A physician’s one year review of GymPact, an app that pays you to go to the gym

Editors Note: Dr. David Ahn has an updated 2 year review of GymPact you can check out at this link. 

With the New Year just behind us and excess holiday weight still lingering, many patients and health care providers alike resolve to get in shape and lose weight, hoping this year can be the one where lasting change begins.

Thankfully, that was actually last year for me, and I lost (and have kept off!) 25 pounds.

This is partly thanks to GymPact, a free, simple app that pays you when you go to the gym, and fines you when you don’t.

It almost sounds too good to be true, but it’s not.

After using GymPact for 1 year and 196 workouts later, I’ve earned $83.09, and I’d highly recommend it to anybody that is serious about getting in shape.

 

What Is GymPact?

GymPact was released one year ago by a pair of Harvard students who were inspired by the simple behavioral economics principle that people are more motivated by NOT losing money than by simply earning money.

Therefore, GymPact asks users to make a two-fold commitment: for each week, they must in advance 1) set a target number of gym visits for the upcoming week and 2) agree to a fine ($5-$50; default is $5) for every number of visits they fall short of that goal. Then, at the end of the week, those that succeed in carrying out their pact are rewarded the money paid out by the users who did not meet their goals. (This amounts to approximately $0.50-$0.75 per workout).

In order to verify that you are in fact going to the gym, visits are logged via GPS check-in on an iPhone app (an Android app released on 1/1/2013 ). There are a few simple rules to prevent users from taking advantage of the system:

  1. 1 workout per day of the week
  2. Each workout must be at least 30 minutes long
  3. All pacts must be registered by the Sunday before the next week

The App: Simple, and Gets the Job Done

The app for iPhone functions exactly as promised. When arriving at the gym, you open up the app, tap “Check In” and then you’re workout has begun. From that point on, the GPS feature of your phone ensures that you stay at the gym for at least 30 minutes or the app will not formally count your session as a workout.

If the location of your gym is not recognized, you can submit it to be registered in the future. Several months ago, GymPact also released integration with RunKeeper that allows outdoor runs to count towards your workout pact as well, so long as they exceed 30 minutes and 0.5 miles. This can be activated by tapping the Runkeeper account on the main screen, and connecting the two services.

Upon completion of your workout, you simply tap the checkout button. In case you forget, the app will also check you out automatically once the GPS has detected that you are no longer at the gym. The only downside to this auto checkout is that the app must be reopened in order for the workout to be officially submitted and counted towards your pact.

Via the profile screen on the app, you can quickly see how many workouts you have submitted and how much money you have earned. On this screen you can also change your pact for the next week, withdraw your rewards  (via PayPal account), or schedule a vacation.

After 1 Year of Use: I’m a Believer

GymPact beautifully executes a very simple concept of using negative reinforcement (a monetary penalty) to promote positive behavior (going to the gym). Both its business model and utility for end-users are fairly transparent: motivate users to work out by fining them if they do not reach their goal.

Throughout the past year, many of my concerns and doubts have been relieved. Initially, I was suspicious that the service would flounder due to people cheating the system, leading to a lack of penalty payments being distributed to reward those who completed the pact.

However, the reality is that the actual reward (averaging out to about $0.50 per workout) is so small that it provides very little incentive to cheat, though, it is still enough to provide satisfaction for the honest users. If anything, it seems that the service is thriving as they are now expanding to the Android platform, and have been quick to fix bugs and add additional features (such as Runkeeper integration, and support for the taller iPhone 5 screen).

Furthermore, customer support has been excellent. In the occasional instance where there is a server error or a workout is not logged, I have used the app’s simple bug feedback tool to report a workout, and the staff has been quick to log an extra session.

One additional perk is the inclusion of occasional Kiip rewards, that will provide additional rewards for checking in. About once a month, when checking out from a workout, a Kiip coupon will pop up, allowing you to e-mail yourself a small reward.

The rewards ranged from less meaningful (a discount on glasses from an online website) to more meaningful (amazon mp3 credit, as pictured). While relatively insignificant, the occasional coupon was still a welcome surprise.

Most importantly, though, the app brings about real results. It doesn’t take a medical degree to realize that going to the gym is directly correlated with increased physical fitness. When I first started going to the gym regularly, GymPact was clear motivation for me to work out, especially earlier in the week, rather than pushing off workouts until later.

Not before long, logging my sessions and going to the gym became habit. The pacts also motivated me to continue going to the gym during residency months where I would otherwise have not, such as my night float rotations and ICU/Wards months.

Tips for Use:

  • Give Yourself Wiggle-Room on Your Pact: since the penalty for not meeting your commitment is so much higher than making it, I would give myself a one or two workout “cushion” just in case of emergencies
  • Check In Every Time You Workout: even once you’ve hit your pact for the week, keep on checking in with the app in order to make the check-in process a habit
  • Don’t Cheat: you might be tempted to just go to the gym parking lot, log in and take a nap for 30 minutes, but don’t cross that line. It’s not fair to you, and it’s not fair to everyone else.
  • Set a Fine That Will Hurt: while $5 is the suggested fine, pick a price that will motivate you to meet your goal.

Obesity and physical inactivity is an epidemic that directly affects medical outcomes. Patients and doctors alike are guilty of not taking serious initiatives in making lifestyle changes for the sake of their physical well-being. GymPact is a simple but powerful tool for the iPhone (coming to Android) that effectively helps users embrace going to the gym, and rewards them financially for doing so. More satisfying than the $80 or so that I’ve earned, however, is the improvement in my waist line and overall sense of healthiness.

Price

  • Free

Likes

  • Smartphone App is clean and functional
  • Great idea that encourages healthy living

Dislikes

  • Payout for rewarding workouts could be higher (currently $0.50-0.75 per workout)

Conclusion:

  • Doctors should suggest this tool to EVERYONE who is serious about being more active, including their patients and colleagues.

iMedicalApps recommended?

  •  Yes

iTunes Link

Google Play Link

Rating: (1 to 5 stars): 4/5

  • User interface – 5
  • Multimedia usage – (N/A)
  • Price - 5
  • Real world applicability - 5

Author:

David Ahn, MD (@AhnCall)

Staff Writer for iMedicalApps, and 2nd-year Endocrinology fellow at UC San Diego. His primary interests include Diabetes, Fitness/Metabolism, and wearable technology.

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28 Responses to A physician’s one year review of GymPact, an app that pays you to go to the gym

  1. Librock January 25, 2013 at 7:10 am #

    Use Referral code TrapsSteve for 5$ bonus

  2. Casey February 12, 2013 at 2:22 pm #

    What if your gym is underground and there is no signal there?

    I like this idea, but my gym is multi-level with 2 levels underground where there is no signal (no WiFi) either.

    • David Ahn, MD February 20, 2013 at 3:02 am #

      that probably won’t work, unfortunately… i would ask the staff at GymPact just to make sure.

  3. Tara February 28, 2013 at 9:01 pm #

    What if I have a home gym, treadmill, elliptical, weight system, etc. can I log my gym as in my home?

    • Iltifat Husain, MD March 1, 2013 at 7:27 am #

      Good question! Will be interesting to hear the response from David.

    • Kerstyn March 2, 2013 at 8:19 pm #

      GymPact has a setting that monitors motion. I work out using videos at home, and as long as I keep my phone on me while I work out (and as long as my level of activity is above the threshold provided), it counts my workout.

    • April May 6, 2013 at 11:37 am #

      You can click the workout anywhere button or use Runkeeper. Make sure you sync runkeeper to your gym pact, strap on your phone and away you go! I love the runkeeper ap!

    • Stacie July 16, 2013 at 8:51 am #

      The app won’t give credit for being at home, because that would defeat the purpose. If you do outdoor activity, not in one area, you can integrate with RunKeeper.

  4. Mark March 7, 2013 at 2:38 pm #

    I’ve read a ton of reviews and can’t find the answer to this question:

    Will the app work with an iPod Touch? The iPod Touch does have GPS functionality but it does not have a cellular connection. The gym I go to does not have WiFi. The only way I could see it working is if the app records a GPS location internally, then verifies and records the workout later when it gets a WiFi signal (when I get home or to the office). Thanks for any help.

    • Luke March 11, 2013 at 5:41 pm #

      Mark, AFAIK you would need a WiFi connection as the app checks that you remain within the GPS designated gym boundary for the entire 30+mins.
      The other option is to use their new ‘Workout anywhere’ option (or in your case anywhere with a wifi connection) which uses the accelerometer to record your exercise; great for bodyweight circuits.

      David, Great review. I’ve only been using GymPact since the end of January this year but am happy to have earned almost $25 and my experiences have mirrored yours- not missed a gym session yet! I’m surprised you haven’t published your gympact referral code, as it is nice to be able to give newbies a $5 head-start. If anyone needs one then DNALukeE should work.

      Keep up the good work!

  5. Colleen March 22, 2013 at 11:42 pm #

    i love gympact! I’ve yet to lose any money, only lost weight :) Use code: flexiColle when you sign up and get 5$ to start! :)

  6. Robert Jenkins April 29, 2013 at 2:56 pm #

    Do I have to use Paypal? or can I use a debit card instead?

  7. Olivia May 6, 2013 at 11:02 am #

    Great app, great incentive. Its a little bit of carrot AND stick at the same time, which is what keeps you motivated.

    I would also like to urge people to link up to RunKeeper too, which works beautifully with GymPact to track your exercise with maps, elevation, calories etc. It also gives you updates every 5 minutes during your exercise , telling you your speed, time and distance.

    And now a shameless plug! There is no reason to try to hide it: If you sign up with GymPact using my referral code (repolivi) you get $5 bucks to start (meaning you won’t lose anything if you miss 1 workout!) and so do I. Help a recent college grad out?

    Enjoy GymPact! Cheers to getting healthier! Referral Code: repolivi

  8. Wesley May 11, 2013 at 1:35 am #

    a) Will there be WIndows Phone support in the future?

    b) What about swimming workouts at a pool that’s part of a network of community centers?

  9. Howie Isaacks May 11, 2013 at 10:53 am #

    I’ve been using GymPact for over a year. It’s a great motivator, and I have never missed a workout because of it. As a result, I’ve lost about 30 pounds. I work out 5 days a week with no exceptions. All this being said, this app is very flawed. It worked great up until August of last year, but when they started larding up the app with extra features, and changing the interface, it started canceling my workouts while I am still at the gym. Only after lots of complaining and nagging do they finally wake up and correct the canceled workouts. The delay that always follows my bug reports means that I can’t trust them to respond before the pact is supposed to end. We can’t trust these people with our credit card numbers since they may allow the problem to fester long enough for the pact to end, which means that we will get charged for missing a workout when we really didn’t miss one. Also, the payouts each week have been tiny over the last few months. I used to get $2-3/week. Now it’s only a dollar or so. I commit to 5 days a week with $20 per missed day on the line. That apparently doesn’t matter. You could commit to 7 days a week with only a dollar on the line and you would get the same amount. After all of this, I have actually earned about $140, but I would expect that to me more after over 280 total workouts. This app is a great idea, but its execution is inept, and bug reports get ignored for days. This is why I will soon be canceling my membership.

  10. Linda June 21, 2013 at 9:31 pm #

    In theory, this is a good app. Unfortunately, I’ve found their customer service to be not just bad, but non-existent. Still no response to issues and emails dating back as far as early April. I haven’t lost any money to date, but with such lousy customer service, it is a concern and I will be canceling my account. It’s not worth taking the chance, knowing there is no likelihood I will have any luck contacting them. In reading reviews at the iTunes App Store, I am not alone in this complaint.

  11. Jodi August 1, 2013 at 7:56 am #

    Customer service has been excellent & nearly immediate for me.

  12. Melissa August 14, 2013 at 9:19 pm #

    If I previously missed workouts can I make up for then by working out more times than my pact in a subsequent week ?

  13. Emily October 21, 2013 at 12:42 pm #

    I am beginning to hate Gympact! It didn’t work right for me for months so a couple weeks ago I tried it again… The very next day it said I didn’t compete my pact and owe $20 do I deactivated my account after sending several emails about this issue. My account has yet to deactivate and they keep taking money from me! And it’s through my paypal and I keep very little money in that account so it keeps declining! Someone only replied back to me say they are sorry to see me go once and the very next day I get another email saying I owe another $20 I’ve sent about 5 emails sense then and no one will reply back! Not happy at all!

  14. Sarah November 12, 2013 at 9:12 pm #

    I use the Android version on an older smart phone and have had no problems. I struggled with consistency before using it but once I downloaded it last May, going only 2 x per week I haven’t missed a session yet, even upping my pact to 3 x weekly. The payout seems pretty small but I’m ignoring that part for a few more months. I’ve dropped two pant sizes and the gym habit seems a lot more ingrained now, even while on vacation. I was surprised at how effective a $5.00 risk was at motivating me. Customer service was great when my phone fell and disconnected during a workout. They responded the very next day. I’ll definitely stick with this app!

  15. Josh January 6, 2014 at 12:23 am #

    I’d steer clear. The Gympact company got an F from the Better Business Bureau. From the BBB site:

    “Factors that lowered Gympact’s rating include:

    Length of time business has been operating.
    112 complaints filed against business
    Failure to respond to 80 complaints filed against business.
    Overall complaint history with BBB.
    Business has failed to resolve underlying cause(s) of a pattern of complaints.
    Gympact came to BBB’s attention in September 2012. Consumer complaints concern consumers stating that there is a glitch with the Gympact app on their phone and they are unable to log their workout. As their workout is not logged, they are charged for missing the workout. Consumers who are attempting to cancel their account are unable to do so. Consumers who successfully complete their weekly workouts are not receiving payment per their agreement. Consumers who have attempted to contact the company in order to resolve their outstanding issues have been unable to reach anyone for resolution which, in many instances, results in additional charges.

    The BBB asked the company for an explanation regarding this pattern of complaints. The company was unresponsive to our request for information.”

    Source: http://www.bbb.org/greater-san-francisco/business-reviews/internet-gaming/gympact-in-san-francisco-ca-439399

    • David Ahn January 7, 2014 at 11:56 pm #

      Hi Josh! Thanks for providing that information, which I did not know about at the time of my writing. I reached out to Pact, and this was their response:

      “Pact is excited to offer a revamped customer service experience. Our Customer Experience Team has nearly doubled in size and we’ve streamlined our workflow to ensure all user issues are addressed within 3-12 hours. With these changes in place, we are prepped and eager to deliver industry-leading customer support.” – Pact Customer Experience Lead Jen

      I can add my thoughts as well… To be clear, I have no affiliation whatsoever with Pact. But I have personally overall had a positive experience. As mentioned in my 2 year review update (link at the top), I did experience a drop-off in customer service quality in the earlier part of 2013. However, with the revamped customer service workflow, responsiveness to missed workouts has been excellent.

      This is a great time to remind users to be very proactive and prompt in reporting any concerns. User reports like Josh’s help us get the best sense of what users are experiencing, and allow us to seek out clarification from companies. We’d also love to hear from other users who have had recent issues or concerns.

    • David Ahn, MD January 7, 2014 at 11:57 pm #

      Hi Josh! Thanks for providing that information, which I did not know about at the time of my writing. I reached out to Pact, and this was their response:

      “Pact is excited to offer a revamped customer service experience. Our Customer Experience Team has nearly doubled in size and we’ve streamlined our workflow to ensure all user issues are addressed within 3-12 hours. With these changes in place, we are prepped and eager to deliver industry-leading customer support.” – Pact Customer Experience Lead Jen

      I can add my thoughts as well… To be clear, I have no affiliation whatsoever with Pact. But I have personally overall had a positive experience. As mentioned in my 2 year review update (link at the top), I did experience a drop-off in customer service quality in the earlier part of 2013. However, with the revamped customer service workflow, responsiveness to missed workouts has been excellent.

      This is a great time to remind users to be very proactive and prompt in reporting any concerns. User reports like Josh’s help us get the best sense of what users are experiencing, and allow us to seek out clarification from companies. We’d also love to hear from other users who have had recent issues or concerns.

  16. isobel August 13, 2014 at 6:12 am #

    good review for what i consider a lousy app with even worse service -
    i was on for a week and the bugs made themselves apparent straight away.

    i was dinged for a ‘pact’ i hadn’t even scheduled and one of my meal log-ins was
    disqualified for no reason whatsoever (and two days after the fact to boot!)
    luckily a screen capture came to my aid and cleared the mess up – but i am sure if i
    would have accepted the loss they would have left it as is (hence the corrupt nature
    of their business model) -

    i wouldn’t come down this harshly on them if they had lived up
    to their words with you about an improved customer experience. they simply don’t care.
    they don’t bother to be timely with their responses, nor do they explain what might have led
    to the problem to begin with (knowing this would lead to knowing whether you had done something wrong in the first place or if the fault was on their end).

    funny that they would have ignored the BBB but deemed you worthy of sharing their
    plans for the future – you must have mentioned you were a physician and that you
    had a blog posting on their product —
    seems like they hustled to live up to a pact of their own (at least in words).

    huzzah to anyone who has had a good experience with them but i wouldn’t leave it past them
    to have shills online to smooth out their otherwise tarnished reputation.

    there are numerous other sites that can be synced with your electronic tracking devices that offer
    similar services (in this case, not money but discounts on products, points toward gift cards or
    challenges for charities).
    i am finding them to be a heck of a lot better and i assume safer, to deal with than these charlatans.

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