20/20 Presents Confessions from the Gym: Paying by the Pound

I love to work out at the gym. In fact, I’ve had a fitness center membership (sometimes more than one at a time) since early college, around 1995. I went to the gym with my mom even as a kid. Now that I’m a fitness instructor, I always teach at least a few classes at gyms, partly because, well, I like going to the gym.

With that in mind, I’ve experienced the initial membership signup process many times and with many different salespeople. I always view joining a new gym like buying a new car. Or a new house. Or an investment in a new business. Or, anything else involving salespeople and contracts. The salesperson will use all kinds of sales techniques – sometimes questionable ones – to increase the likelihood of purchasing a contract for the highest possible price. I also realize that some salespeople will “bend” the rules when possible to offer a deal if there’s mutual benefit to you, them and/or the gym. Sometimes “bending” the rules includes falsifying information on membership applications to qualify applicants for special contracts, or worse, using psychological techniques and manipulation:

The November 30, 2012 episode of 20/20 was a true confessions episode including, among other topics, a segment on fitness centers charging prospective members differently based on size. I’m not at all surprised by what’s shown in the video segment, but I also take it with a grain of salt. There are way too many factors to consider before you can assume this limited, non-scientific investigation is representative of all, or even most, gyms. I would, however, LOVE to see a larger, more controlled research study that investigates this phenomenon more closely, perhaps as an extension of prior research on obesity bias, discrimination and other factors among fitness professionals (example Google Scholar search result).


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