Cash for Abs: The Rise of Pay-For-Fitness Startups

A new class of startups wants to pay you to work out.

  • Paceline offers a wellness credit card with perks for hitting weekly fitness goals.
  • Sweatcoin and Clinicoin pay out in crypto for steps and healthy activities.
  • Cadoo gamifies running by leveraging your wagered cash as accountability.
  • HealthyWage lets you earn up to $10,000 when you meet weight loss goals.

Why it matters: Americans’ health is in serious decline. Despite new fitness tech like wearables or at-home gyms, 80% of Americans don’t exercise enough for optimal health. And the economic fallout from obesity has eclipsed $1.7T, or about 9.3% of US GDP.

Enter pay-for-fitness. Addressing one of fitness’s biggest problems (the human element), startups in this space offer consumers stronger incentives to make healthier choices.

Conducting his own pay-for-weight-loss challenge, entrepreneur Justin Mares wrote:

“When getting that cookie suddenly costs you $28 instead of $3, people tend to think a bit harder… it’s powerful: just by assigning a cost to someone’s diet choices, they change them.“ 

With the nascent wearables boom, pay-for-fitness startups are poised to become the next Strava, especially if they can leverage strong fitness trends like accountability and signaling as a service.

Recent funding rounds signal investor belief in this space. This summer, Paceline raised a $29.5M Series A while Cadoo secured $1.5M in seed funding.

The house always wins? Studies are mixed on whether incentivizing fitness actually works. Further, the revenue model used by companies like HealthyWage—where the company profits from users’ failed fitness goals—creates a fundamental conflict of interest.

In other news, WHOOP now pays its employees to sleep more, and Singapore’s government partners with Apple Watch to reward its residents for healthy activities.

Punchline: Pay-for-fitness hasn’t yet caught on at scale, but the segment holds promise, especially considering the explosive success of play-to-earn models in industries like gaming. Looking ahead, a pay-for-fitness upstart collab with wearables like Fitbit or Garmin may well be on the horizon.

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