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Why the Third Week of January Is the True Start of New Year’s Resolutions

Signing up for the gym on January 1st doesn’t count—’Blue Monday’ is the real test

In 2005, Cliff Arnall, a South Wales lecturer and happiness coach, determined that the third Monday of January was the worst day of the year. Why? Because most people have accepted that not only is the holiday season truly over, they’ve figured out just how far over budget they went during it, not to mention how much weight they gained. Thus, it is now traditional for the third Monday of January—sometimes referred to as Blue Monday — to be the time when those who have resolved to get in better shape finally set foot in the gym.

This in no myth, either: According to Jeff Jabala, a fitness expert in L.A., the first few weeks of the year are eerily quiet at the gym. “During my first year as a trainer, I had no idea what Blue Monday was,” says Jabala. “It wasn’t something that ever came up in my circle of friends. I was under the impression that come the first or second of the year, my business was going to be booming.”

That wasn’t the case, though. “Normally, during prime-time hours (7 to 9 a.m. and 5 to 7 p.m.), you’d have at least 100 people at our gym,” says Jabala. “But before this past Blue Monday it was less than half, and on some days, as low as 35 people.”

So what else could explain this three-week lull where resolutions go to die?

“Most people sign up for the gym on either December 31st or January 1st,” explains Jabala. “But signing up for a gym takes very little work — it’s just enough so people can talk about their resolution to get in shape with friends and family either during, or leading up to, the holidays.” In other words, the sort of new year, new you lip service we’ve probably all been guilty of at some point.

While Blue Monday is when the crowds start to return, though, business is still slower than usual for the rest of the month for Jabala. “There’s a significant uptick even the day after Blue Monday,” he says. “But I work at a higher-end gym where people take longer holiday trips — basically, I’ve found that as soon as people go back to work and their regular routine, they tend to be most motivated by seeing their friends and coworkers. By early February, we’ll be back up to having around 150 people at the gym.”

As a seasoned fitness expert, these days Jabala prepares for the quiet before the storm by making sure he books his clients during the first weeks of January. “One of the tough things about this job is that it’s seasonal,” he explains. “Usually, any time drinking and food and holidays are involved, working out comes second. Which is why the clients that I train, I tell them, ‘If you’re serious, you have to make a plan.’”

And that plan always includes getting into the gym well before the third Monday in January.