Fitness Fun

When It Comes to the Gym, Bigger Isn’t Always Better

gymThe secret to making your fitness goals happen? Joining a tricked-out gym.

Or so I thought, as I was rolling up to the new luxury gym in my neighborhood.

After a tour, my head was spinning with the workout possibilities (ooh, heated pool!) and I was eager to sign on the dotted line.

 But half an hour later, I walked away without a membership. The terms were sketchy. The staff was unfriendly. The $50/month fee seemed a tad steep.

Yes, the heated pool would’ve been nice. But as it turns out, I’m better off without the frenzy of classes, equipment and salon-and-spa extras. The reason? According to researchers, too many options can tank a fitness routine.

The More, the Merrier? Not Quite

A recent book by Columbia professor Sheena Iyengar highlights what a number of consumer psychologists have started saying about our option-hungry approach to everything:

More isn’t always better.

In fact, it’s often worse.

In one of Iyengar’s studies, shoppers faced with too many brands or flavors of jam were more likely to leave empty-handed. Of the few who did make a purchase, most second-guessed their choice later.

Those who had fewer jams to choose from, on the other hand, were more likely to make a choice and stay happy with it.

Lost in a Sea of Fitness Equipment

So behavioral psychologists have found that, despite our desire for more options, our brains simply can’t process the plethora.

Not good at the gym.

If you have to choose from ten different types of weight machines or fitness classes, it might seem like you have a better chance of picking the best one to meet your fitness goals. You might even be planning to tackle all ten.


The more likely scenario: you’ll a) grapple with a distracting doubt about whether you chose the right one, or b) get overwhelmed and the couch will start to look like the best option.

It’s important to choose a gym with enough variety to provide a full-body workout and prevent exercise boredom.

But based on the research, it seems clear: go too big and you’ll probably just go home.

What’s your preference: Large fitness center, neighborhood gym or  work out at home?

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Chelsea Ratcliff

Chelsea Ratcliff

Writer and expert

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