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For at least one industry, Christmas lasts from Dec. 25 well into mid-February. In fact, for this industry, a good chunk of annual revenue comes in the first six weeks of the new year. Call it an age-old reliance on sociological and consumer spending trends, or call it a given that no recession can deter Americans from looking and feeling their best, but come December, every year — like clockwork — gym memberships nationwide skyrocket.
A story that ran in the Lowell, Mass., Sun on Jan. 2, 2010, highlighted a local gym called the Club, which saw a 30 percent spike in gym memberships compared to previous years. The reason? New Year’s resolutions. That’s an interesting statistic, especially in a down economy when one can save money by, say, running outside rather than on a treadmill or by, say, lifting cinder blocks rather than free weights. It’s an interesting-enough statistic to warrant more research. Why do memberships have their highest spike around New Year’s Day? It makes more sense for people to join in the late spring to get their summer bodies in shape. And why do most of these new members, according to that same Sun report, give up on their resolutions for tighter abs and firmer glutes in the same season? It makes more sense to keep that workout going through the winter so that your summer body is sculpted come the first beach day.
But deeper still, there has to be some other correlation between Bay Staters’ desire to get buff and when they choose to do it. Surely the state that was the site of William Bradford’s disembarkation and is the place that Tom Brady calls home has some historical or, at the very least, athletic reason that gym memberships rise higher than the Green Monster this time of year.
“We see about a 40 percent increase in sales around New Year’s, and most of them are done by Valentine’s Day,” says Rokia Madore, manager of the Beacon Hill Athletic Clubs around Boston. She encourages new members — the ones who clearly want to make a lifestyle change — to implement the gym into their daily routine. “Working out with a partner makes you more accountable and makes you want to stick with it. Make it someone you respect so you’d feel bad about standing them up. Or work out with a trainer. Take some classes. Come at a consistent time so you don’t say ‘I’ll go later.’ "
All of which makes sense. But this is Boston we’re talking about here, the kingmaker of athletic champions. This is, collectively, the winningest city in professional sports over the last decade. Is there any correlation between hanging banners and bulging biceps? “We have a location that’s literally across the street from the Garden,” Madore says. “When the Celtics are playing, it’s crowded near the gym.”
But a mingling crowd doesn’t necessarily translate into greenbacks, nor does it necessarily translate into strong backs. Jeremy Sebastian, assistant general manager at Equinox on Franklin Street, says that membership increases between 175 and 200 percent around New Year’s. His gym is in the heart of Boston’s financial district, and when people who deal with money get antsy, they work it out — literally. Sebastian says he’s noticed that folks who join as part of a New Year’s resolution also taper off around Valentine’s Day, but when the stock market tumbles, those hapless souls are back on the bench press. “A lot of people here are in super-high-stress environments, and they come in here to get pumped and to get pampered,” he says. But what about the tacit relationship between your team winning and your wanting to feel like a winner? Other than New Year’s, when the Bruins won the Stanley Cup back in June, for instance, did a bunch of stockbrokers sign up so that they could have calves like Johnny Boychuk? “That might be a stretch,” he says. “I suppose that people want to get into activities that get those endorphins flowing, just like the athletes they see on TV. Plus, the gym is a social environment. People come here to work out, sure, but the gym is the community water cooler for athletes.”
And that is the heart of my thesis. People across the country join gyms en masse now because they believe that just having a Gold’s Gym membership will automatically whip them into shape. Yet up in Boston, people join gyms because staying fit and talking about fitness and championships and all the other things winners talk about is as much a part of the culture as Robert Kraft’s macaroni and cheese (page 52). Factor in that nobody else in the country wants to talk about Boston sports because we’re all sick of our teams losing to theirs, and the Boston gym is the perfect marketplace of jibberjabber.
For me, I’m going to forgo the meathead resolution this year and instead join a yoga studio. Maybe my fellow yogis will be interested in hearing me moan about how I’m fed up with always losing to Boston.