The new year’s resolution crowd

Resolving Door: Gym regulars wait in line and stew as the ‘January effect’ takes hold
The Sacramento Bee, January 13, 2003



It’s early January, and the smell of resolution is in the air. Like gyms all over the country, this 40,000-square-foot room is full of New Year’s resolutionaries who are determined to shape up. This year. For sure.

We all agree that a New Year’s resolution is a fine thing. Join a gym, gain strength, lose weight … what could be wrong with that?

Nothing, really. Unless you’re someone who long ago got into the gym habit. For those already-fit people, January isn’t a month of fresh starts. It’s a month that tries one’s patience.

“It’s miserable in January,” says Guy Roberts, 32, a teacher at Mira Loma High School who works out regularly at 24 Hour Fitness. “This place is packed; you can’t get a machine.”

Roberts surveys the gym’s expansive weight room, dreading thes of January, when the annual flood of new membersresolutions, hits the gym. Hard.

“Everything slows up,” he complains. “People don’t know how to use the machines, there aren’t enough lockers. You should have seen it the other night – it was a 25-minute wait to get on the cardio machines.”

The same is true at other area gyms. Cassie Baugher, 39, says that when she walked into her gym, Sacramento Pipeworks on 16th Street, she was shocked at what she saw.

“It was like, what the …?” she says with a laugh. “If you work out regularly, you know the usual crowd, and this week there were a lot of unfamiliar faces, those gym novices in their shiny new outfits. You watch them working out, and you think, ‘What body part is that supposed to be working?’

Gym membership rolls traditionally swell in January, according to the International Health, Racket and Sportsclub Association, which represents some 4,000 gyms in the United States, about 40 percent of the total gyms.

About 1 million people join gyms in January of each year, says Brooke MacInnis, a spokeswoman for the organization. According to its recent survey, 12.5 percent of all new memberships are taken out in January, and the first quarter of the year accounts for nearly one-third of the total annual new membership sales for the clubs sampled.

Marcello Montagnino is manager of Gold’s Gym in Rancho Cordova, where he traditionally sees a “traffic” rise of about 25 percent in January. Some of those are new members, some are members who haven’t been to the gym in months.

“New Year’s resolutions always pump up the traffic,” Montagnino says. “It’s not all new members – some are members who haven’t been here, and they feel guilty. They all come out this time of year, and you get the flood.”

Mitchell Ybarra is assistant manager of operations at California Family Fitness in Elk Grove. He notes the same “resolution effect,” and he tries to work with it.

“We usually see at least a third increase in traffic,” Ybarra says. “It’s just the idea that they have a fresh start rather than following resolutions, which people generally don’t go through with. We just tell them they don’t have to worry about the past, they’ve got the whole new year to get in shape.”

Still, sticking with a workout program is not an easy thing to do for many people, and as many as half of all new members stop coming to the gym within a relatively short period of time.

Says Gold’s Montagnino, “A lot of people hate working out, but they feel they should, it gets them in the door. But it’s not something they grasp. It’s a life change, they don’t get that it’s something they need to do to stay healthy. A lot of people don’t look at it this way, and so they don’t really make that a part of their lives. They think it’s a temporary fix, and so they drop out after a short period of time.”

Ybarra of California Family Fitness says that his gym gets a 25-40 percent drop-off, but says that’s pretty good, and it’s because he and his team work hard to retain members, calling them if they don’t come for a week and trying to give them as much training and encouragement as possible.

He notes that much of the drop-off is a matter of time management.

“People at the beginning of the year think they’re going to be able to find the time for a two-hour workout, and then they find they can’t do it,” he says. “People have a lot of demands on their time, so we try to accommodate them. And if they decide they can’t fulfill their resolution, we try to help them find some time to be here, even if it’s for 25 minutes instead of two hours.

“But if you’ve never done it before, even an hour a day is hard to maintain.”

As for longstanding members, Ybarra says, “We let them know it’s just that time of year, and I think they get discouraged, and they think they’re not going to be able to get their workout, but we remind them that there’s always a drop-off.”

Says Montagnino, “We make a joke with our regulars, ‘Just hang in there until February,’ because a lot of these people are going to drop off after then. It’ll get back to normal in March.”

As for Baugher, her strategy for dealing with the flood of rookies is simple.

“I just grin and bear it,” she says. “They’ll be gone by February.”

Sherrie, 38, sounds as though she may not be around for long. One of the reviled resolutionaries, she doesn’t want her last name used in the paper because she’s embarrassed by her weight and her inexperience. She doesn’t know what she’s doing with this machine that’s all gears and pulleys and ropes, and she’s not at all keen on this working-out thing.

But she’s been assured it’s important for her to be here.

“My doctor told me I should be doing aerobics and weight lifting,” she says, alluding to the weight condition she’s battling. “And I know she’s right, but I don’t like this at all. It’s boring. And it’s hard.”

Still, it’s not as hard as the stares she is getting from a man and woman who wait their turn while she figures out how to use the machine. Consumed by her own frustration, she is oblivious to theirs.

They, on the other hand, wait patiently for her to figure the machine out. And for March.