Fitness centers accommodate overweight exercisers

fitness girlIt’s February. Have you dropped your gym membership yet? Like the swallows returning to Capistrano, you can practically set your calendar by the surge of gym-goers that starts on January 2 and usually ebbs to a trickle by Valentine’s Day.

There’s one demographic, however, that is not only holding steady but is increasing, and savvy fitness entrepreneurs are taking advantage of the market: obese exercisers. Many of these potential customers are determined to get healthy and lose weight but are intimidated by a traditional gym atmosphere. As such, enterprising owners are opening gyms and facilities that are “plus size only” so exercisers can work out in a nonjudgmental atmosphere.

In Toronto, the beautifully named Yoga for Round Bodies does exactly as its name says. Yoga aficionados who are not the slender sylphs of traditional yoga are welcome here, and the classes cater to their specific needs. Other gyms such as Vancouver’s Body Exchange and Downsize Fitness either discourage or actively turn away customers who have a normal BMI.

Getting fit is for all body types. It’s a shame that far too many would-be gym-goers are made to feel uncomfortable and out of place in a health club or fitness center because of their weight. Kudos to entrepreneurs who see a potential market niche in the $22 billion US fitness industry and set out to meet a customer’s needs.

There’s another reason it could be a good bet for the industry to cater to the overweight crowd. While the “resolution crowd” is a common occurrence at the beginning of each year, attrition is one of the top issues the industry faces, according to First Research. Around 45 percent of new members don’t renew, according to industry statistics. This requires a steep investment in marketing to overcome the falloff in memberships. It may be that given the right atmosphere and the proper training, overweight customers will become more dedicated exercisers than the usual crowd that starts in January and quits in February.

What about you? Have you ever felt bad about going to a gym because of a competitive or otherwise judgmental atmosphere?

Patrice Sarath

Patrice Sarath is a writer and editor for First Research, covering the health care, insurance, and construction industries.

Read more articles by Patrice Sarath.

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