Fitting In at the Club
Images of health clubs as the exclusive domain of the young and the fit turn most people off. In reality,Â the best clubs can provide a supportive environment for the not-yet-fit.
“I feel like I’m being judged.” “I can’t bench press that muchÂ weight; I don’t want to embarrass myself by lifting next to thoseÂ guys.” Often, the anxiety of being seen at a health club keepsÂ those who need a fitness regimen the most from using one.
It’s hard to blame anyone who’s not in the best shape of theirÂ lives for being apprehensive about joining a health club, especially when these health clubs are selling a “finished product” image.Â Most health club advertisements feature stock images of ultra-fitÂ models or celebrities; they never seem to feature real people fromÂ the communities who the clubs serve. Let’s face it; in the (815),Â there are a lot more soft midsections than hard bodies. And evenÂ with dedicated exercise, most of us will never reach the ideal thatÂ these clubs are selling.
Health clubs can be supportive environments for the overweightÂ and obese, say numerous fitness experts and psychologists.Â Depending upon the club, most members are there to get throughÂ their workouts and work on living a healthier lifestyle, not to judgeÂ others. Still, the perception of the health club as an unsupportive,Â even humiliating, environment persists. Nationally, the best clubsÂ work incredibly hard to dispel these myths. Locally, it’s at the coreÂ of what FitMe Wellness is about.
“It’s one of the biggest barriers I deal with in working with newÂ clients,” says Karla Johnson, a certified wellness coach at FitMeÂ Wellness in Rockford. “There’s a sense of terror and shame projected into the gym, much of which is transferred from school-ageÂ gym class experiences,” such as ruthless teasing and flashbacksÂ to feeling like a failure on the Presidential Fitness Test.
The reality, Johnson says, is that most members who see an out-of-shape person in the gym have feelings of respect, admiration,Â and encouragement. Gyms in Rockford need to be especiallyÂ supportive. “The community as a whole is so unhealthy, that toÂ be in a club environment that is so wellness-conscious, there’s aÂ high value placed on anyone trying to get fit,” she says
“I have yet to overhear anyone being rude,” says Kim White, personal trainer at FitMe Wellness. “We’ve had a number of peopleÂ who have had significant weight loss. As they start to show aÂ change, other members will come up to them and say, ‘You’reÂ looking great.’ There’s a real sense of community here.”
Like many trainers at FitMe Wellness, Kim wasn’t a perfect specimen of fitness before she became a trainer. She says she neverÂ experienced any disrespectful behavior as she tried to get inÂ shape, though she understands that concern. “It depends on theÂ kind of environment the people at the gym are creating, includingÂ the people that work there and the members.”
Some gyms are more accommodating than others to an out-of-shape member’s plight. FitMe Wellness has small private studioÂ rooms for people who want a more secluded environment. AtÂ FitMe, the wellness coach has even taken a group exercise classÂ with a member, just to give them extra support and motivation.
“I think that someone who’s heavy often thinks about beingÂ stared at or judged, not just when they go into a health club, butÂ when they get on a plane or go into a grocery store,” says Greg,Â FitMe Wellness’ owner and founder. “But it really comes to a headÂ in this situation,” he adds, when the atmosphere can includeÂ ubiquitous mirrors and fitness clothing that shows parts of theÂ body people normally would keep covered.
Marketing bolsters the myth that gyms are the territory of theÂ young and the fit. Recognizing the rise in the rate of obesity in theÂ area, there is a concerted effort to try a different approach to wooÂ members. “The fitness industry created this environment whereÂ some people felt as if they had to lose weight before they wentÂ to the gym,” says Georgis. “But when you’re dealing with nearlyÂ 75% of the Rockford area being overweight or obese, we clearlyÂ need to show people that fitness is worth the investment in time,Â that it can be empowering, and that there is no judging involved.”