Health & Fitness Column

Overweight member gyms only

By John Taylor | Mar 26, 2013
Photo by: File Health and Fitness Columnist John Taylor.

Downsize Fitness, a private fitness center in Chicago, has made news this week for only allowing overweight individuals to sign up for memberships.
This membership policy states that a perspective enrollee must be at least 50 pounds overweight, and the basic package costs $50 a month. For a premium membership, which includes a nutritionist, a personal trainer and unlimited group classes, costs $250 a month.
Downsize Fitness co-founder, Francis Wisniewski, recently told ABC News that a fitness center exclusively for overweight individuals is needed throughout American society.
“There’s not a culture of acceptance in America for overweight people,” said Wisniewski, who recently opened a second Downsize Fitness location in Dallas. “You can still make fun of it in movies. You can still discriminate against based on size. So it’s still that last thing in America that you are not protected on.”
I’m wondering if Wisniewski’s statements are true. Yes, there have been female-only fitness centers for decades, because there is a percentage of female exercise goers who would prefer to work out without men around. But when I hear women complain about men ogling over them at the gym, I’m surprised there is a population of females who will travel further to attend a fitness center that bans men, even though it may cost more in membership dues and only offers basic amenities.
Going down this line, I’m wondering if the same can be said for Downsize Fitness members. Are they avoiding a traditional gym because they feel others are staring at them because of their size? Have they ever been discriminated against or insulted in the fitness center setting because of their weight? I’ve worked at gyms since 2001, and I’ve never seen this kind of behavior out of a member before.
So I’m wondering if overweight people are signing up for a Downsize Fitness membership because of their own perceptions of what other gym members think about them, or have they actually had harsh interactions with others while working out.
“What (Downsize Fitness) is doing is creating a niche market to serve perspective overweight members who are thinking that everyone at a regular gym is the model of fitness,” said Don Andretta, Owner of Paragon Athletic Club in Linden, NJ. “They’ve taken down that barrier that many of their members have about signing up for a membership.”
However, many people may look at that $250 per month price and believe it’s outrageous to charge that much for a membership. But if other gyms prices were explored, many other fitness centers would charge substantially more for the aid of a nutritionist and personal trainer.
“Many people at least 50 pounds overweight need the help of a personal trainer to show them how to use the equipment and work them out three days per week,” continued Andretta, who also teaches an officially licensed P90x class to help his gym members improve their fitness levels and lose weight. “For the overweight population, this is great if they use the membership. This may justify the $250 monthly price, and think of all the money a member will save on blood pressure and cholesterol meds.”
I’m not saying overweight-only gyms are wrong. We are a capitalistic society, and if there is a demand for such a business, then I hope Downsize Fitness serves its members well. I just hope it  doesn’t open franchises around the U.S., and get so obsessed with profit margins, the quality of  services dwindles.
Sure, Downsize Fitness only accepts overweight members, but if they start hiring the 18 year-old personal trainer instead of the college graduate with a degree in exercise science to save on salary costs, perspective members should be advised to keep their $250 a month and spend it on a new wardrobe. It won’t help  them lose weight, but at least they’ll look better.