The Obese Turn to Private Gyms after Mainstream Alienation

“As an overweight person, it’s in my head that I’m being judged, whether it’s true or not.” These are the words spoken by Francis Wisniewski, a 38-year-old hedge fund manager and father of three. His emotions about being judged while working out at a gym lead him to open Downsize Fitness, a place just for the overweight to workout. It appears there’s a growing need for places just like this.

Downsize Fitness is new to the Chicago gym scene and is discreetly designed just for people looking to lose at least 50 pounds. Trim men and women are not allowed as members. In fact, when a member hits their weight goal and changes their lifestyle their time at Downsize ends.

Wisniewski created Downsize Fitness after he was finally able to lose 60 pounds by working one-on-one with an in-home trainer verses a gym or club. Wisniewski shared the same feelings as most overweight people prior to his private sessions. According to a 2024 report in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, most overweight people feel embarrassed and intimidated about exercising around younger and fitter people. Furthermore, other deterrents stand in the way. Many overweight people were put off by exercising with the opposite sex, using complicated equipment, and simply by the boredom of the gym. These issues can be true for normal weight gym members too, but heavier members tend to need more support and privacy.

By the numbers it’s clear that gyms are full of members. Last year, 42.8 million people had health club memberships. However, it seems that those who need the most help, the obese, are being alienated.

With programs like Downsize Fitness and the successful women’s gym Curves sprouting up all across the country, it’s clear there’s a need for change. Whether the change comes in the form of exclusive gyms for the obese, gyms only for women, or an environmental shift among the mainstream gyms, our obese need help and support.

Downsize Fitness includes machines built for large bodies and Curves doesn’t have mirrors on the wall. Both have consistent coaches who are dedicated to teaching and seeing change.

Everyone knows the obesity stats are climbing daily. This is a curable problem. It’s hard to imagine that those who need the tools and resources the most are getting the least support. More gyms need to have a welcoming atmosphere and help end this epidemic.

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