Two Numbers: New Year, New Gym, New You...For Now


For years, health clubs have profited off our best intentions to lose weight and get fit in the new year. Come January, throngs of fitness-phobes try to make good on their resolutions by plunking down cash for health club memberships. Most gyms offer some sort of "new year, new you" deal to encourage even the most sedentary to step on a treadmill.

There are 54 million people in the U.S.—approximately 17 percent of the population—who are members of some type of gym or fitness center. A disproportionate number of them join shortly after the guilt of a gluttonous December sets in. According to a survey conducted by the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association (IHRSA), 12 percent of all gym memberships are sold in the month of January.

Fitness club managers, staff and trainers enjoy the surge in profits and the challenge of handling new clients, but for existing members who stick to their healthy habit year-round, an excess of untoned bodies at the gym is a pain in the glutes.

"When clubs are more crowded, people get testier," says Meredith Poppler, a spokeswoman for IHRSA. "Some members get territorial; they want their particular locker or particular spot on the exercise floor. You see the same thing in church when people show up on Christmas and aren't there the rest of the year."

Thankfully for committed gym rats, the newcomers tend to fall off as early as mid-February, says Poppler. Gym dropout is common; in 2014, clubs held on to only 7 out of every 10 members. But a huge number of people who fail to stick with their resolution continue to pay fees, on average about $69 per month.

"Attendance picks up in the spring," says Poppler. "People think, Oh God, I should start getting ready to wear a bathing suit." By the height of summer, new business is in the doldrums, with just 6.9 percent of new memberships purchased in July, according to IHRSA.