Sweat Check

Is money the ultimate exercise motivator? We explore the spendy trend.

Sweat Check
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A single spin class for $34. An annual health club membership for $8,000. We may be crawling out of an economic slump, but we’re definitely not tightening our purse strings where exercise is concerned. Gyms saw a $2.7 billion increase in revenue between 2008 and 2012, and nationwide, a whopping 50 million of us are paying members, according to industry reports.

Forking it over for fitness may sound like a waste (reminder: Crunches are free!), but shelling out to work out might actually pay off, experts say. When your gym membership costs as much as a car, you’ll probably feel guilty playing hooky—duh. But the latest techie health programs are leveraging money’s status as a super-effective carrot or stick in totally new ways, using your wallet to strengthen your willpower.

Take GymPact, a free iOS and android app. at the beginning of the week, you place a “bet,” pledging to check off a certain number of workouts. Meet your goal, and you earn up to 50 cents a workout; fail to follow through, and your money goes to other participants—ones who hit their target. With, a site developed by Yale University economists, your hard-earned dollars don’t go to just anyone. Skip the workouts you promised to do, and your money can be automatically donated to an “anti-charity”—a cause you can’t stand. The threat of supporting, say, the NRA can be enough to make you move.

“There’s no doubt these programs work,” says Michael Domjan, Ph.D., a psychologist at the University of Texas at Austin and author of The Principles of Learning and Behavior. Domjan cites the success of similar projects that prevent kids from ditching school or help substance abusers kick their addictions by rewarding them with cash for consistently good behavior.