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Shape Up or Pay Up: Pact Offers Extra Motivation to Keep Fit

Thinking about skipping your workout? Pact may make you think again.

I’m too tired. I had a really bad day at work. I’ll start tomorrow.

We all have our excuses for not working out or not sticking to our diets. But at some point, you’re going to have to put in the work if you want to see results. That doesn’t mean you have to go it alone, though.

Motivation can come from a lot of places, and these days that includes tech. There are fitness trackers that will nudge you to keep moving. There are also a ton of food-logging and calorie-tracking apps. For some, these solutions might be enough to stick to their regimens. But others, without any real consequences, might lose interest after a month or so.

I tend to fall into the latter group, which is why I was anxious to try an app called Pact (formerly known as GymPact). Available for free for Android and iOS devices, the app pays you for working out and eating healthy. But you also have to pay up if don’t honor your fitness commitments. (StickK, Fitsby and FitMob are other services that offer monetary rewards as incentive for meeting your health-and-fitness goals.)

I’ve been using Pact for the past two weeks, and it turns out that money is a great motivator. Actually, I should clarify — the fear of losing money is a great motivator.

With Pact, the minimum fine for not holding up your end of the bargain is $5 for each missed goal. That’s a lot of money, and it got my butt to the gym on a regular basis.

Taking that monetary risk might not be for everybody. I told one friend about it, and with a mortgage and growing family to deal with, she didn’t even want to take the chance. And don’t expect a huge payout. The reward money comes from those who don’t meet their pacts, and range between 30 cents to $5 per week. And what if all 500,000 Pact community members meet their goals for the week? Well, then, you don’t get paid.

Still, Pact helped me stick to my goals more than any other wristband tracker or app I’ve used in the past year. But the app’s performance could use some work.

To start, you’ll need to sign up for an account and then attach a PayPal account or credit card for rewards and penalties. Next, you set your goals for the week, and how much you want to be penalized for missing your goals (you can go as high as $10).

There are three different activity categories: Gym, Veggies and Food Logging. You can do one, two or all three if you’d like, with pacts running from Monday to Sunday at midnight. You can change your goals each week, and also schedule breaks for when you’re on vacations or business trips.

Using my iPhone 5, I started with a pact of four workouts and five servings of fruits and veggies. To log a workout, you’ll need to check in to your gym using your phone’s GPS, and stay for at least 30 minutes. If you’re working out at home, Pact can use your phone’s accelerometer to track your movements, but this feature is only available on iOS devices.

The app also works with a number of existing fitness apps and trackers, so you can count outdoor runs, walks and bike rides toward your goal. Again, all these activities must be at least 30 minutes and above two miles per hour. Supported services include RunKeeper, MapMyFitness, MyFitness Pal, Moves, Jawbone and Fitbit, and the company plans to add more.

To meet my goals, I used a combination of gym check-ins and logging outdoor hikes with the RunKeeper integration. There weren’t any issues with tracking, but I couldn’t help but wonder how the app prevents cheating. I asked Pact how it knows that someone isn’t gaming the system by checking in and then just sitting on a stationary bike reading a magazine for 30 minutes.

The company says it tries to make it difficult enough to cheat that most users won’t find it worthwhile. For example, going to the gym just to earn 50 cents isn’t going to be worth it for most people.

The same goes for logging food and eating your veggies and fruit. With the latter, you need to upload a picture of what you’re eating to the app, and the Pact community members vote on whether it should count or not. I submitted photos of half-eaten fruit, salads and fresh juices, and all of them were verified by Pact members. You can also go to the app’s community page to vote on others’ submissions.

With food-logging apps, I tend to forget about entering item, but I was pretty vigilant with Pact, since I didn’t want to have to fork over five bucks.

Once the Pact week is over, users are typically notified of their rewards on Tuesday or Wednesday of the next week. For my efforts, I earned $1.89. Once you’ve earned more than $10, you can withdraw the money from your PayPal account, or you can donate it to a charity using the organization’s PayPal address.

For me, it really wasn’t about earning money, but about finding a way to stick to my fitness goals, and Pact succeeded in that. That said, there were some things I didn’t like about the app.

For one, I wish there were more flexibility in altering your goals when you start a pact midweek. If you begin a pact on any day other than Monday, you’ll be given extra days to complete them.

For example, I began my pact on Wednesday, Jan. 15, and was given till Sunday, Jan. 26 to complete my goal of four workouts and five serving of veggies and fruit. I completed all my goals by Sunday, Jan. 19, but there was no way to then increase the number of workouts or veggies.

During that extra week, I felt myself falling back into my old ways of making excuses. I didn’t log any of my food, but still managed to go to the gym four times, though those visits didn’t count toward my next goal.

Second, the app was a bit buggy. A number of times, when I went to the Community page, it had problems loading the feed. Pact also crashed on me a couple of times. But I’ve noticed that Pact has pushed out a couple of updates over the past week to fix bugs, so hopefully the app will be stable soon.

If you need that extra kick in the pants to go to the gym or eat right, Pact is a good motivator, and you can even make a little extra cash in the process.

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