By REBECCA ISENHART
NISKAYUNA — When Budhan Ramcharan came back to work as the membership coordinator at the Schenectady Jewish Community Center at the end of December, his mailbox was stuffed.
“I went away for about a week and came back to twelve applications,” he said.
Things were just beginning to pick up for the usual rush of new JCC members around New Year’s Day. Though the community center on Balltown Road sees a number of spikes throughout the year, such as new additions just before school starts for the childcare program, January joiners are pretty much always thinking of one thing: the gym.
“It’s definitely when people are interested,” Ramcharan said. “There’s no question about that.”
The question, naturally, is how to keep new members coming back. Though fitness is a popular resolution to focus on while caught up in New Year’s celebrations, studies have consistently shown that only about half of people who make them are able to keep them.
For example, a 2012 Marist poll asked 329 adults whether they kept their resolutions from the previous year. Just 59 percent said they had.
So how can gyms help aspirational joiners become as dedicated as people like Marvin, the octogenarian JCC member who shows up almost every day, or Dave, whose son helped him commit to meeting his weight loss goals there last year?
Ramcharan said part of the JCC’s strategy is built in to its mission: It’s more than a gym — it’s a community center. Running into friends and neighbors can help motivate a reluctant exerciser to put on the spandex and leave the house.
When that’s not quite enough, Ramcharan said the staff usually recommends personal training.
“You’re asked to come in and work out, as opposed to relying on your own instincts,” he said.
Once members connect with a personal trainer, they know their absences will be missed. Fitness center director Terry Santoro said helping people build dedication is often easier than it seems.
“It can be something as simple as saying hello, or helping someone before they have to ask you for help,” she said.
The uptick in enrollment is also noticeable each year at Vent Fitness, across town from the JCC near the Mohawk Commons shopping center. Regional training manager Will Barry, who has worked for Vent for nearly eight years, said there is always an increase in membership in January.
“All gyms do tend to take advantage of that part of the process, when people are thinking of making a change,” he said.
During his 15 years in the fitness industry, Barry said he’s noticed three groups of people who have distinct reasons to come to the gym that fluctuate with the seasons: the September joiners, who are thinking ahead about the holidays, the January newbies, who are motivated by freshly minted resolutions, and the spring breakers, who show up in March or April to get ready for beach season.
Barry said he’s inspired by the excitement the January crowd often brings to weight rooms, treadmills and group classes.
“Part of the problem with New Year’s resolutions is people have this idea of change, which is awesome,” he said. “They’re in the action stage. But then they don’t set themselves up with support.”
Over the years, as he’s moved from personal trainer to regional manager, Barry said he’s realized that the best motivators are group exercise classes and personal trainers. Especially for new enrollees, sprawling rooms full of weights and machines can be confusing and intimidating, while working with other people is inviting and rewarding.
And, he added, it’s important to persevere.
“The big thing I like to really remind people is, try not to measure your change through the New Year’s resolution,” he said. “They have that one hiccup, so they think they failed and they just totally give up.
“So many people feel defeated because they have that slip-up,” he continued. “I like to tell people that your goals don’t follow a calendar.”