The Science of Fitness Habits

A few months ago, CEO Rebecca Balyasny and I had the opportunity to interview several of bande's founding members to find out more about what makes them tick.  A big question we had for the group was, what gets you to class every day?  Knowing some of these members take upwards of 12 classes a week, we genuinely wondered how they stay motivated to show up every time.

The answer was nearly universal — it’s all about the instructor.  But when we dug deeper, we also heard a few tips that were about how these people built their habit.  And a habit is what it seems to be for people who work out daily (or nearly so).  As said by one founding member, If I don’t work out it’s like something from my day is missing, something essential.  Honestly it’s like brushing my teeth;  working out is in my DNA.  And if I did not go every day, just every other day, I think I would find a reason not to go.”

"If I did not go every day, just every other day, I think I would find a reason not to go.”

This member is onto something.  Creating a habits means turning that behavior into something automatic, almost rote.  It’s really the freedom of choice that can kill good intentions.  If you consider that fitness is a choice to do --or not -- every day, then chances are one of those days you’ll just choose not to.  If you can make a behavior so ingrained that you don’t even consider not doing it, then it becomes routine. 

USC Professor Wendy Wood, expert on human behavior and habit formation, agrees.  “The science shows that having a specific routine is critical to building a habit.  In part because our minds care about routines a lot.”  Why? As children, routine gives us a feeling of safety.  As adults, it gives us a feeling of purpose.  Interestingly enough, those two feelings are more similar than you’d think (at least, their origin is the same). It’s the same as reducing the fear of the unknown.

As children, routine gives us a feeling of safety. As adults, it gives us a feeling of purpose.

During COVID, the long stretches of uncertainty, monotony and cabin fever -- and living with other people -- can make it hard to structure a routine.  Leveraging psychology, technology, and some clever life hacks, there are some techniques that make routine setting easier to accomplish.  We tapped our expert network (e.g. academia and our members) to learn more about how to successfully create habits to lock in a fitness habit.


Set the stage.

It's all about context.  Professor Wood notes that in her research she's found that about 43 percent of what people do every day is repeated in the same context, usually while they are thinking about something else.  They’re automatically responding without really making decisions.  And that’s what a habit is:  a mental shortcut to repeat what we did in the past that worked for us and got us some reward.

About 43 percent of what people do every day is repeated in the same context, usually while they are thinking about something else.

We are all dependent on the context in which we live. We form habits -- both good and bad -- based on what’s easy and rewarding, what’s easy for us to do repeatedly and what’s rewarding in the environments where we're situated. 

Member Julie B. shared a trick that she uses to set the context for fitness is to put on her workout clothes in the morning to encourage herself to get to a home workout at lunchtime.  Since so many of us are working from or stuck at home anyway (and, yoga pants seem to be the norm in Zoom workplaces), this is an easy way to make sure there’s no excuse between you and clicking the “Join” button.

Schedule it.

Professor Wood explains how scheduling tools help us to reduce the stress that freedom of choice can put on our brain. “Having more choices is not always better, and in many cases it’s much worse: it actually stresses us out.  Choice anxiety can negatively affect relationships, productivity, and sense of peace.” 

Scheduling your day, or even your week, by putting fitness events on the calendar can help minimize the burden of choice anxiety.  New member Katherine B. shared how important pre-booking her fitness classes can be. When we asked her about how she gets herself to class each week, she said, “Simple: when I put it on the calendar, it's non-negotiable.”

“When I put it on the calendar, it's non-negotiable.”

One of the interesting things that emerged early on in Wood's research was that if participants lived with other people, particularly children, they have fewer habits overall than other people simply because of the disruption that others cause in their life. To get around this, an important technique is to find a time or a place where you have actually do have some control. For some, it is 6:00 in the morning; others can snag an hour later in the day. Eke out, find whatever time of day that is most consistently, uninterruptedly yours, and focus on building your habits there.

bande’s product team has been working to make class booking simple and easy to set up for days, and even weeks ahead of time.  Personally, I book all my classes on Sundays and make sure my week of workouts is on the books at times that fit around my work and children's school schedules.  Using our new calendaring tool integrations, it’s easier than ever to make sure classes are popping up as reminders.  You can choose to add bande classes to your Outlook, Google, or iCal from the confirmation email, or even inside the Live Schedule under My Classes.  

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Click the three dots menu to open calendaring options and add bande classes -- complete with private links to join the live stream -- to your personal or work calendar of choice.


Make it social.

Katy Milkman, a professor at the Wharton School of Business who studies human decision-making, notes that research shows that habits — good and bad — spread through our social networks. "We often look to the crowd for cues about what we should be doing," Milkman says.  The same goes for working out. “If you schedule your exercise with a friend, you'll be more likely to show up,” Milkman says.

Habits — good and bad — spread through our social networks.

bande’s product team has been investing in a variety of social features to capitalize on this particular habit booster.  You can now invite friends to classes by tapping “Invite” button on the class below the Add to Cart button.  

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Invite another member to join you in class with the click of a button.  

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Have a friend who hasn’t made an account yet?  You can invite them to join you in class by email and encourage them to try a class with you.  New customers always get their first class free with code BANDEWELCOME2021, and we’re running a variety of great membership promotions during the month of January.  

In the next week, you’ll see a variety of other social features coming out.  You'll be able to see what classes your connections are taking, who's in class with you, and find other tools to support chatting and interactions inside and outside of class.  Got ideas for new product features?  We always love to hear them.

Put some money on the line.

Industry trends show that traditional gym memberships are on the decline, a slide that's been accelerated as COVID pummels the market.  That said, there’s something very psychologically powerful about pre-committing a set amount each month to a membership.  Money can be a big motivator towards habit formation.  A membership is a commitment device, a contract with yourself to follow through on intentions.  What makes this strategy succeed?  Humans are risk averse: We hate to give up something, like money, that we've already earned. In fact, says Professor Milkman, “We find losses about twice as motivating as gains of equal size." That's what psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky found in their classic, Nobel Prize winning research. 

Humans are risk averse: We hate to give up something, like money, that we've already earned. 

bande makes it easy to commit to your fitness habit with several options for memberships, including Starter and Unlimited plans.  Even the act of pre-paying for class by reserving a spot is a powerful way to motivate your "future self" to get to class.

And speaking of which, I’ll see you there!