No clock at your gym? There’s a good reason for that…

Gyms are finding new ways to keep people motivated, leaning on psychological tricks to make fitness more fun.

It’s an age-old problem plaguing wannabe fitness fanatics.

You’ve forked out for a membership, bought the latest (booty-enhancing) lycra, but a giant magnet seems to be pinning your butt to the couch.

Getting fit is as much of a psychological challenge as a physical one, and Australians waste nearly $2 billion a year on unused gym memberships.

In a bid to make fitness fun and get us through the door, savvy studios are deploying an ever-evolving list of bells and whistles, such as in-house DJs, fancy fit-outs, free coffee and nightclub vibes.

But what really works to get us motivated in the long-term, and what are the little things gyms are doing to keep us coming back?

Mirror, mirror in the gym

Believe it or not, mirrors at the gym are not just for taking selfies. Flexing in front of the mirror during a workout can help hone your technique, especially for moves like dead lifts.

But staring at your reflection can deliver a sucker punch to the self-esteem, which is why you won’t find them at fitness franchises like F45 Training.

“Mirrors can be quite a deterrent for people who have not trained much before, and may be self-conscious about their weight,” says the head trainer of the South Melbourne F45 studio Michael Mischevski.

“People can also potentially do damage to their spine and neck by looking up when they shouldn’t be.”

An Australian study into the effects of mirrors found it’s best to only use them when trying to perfect a move, rather than scrutinising your form every session.

Don’t be a clock watcher

Ever noticed it’s hard to see a clock during a sweat session at a gym, or when blissing out in a sun salutation?

Exercise scientist Adam Martin says it’s not necessarily a coincidence.

“I think it might be tapping into the same sort of psychology that casinos play on, where you don’t know what time of day it is,” he says.

“If you can’t see the clock it allows you to disassociate from the time. You can get through 20 minutes of exercise without thinking about it, rather than counting down every minute.”

Appearances count – but not for the reasons you think

When it comes to hitting the gym, the only appearance that counts is your surroundings.

“The colour palette and the way a place looks are important,” says Martin.

“Most people who want to get fit don’t want a dark dingy garage, but something that feels light and inviting, and looks clean, and presentable instructors. The staff are there to take care of you.

“It’s not the be all and end all – in the same way as a good chocolate cake isn’t made of just one ingredient.”

Motivation? Forget about it

Martin says the best way to develop a healthy habit is to forget about the term “motivation” entirely, and focus on “action, action, action”.

“We are all waiting for the unicorn to appear – the motivation to start our journey to eat better and go to the gym regularly,” he says.

“But it’s about steering our thoughts to the process of taking action. Action should be the thing that drives you.

“By doing something even in times when least want to, we build that momentum, and it’s a snowball effect. Do something every day, even if it’s just walking the dog.”

Michaela Fellner, founder of Bodhi and Ride spin studios, which boast “ride chambers” with neon lights and curated playlists, agrees that perseverance is key.

“Motivation to commit to a fitness regime does not come easy,” she says.

“In fact, you’ll probably hate it at the beginning, because it’ll show you just how unfit you are. What you have to keep in mind is that it takes 10-20 sessions until you actually get fitter – and that’s when the magic happens.”

Tips for gym motivation

  • Find ways to keep yourself accountable, like recruiting an exercise buddy or personal trainer.
  • Take up free trials to find what works for you, whether it’s zumba, high-intensity interval training (HIIT), boot camps or reformer pilates.
  • Ditch the gym membership if it’s proving a source of guilt, and start small with walks around the block or workouts in the lounge room.
  • If you fall off the fitness wagon, get back on it the next day instead of giving up.
  • Don’t look at the big picture of how many kilograms you want to lose long-term, as it can seem out of reach.

Written by Elissa Doherty.