First Hand Experience
I can relate to arguments in favor of these gyms. I used to be a fat kid, tormented through adolescence, who had nervous, crying breakdowns when I stepped into the high school weight room. Now, I'm a personal trainer working with clients who have moderate-to-severe weight issues. The biggest problem many of my overweight or body conscious clients have is the mental fear of other, fitter members passing judgment on them. While most times it's only that--fear--it can derail even a confident person's drive to hit the gym regularly. A separated gym can help allay fears that weight conscious clients may have. This environment can be encouraging to those types of clients and they can thrive in this type of situation.
Is It Discriminatory?
However, would this debate be less sympathetic if it were a "skinny-people only gym"? I can imagine the potential backlash that could arise. What if we're talking about a sparsely populated area and the only gym available won't allow individuals to be a member since they just want to lose 10 pounds gained since Thanksgiving? I can understand that body-conscious people may be more likely to overcome mental obstacles if "everyone looks like me," but what about results at this gym? Do all the successful members have to give up their memberships once they drop a few dress sizes? And as mentioned, most overweight and body conscious clients have self-esteem and self-confidence issues to begin with, and it often takes a lot more than losing a few pounds to boost it. If that's the case, how does that help to boost the self-confidence of members?
While the idea of a "heavy people only" gym may sound like a great idea in some regards, is it realistic to think that we need to separate the fit from the trying-to-get-fit? Healthy lifestyles are just that, built upon a lifetime of healthy choices. A good gym should be able to encourage all clients, whether skinny or not, to take a "fit for life" style approach. Personal trainers are there to help motivate, and other gym personnel should do everything in their power to make self-conscious clients feel comfortable in their own skin and work toward their fitness goals.
Ryan Barnhart, MS, PES, is a certified Performance Enhancement
and Injury Prevention Specialist through the National Academy of Sports
Medicine (NASM). He also holds a master's degree in exercise science, as
well as a bachelor of sport management, both from California University
of Pennsylvania. Ryan has worked with numerous collegiate and amateur
athletes across many different fields. Ryan also has had the opportunity
to work with several professional athletes. Recently he has worked with
amateur and professional athletes within the emerging sport of Mixed
Ryan is currently the director of fitness at a 700+ member gym near Pittsburgh, PA. He enjoys working with weekend warriors, athletes, and everyone in between. You can contact Ryan at firstname.lastname@example.org.