Gyms and Fitness Clubs

External Motivators to Get You Jump-Started


At my health club we often run what we call retention games. They are games where members are challenged to stay active and use the facility by offering games where prizes can be won.

It's amazing what a small prize such as some coupons for free smoothies or tanning can do to motivate people. Well, it's not just the prizes that do it, but also the fact that their names appear on a bulletin board where other club members see their progress in the game.

We have had a number of these games over the years and it never fails how well they work. People get excited and go to great lengths to make sure they complete the tasks necessary to stay in contention for the prize.

We once had a game called the "Amazing Waist." The idea was brilliant, though I have to admit I can't take the credit for thinking of the game; it was one of my employees. The game was simple. All you had to do was lose at least ¼ pound of body weight each week in order to remain eligible for the final prize-a lifetime membership to the health club. Each week the members who entered would have to be weighed in by a staff person. If the member did not lose at least ¼ pound, they were eliminated. It was as simple as that. We had tons of people sign up for the contest and, finally, after nine months, a winner was crowned. During the time those who entered the contest worked hard and were consistent with their exercise program. It was the combination of external rewards (the big prize, and the recognition from peers) and internal rewards (a sense of pride and achievement) that made the contest so effective.

Another game we often run is one in which the members need to complete a certain amount of time on the cardiovascular and strength training equipment during the course of a week. Each week if they complete the requirements they receive a star on their game sheet. Requirements range from completing 20 minutes of cardiovascular exercise three times a week, taking an aerobic class or utilizing the strength training equipment twice a week. It was amazing to see the effort people put forth just to complete their game sheets. People tell me that they actually went out of their way to exercise so they could stay in the game and qualify for the prize. The prizes I'm talking about were usually nothing grandiose.

Organized competition is another source of external motivation to help you get started or maintain your motivation to exercise. One way is to make it a goal to run in a local 5k race or triathlon. There are very few people who will set their sights on some type of event and not want to do well. If it isn't your thing to compete then you can sign up for a charity walk/run. By signing up you know you'll have to exert some physical effort to complete the course, therefore encouraging you to train for it. In the process you help yourself and others.

One more type of external motivator that has been made popular by Bill Phillips, former owner and CEO of EAS, a supplement company, is the Body For Life Challenge. You may have heard of the contests Bill organizes through his former magazine, Muscle Media. The contest is a challenge to see who can transform his or her body and make the greatest change in a 12-week period. Along with the transformation you are required to write an essay titled "Why I Entered the Body For Life Challenge." The contest is judged by a panel of people who subjectively look at photos, measurements, and read your essay. Thousands of people have entered over the years and used the contest to begin lifelong exercise and nutrition habits. They just needed that spark, or in this case the contest, to get motivated. Just a little note: some of the prizes for placing high in the competition were items like Corvettes, Hawaiian vacations, and large amounts of money. Not a bad motivator, huh?

Remember, using an external factor to get motivated is only a short-term solution. Jay Williams, Ph.D., author of the 24 Hour Turnaround, reports that "70% of those who make a lifestyle change for external reasons do not stick with it after a short period of time." Real success will only come from exercising for internal reasons. This is something that you will not feel immediately. It has to grow on you. You need to experience success, gratification, and enjoyment in order to truly internalize the feeling that exercise can bring.