I go to the gym a lot. When I say “gym,” I mean a climbing gym because that’s more awesome than what you mean by “gym.”
Regardless of where you go to get your swell on, there are probably all shapes and sizes of humans there, from giant marine mammals on legs who’ll cancel their memberships as soon as February hits and they realize they don’t care about New Year’s resolutions to hyperfit, superhuman types with resting heart rates of 47 and bodies like Olympians.
But whether you’re working to improve your physical health or just maintain what you’ve already got, everyone has a right to be there, right?
Wrong. According to the New York Daily News (NYDN), there is a growing trend in gyms that are either banning or discouraging fit people from joining. Here’s why that is stupid.
First of all, how do you decide who’s unfit enough to join your gym? BMI, maybe? That’s a decent metric for the average person and body type, but it falls apart pretty quickly. Let’s say we go with “obese” as a metric and you’re five feet, ten inches tall. “Obese” kicks in at 210 pounds, which is pretty hefty, I’ll grant you. That’s 55 pounds heavier than I am, and I’m in good shape. But that’s also roughly the size of a tall running back. Adrian Petersen up there is 6’1″ and about 220 pounds. Scroll back up real quick and let me know if you think he’s obese. Besides, he’s actually kind of skinny for a running back. Maurice Jones-Drew is 207 pounds and he’s only 5’7″.
My point is that there are people out there with high BMIs who are in phenomenally good shape. You could go by body fat percentage, I suppose. If you’re over, I don’t know, 25% body fat, you can join. But then do you test everyone every week to make sure they’re not under? It’s unrealistic. Besides, there are also people with low BMIs because they have some fat, very little muscle and are in terrible cardio shape (chronic smokers for example), so they need a gym just as much and have just as much trouble with it as fat people.
2. THE MESSAGE
Let’s say you do get a good system for separating the fat people from the skinny people, and you only let the fat people in. What happens if they start losing weight? You know … if your gym actually works? Kicking out the people who are actually having success is a terrible message to send.
Isn’t this supposed to be an encouraging environment? Where you’re not stressed and made to feel inadequate by the skinny people who are just “maintaining” their bodies? This isn’t helping. Also, you have the issue of people who are getting fit but just have “those last five pounds” to lose, which is where they need the most encouragement. Those people aren’t fat, so you have to kick them out. And you can’t just let them in in the first place, because then your standards are basically meaningless. I could be five pounds “overweight” by tomorrow if I ate enough.
Worst of all is the fact that loyalty is basically an insult to the member. I’ve been at my current gym for almost three years now, and my fitness level is slightly improved but hasn’t changed much. If you’re at one of these gyms for three years, basically what you’re saying is that you’re overweight and want to do something about it, but you’re astonishingly terrible at working out.
3. THE BUSINESS MODEL
Where do you think most of the money comes from for gyms? I don’t know this for sure, but I’d bet that it’s not the fat people. Fat people at a gym will generally either A) stop being fat or B) give up and quit the gym. Either way, that only takes a few months to a year, and then the fat-only gym has lost that customer. Skinny people, on the other hand — the types who are maintaining their healthy bodies — will stay forever. There is no such thing as a level of fitness that you can keep by quitting, so those people will be in there three days a week, putting in their hour on the treadmill, for as long as they live in that city. That’s where the money is.
4. THE BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE
Fit people are better-looking than unfit people. Almost everyone agrees. Fat people who are trying to lose weight also agree, and do you know how I know that? Because if they thought fat people were attractive, they’d have no problem being one. Fat people who want to be skinny people probably prefer looking at skinny people as well, but you’ve stuck them in a building that contains zero of such people. After all, wouldn’t you like to look like (and/or be with someone who looks like) this?
OF COURSE YOU WOULD. Those people are healthy and attractive. You’re probably less healthy and attractive than them. I certainly am. But if I’m going to the gym to work out, and I want to be motivated to do better, what will help will be to be surrounded by people who are fitter, stronger, and more attractive than me. Then I’ll see some dude crushing routes I can’t even dream of and think, “I must try harder so that I can look like that and do those things.” Or maybe I’ll see a beautiful climbing woman and think, “I must try harder so that I can look like that and impress someone like her.” Or, worst case scenario, the beautiful people will have no effect whatsoever on my motivation and I’ll just have to look at them.
You know what won’t help? Being in a room of sweaty fat people thinking, “I may be fat, but at least that guy’s fatter. Hell, I’m the least fat fat person here. I deserve a celebratory rasher of bacon.”
5. BEING FAT IS BAD AND YOU SHOULD FEEL BAD
Let’s pretend you’re one of those people that likes to say things like “you’re beautiful, no matter what.” First of all, you’re lying to yourself. I am absolutely one hundred percent sure that no matter your standards for what makes a person attractive, be they money or muscle or humor or sensitivity or whatever, the majority of people do not meet those standards. Unless what you’re saying is that everyone is beautiful to someone, no matter what, which is A) still not true and B) meaningless. That’s like tasting some awful food and saying, “You know, I bet there’s some creature somewhere on this strange and wonderful planet that would enjoy this.” That’s not a compliment or an insult, it’s just a safe bet.
Regardless, there are plenty of people out there that think that it’s unfair that overweight people are made to feel bad about their weight. If you want to be fat, you should be allowed to, and everyone should respect or even applaud that choice.
Horseshit. First of all, if you’re fat and working out, you clearly don’t want to be fat any more, so you don’t buy into that. And second, being fat is extraordinarily unhealthy. Here’s a list, selected from Wikipedia, of medical issues associated with obesity.
high blood pressure
deep vein thrombosis
intrauterine fetal death (it’s exactly what it sounds like)
acid reflux disease
breast, ovarian, esophageal, colorectal, liver, pancreatic, gallbladder, stomach, endometrial, prostate, and renal cancer
You’ll notice that every item on that list is something you absolutely don’t want, and in some cases can kill you. Even the more minor ones are pretty damn awf— hang on just one goddamn second. Does that say “buried penis”? That can’t be good.
You’re right. It’s not. It’s when you have so much gut fat that your penis is all covered in it, and it starts to chafe, and some pee stays there, and sometimes it gets infected and drastic corrective and reconstructive surgery is required TO GIVE YOU BACK YOUR PENIS. Does that sound horrifying and painful and emasculating? Good. Don’t get fat. And in case there are any ladies out there that think they’ve dodged a bullet here, did you see the part where all your lady parts can get cancer, or your unborn baby can die inside you because you’re fat? Yeah, I’m sure that’s much more fun.
My point is illustrated by the following quote from one gym member in the NYDN article: “It’s intimidating going into a gym setting. I honestly think some people in a gym setting are judgmental to people who are overweight or have a different body type.”
You’re absolutely right. I’m absolutely judgmental to people who are overweight. Because you should feel bad about being overweight. Just as you should feel bad if you smoke (weed is worse for you, not better), or if you sniff glue or do coke or heroin or meth or whatever. You are putting yourself in a situation where your health is in jeopardy, as you have every right to do, but I sure as shit don’t have to respect that choice. It’s a bad choice. And let me be clear here: if you’re fat, it’s your fault. You ate too much or exercised too little or … those are basically the only choices. Yes, there are hormonal issues or genetic issues or other diseases that can make you more likely to get fat, but they’re not guarantees. Those people just have to try harder. Don’t think it’s worth it? Read the list again.
And don’t give me this bullshit about not having time. Let’s do some math. There are 168 hours in a week. Let’s say you’re really busy and work 60 of those. That’s 108 left. You sleep ten hours a night because you’re tired, so that’s another 70 gone. 38 left. You spend two hours a day eating, so that’s 24 left. And you commute an hour each way to work, six days a week, so that’s another 12. Even given those extremely generous estimates, that’s still twelve hours a week to get some fitness in. My roommate is jacked as shit and he only works out about three hours a week. Again, if you don’t think you have time, you’re not trying hard enough.
So make your fat-only gym if you want. It’ll be filled with people who aren’t motivated and don’t find each other attractive, so they won’t enjoy being there. If you get the occasional person who’s motivated anyway, you’ll have to kick them out as soon as they start making progress. If someone stays and is loyal to your gym, it means they’re failing to accomplish their goals, which means you’re not helping very much, and that’ll either make them sad about themselves or mad at you. And all of this is to make sure that people don’t feel judged for a condition that is their own fault and for which they should be judged anyway, because they should want to fix it.
This is decent jab gyms that try to cater to the unfit but there was one inaccuracy.
Any gym's best source of profit is going to be the members that pay their dues every month and do not come in. These members do not “wear and tear” the equipment, occupy staff, use the bathrooms, etc. This is part of the motivation behind having super low monthly rates, if you're charging someone $50/mo or $100/mo they'll cancel the auto-bill the second they lose interest, but $10/mo, they'll keep it open just in case.
The person who comes in 5+ days per week and exercises for 2 hours at a time pays the same dues as the person who joins and then never shows up. The non-users subsidize the users and help the gym remain solvent.
I worked through college in various gyms this is an almost universal concept.
I also think some of these “unfit only” gyms are predatory and exploit people but that's another story.