Gym Retention Strategies tested in 24 Hour Fitness and University of Pennsylvania Behavior Change Study

24hr fitness

The results of a years-long behavioral science study conducted through a partnership between the University of Pennsylvania’s Behavior Change for Good Initiative (BCFG) and 24 Hour Fitness, is presented in the December 8 publication of the scientific journal Nature. Nature article summary here: The StepUp Program launched in April 2018, was designed to explore what really motivates gym-goers with the goal of identifying tools to create lasting life-changing healthy habits. The science-based interactive digital program was developed to encourage more visits to the gym and ultimately, better health and fitness for life.

The Study


BCFG created the 28-day workout rewards program, which simultaneously tested 53 inexpensive, scalable, science-based strategies aimed at building exercise habits among 60,000+ 24 Hour Fitness club members. 45% of the strategies tested significantly increased gym check-ins during the program.


Highlights from the strategies tested include:

  • Just the Basics: The most basic version of the program prompted club members to plan their weekly gym visits, sent them text messages prior to scheduled workouts, and offered 300 points for each gym visit ($0.22 redeemable on Amazon). This alone produced a 9% boost in gym visits


  • A Bonus for Returning After a Missed Workout: Club members who missed a scheduled workout received a 125 point bonus ($0.09 redeemable on Amazon) the next time they visited the gym, and this was built on top of the basic program (which prompted planning, sent reminders and offered points for exercise). This version of the StepUp program produced a 27% boost in gym visits


  • Supercharged Rewards: Club members earned nearly $2.00 for each gym visit, and this was built on top of the basic program. This version of the program yielded a 25% boost in gym visits


  • Conveying That Exercise is a Trend: Club members were informed that the majority of Americans exercise and that the number was increasing in addition to getting the basic program. This version of the program produced a 24% boost in gym visits


Led by Angela Duckworth, the Rosa Lee and Egbert Chang Professor at the University of Pennsylvania, and Katherine Milkman, the James G. Dinan Professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, the BCFG Initiative unites leaders in the social sciences, medicine, computer science, and neuroscience to solve the problem of enduring behavior change. BCFG connects this world-class scientific team, including Nobel laureates and members of the National Academy of Sciences, with partner organizations to test and improve a behavior change program incorporating the latest insights from researchers. The program focuses on improving people’s daily health decisions.


The Future of Fitness


“There is more clarity now on the importance of integrating fitness into our daily lives, and increasing visits to the gym is one way to do that,” says Professor Katherine Milkman, Co-Director of BCFG. “We found that a program that encouraged people to plan gym visits, offered micro-incentives for exercise, and sent text reminders to people shortly before planned workouts added real value and could be made more potent using a number of insights from behavioral science. Our work demonstrates how consumers can take small steps—making daily plans for fitness, bundling their workouts with a favorite podcast or audiobook, and avoiding streaks of missed workouts—to increase their physical activity.”


“Our goal at 24 Hour Fitness has always been to help create a world of healthier, happier people,” said Tony Ueber, CEO, 24 Hour Fitness. “Now, more than ever, fitness is a crucial aspect of both physical and emotional wellness. We’re delighted that our first-of-its-kind partnership with BCFG has yielded results that will provide people with tools to better equip them to incorporate fitness into their lives and become their healthiest selves.”

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