The main purpose of gyms and fitness studios is to be a haven for people to stay fit and healthy, a place to burn off extra calories from that all-too indulgent dinner the night before. But for some folks, there’s nothing more uncomfortable than gutting it out on the treadmill next to that girl who looks like a swimsuit model.
At least, that’s what the owner of Body Exchange in Vancouver thinks, according to a recent article published on the website of the Canadian paper the Province. The idea that being a member of a regular gym can make overweight people anxious and self-conscious led CEO Louise Green to open Body Exchange, a gym specifically for plus-size patrons.
It’s not the first gym in North America to be founded on those principles. Various gyms through the US, including Buddha Body Yoga in New York City; Downsize Fitness in Chicago, Las Vegas, and Dallas; and Square One in Omaha, Nebraska are all based on helping overweight gym-goers shed pounds, according to an article in New York Daily News. These gyms screen potential clients, making sure they have to lose at least, say, 50 pounds to reach a normal weight for their age.
To our knowledge, there aren’t any such gyms in Washington, and local personal trainer Errick McAdams doesn’t see one being successful here. “DC’s a pretty fit city. I think it would work here maybe on a boutique level, but not a gym level,” McAdams says. “This city’s got a lot of type A personalities, so if someone has a [body mass index] that’s obese, they’re still going to be on the treadmill right next to someone with a perfect BMI.”
The idea behind the plus-size-only gyms is that patrons will be more motivated to lose weight when they exercise with people of the same body type. It’s not unfounded, either; a study published in the journal Obesity in February found that people who competed together in a weight loss program significantly influenced and motivated one another, resulting in a weight-loss ripple effect. In other words, weight loss is contagious.
Reaction to the rise of plus-size gyms has been swift, from one commenter calling the idea discriminatory to others applauding the gyms’ work in providing a “safe haven” for overweight people. While McAdams doesn’t think this type of business would enjoy success here, he points out that at the very least, the plus-size patrons should be commended for getting off the couch: “Whatever it takes to get somebody motivated to hit the gym, I’m all for it,” he says. “I’m a fan of whatever makes people get off the couch and get to the gym. Everybody’s different, and you can never judge. You never know what anybody’s journey is.”
He cites the success of the women-only Curves fitness club, which has 20 franchises in Washington alone. Curves was established in 1992 with the unofficial motto “No makeup, no men, and no mirrors.”
“They didn’t say it in their advertising, but it was catered toward a larger, de-conditioned woman,” McAdams explains.
But the question is: What happens when one reaches his or her goal weight and no longer meets the requirements for a plus-size gym? “When they do get in shape, it’s going to be tough for them to leave their personal trainers and the environment that got them there,” McAdams says. “It’ll be a challenge, but you’ll cross that hurdle when you get there.”