There’s a new gym in North Texas – but if you want to lift weights or use the treadmill at Downsize Fitness, you have to be at least 50 pounds overweight.
Kendall Schrantz is a fan – and a member.
The 24-year-old has struggled with her weight since she was in the second grade. The looks she got at other gyms made her uncomfortable.
But now she drives from her home in Flower Mound an hour away to Downsize in Fort Worth three times a week – just to exercise.
“It’s worth every single penny I paid for gas,” she said. “It’s worth the time I spend on the road, the miles.”
Downsize, which opened in Chicago, has locations in Fort Worth and Dallas. The gym says it eliminates the self-conscious and alienating atmosphere found at other fitness centers. Exercises and equipment are tailored to larger bodies.
Schrantz used to be a chronic gym quitter. She’d sign up, go once, and never return. The looks she got at other gyms made her uncomfortable.
“My thought on that is why are you looking at me when I got off of the couch, I got off of my bed and I’m actually doing something about it?” Schrantz said.
She began to tear up.
Gym members came to comfort Schrantz, who stretched after a workout atDownsize. They put their arms around her while she cried.
Here, members sweat together – and shed tears together.
“Be around for your grandkids”
Kishan Shah is the CEO of Downsize, which has hundreds of members across the U.S. They weigh anywhere from 200 to 700 pounds. Shah used to weigh 400 pounds and have a 62-inch waist. That’s more than five feet around. Today, he’s half that weight and always finds time for a yoga or cardio class in between business meetings.
“What we do is we focus on the individual with more than 50 pounds of weight to lose,” Shah says. “And if you ask that person why they want to get healthier, it’s not about looks. It’s about being able to get up off the floor, being able to keep up with your kids, fitting into an airplane seat, and really being able to be around for your grandkids.”
So instead of aiming for six-pack abs, trainers emphasize functional fitness in small classes.
The majority of trainers at Downsize were once considered obese.
“This is their passion, not their job,” Shah said.
Everything at Downsize is intended to make the gym a welcoming place for those who are overweight — even the equipment.
The stationary bikes, elliptical machines and treadmills all are specially designed for larger, heavier people. There’s thicker cushioning and wider seats. There are nutrition classes. Then there are the striking before and after pictures on the wall.
The idea is to make the gym a welcoming place. But can removing mirrors, tinting the windows and banning skinny people really help the overweight drop pounds?
Sizing up Downsize Fitness
He studies what motivates people to exercise. Baldwin points to a 2012 study that looked at what he calls “physique anxiety” among overweight people.
“So for those who have high levels of physique anxiety, they preferred to be around others who were also overweight and obese,” he says. “Whereas people with low levels of physique anxiety actually preferred the opposite. They preferred to be around people who were more fit.”
The idea of being surrounded by other plus-sized gym members doesn’t botherGolda Poretsky, a holistic health coach in New York. But she says she wouldn’t go to a gym called “Downsize Fitness.” She says any gym that boasts total pounds lost – 5,000 so far at Downsizes across the country – is selling a familiar message: Fat is bad.
“The problem is that places like this do well because fat is so stigmatized in our society, and there’s all this pressure to lose weight,” Poretsky said. “And to me it’s more of the same, ‘Oh, we can hide out while we lose weight until we become more societally acceptable.’ That doesn’t appeal to me in the least.”
But Poretsky does like the idea of having a strong support community, which Downsize is known for. Trainers often stay in touch with members the 23 hours outside of the gym – with text messages and Facebook posts to keep them accountable.
Kendall Schrantz says she’s already seeing results – a few inches off her waist – and she’s discovered a new passion.
“I love to run.”
And don’t worry — if she reaches her goal of dropping 50 pounds, Downsize says it won’t kick her out.