite sweater if we didn’t study six times every week over the next month... all interventions tested, and proven ineffective, in the megastudy.

Sadly, but not surprisingly, most of the interventions failed. Less than half of the interventions (45%) showed a statistically significant increase in weekly gym visits over the four weeks, and only a small fraction (8%) of the interventions induced a behavior change that was “significant and measurable” after the four-week intervention.

Maybe it wasn’t the fault of the well-meaning texting and nudging and micro-rewarding. Maybe the issue is that the undertone of the study was (in my opinion) based on the premise that they were encouraging people to do something that at its core, is seen as an unfun thing to do. Maybe the issue is more about the experience. If my experience at a restaurant or doctor or dentist is mostly miserable or boring or tedious or dreadful, there is no amount of pledging and promising and Amazon gift-carding that will get me to go, and certainly not to go more often than what I am already doing (the study wasn’t encouraging new people to come to the gym, but instead getting current gym members to come more often).

Does this mean that all rewards and challenges are doomed for failure? I don’t think so. What if the challenge was to help people create better habits, like doing workouts in group fitness where the workout is scheduled, social, and surprisingly fun? What if the contest would help teach strategies that would lead to better results? Social connection, like notecards, is a must-have, made more effective together. And, what if the contest celebrated success; tactfully bragged about members to their peers; and periodically and surprisingly rewarded your members for doing the things that are better for them, and consequently, better for your business? What if the contest was all about getting more people, moving more often, together? We know it would work.

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MOSSA believes that a great experience with an engaging instructor and an amazing playlist can help people find a certain level of fun in fitness. We’ve created a ready-made solution that can help your facility increase excitement at your club and drive engagement. To learn more about MOSSA’s eight-week “Biggest Mover Contest,” visit

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