Gyms can be intimidating. All those beautiful people, hard-core exercisers, pushy salespeople and that complicated equipment can send the average mortal running right back to the couch. But for those who bring with them an extra 100 pounds, gyms are downright terrifying.
"I don't want to be in a gym where everyone is in significantly better shape," said Ron Lynch, a 59-year-old insurance executive from Winter Springs. "I'm embarrassed."
Recognizing that gym aversion is common among those who can most benefit from regular exercise, Winter Park trainer Rosemarie "Bud" Seaman, has created a gym for the heavyset. At her Ultimate Fitness, all machines are designed to handle at least 350 pounds. Her massage table can hold up to 700 pounds. And, she offers gym classes exclusively for plus-size participants.
"These are people who had trouble coming into a gym; they felt shame and guilt," she said. "They were so fearful of what others might say, or that others would stare."
Lynch, who has been attending Seaman's class for a year, tried traditional gyms. "In spin class or zumba, I couldn't keep up. That made me not want to come back," said Lynch, who once weighed 330 pounds.
He also had trouble fitting into the equipment and had to force himself between the handles. "I was afraid people would see me not fitting."
At Seaman's gym, Lynch not only fits in, but he also fits.
"When they can't get into a machine or worry that the [treadmill] belt will break, that just feeds into the whole problem," said Seaman.
Although one in four Americans is obese (and 26.6 percent of Floridians), few gyms offer programs specifically for this population, said Justin Hazlett. He worked for the nation's top big-box gyms before helping to launch a "gym for the fat not fit."
Downsize Fitness opened in Chicago in 2011, and a second location opened in Dallas last fall. Members must need to lose 50 pounds or more to join.
The company is looking to add another gym in New York, and Orlando is on the short list, said Hazlett, who heads business development for the new concept gym. "We get a ton of requests from Orlando."
Must be obese
To make the cut for Ultimate Fitness' exercise class, clients must be obese or morbidly obese. "Most clients need to lose 50 to 150 pounds," Seaman said.
Seaman records clients' body composition and weight weekly. At each class, participants do 30 minutes of cardio work and 30 minutes of weight training.
"I think the class is amazing," said Sharon Krzyzanowski, clinical coordinator for the bariatric-surgery program at Florida Hospital Celebration, where she counsels obese patients about their lifestyles. "I love the concept. It puts people on the same level."
Krzyzanowski hadn't before heard of a gym dedicated to the obese, but she's familiar with gym resistance.
"Three out of four patients I see at the center avoid the gym," she said. "They feel embarrassed in front of others, particularly those women in tight little outfits and men in muscle shirts."
Add to that the worry that they can't do what others do because they quickly get short of breath or have joint pain, and they stay away, she said.
That's a shame because exercise is especially important for this population. "It can help boost metabolism, aid and help maintain weight loss, and lift depression," she said.