Fitness Club Filters Members By Size—No Skinny Minnies

When most individuals join a health club to lose a lot of weight, the intimidation factor they face comes from the other members and their incredibly fit bodies.

It’s not just a matter of blending in, but the overweight actually stand out. Too bad there’s not a place where everyone starts off heavy, and then graduates to the regular gyms once they get fit.

That was the thought process of Francis Wisniewski, a hedge fund manager who founded Downsize Fitness in 2011. Wisniewski was struggling to lose weight and hated how he felt “on display” at the one-size-fits-all gyms.

“I figured if I was uncomfortable, a lot of people must be,” says Wisniewski.

One night while watching the NBC reality show The Biggest Loser, inspiration hit. He decided to make his own version of the show by opening a gym that catered exclusively to the overweight.

At Downsize Fitness, which has locations in Dallas and Chicago, new members must be at least 50 pounds overweight to qualify for membership. Head trainers are specialists in weight loss and machines are made to handle bodies up to 600 pounds (the average equipment only supports 350).

Nutritional counseling is also provided, just like on the Biggest Loser show.

Wisniewski says people can lose 50 pounds in 6-12 months of training. He understands that unlike on the show where you live at the Biggest Loser ranch to train, the average person has a full-time job to maintain and a household to run.

The idea isn’t to create a retreat-based weight loss center, but a more welcoming environment where looks don’t play a part in how hard you train.

One member loves the comrade he finds at Downsize Fitness saying, “We’re all in the same boat. We’re all moving in the same direction.”

Gary Liguori, an expert in exercise science with the American College of Sports Medicine, remarks that the overweight have a history of failing to lose pounds because of being self-conscious at regular gyms.

The behavioral approach at the core of Downsize Fitness removes the stigma heavier members often face, giving them a better advantage to succeed on their weight loss journey.