Monday, September 22, 2008

The Women's Club, Missoula, Montana

The Women's Club comes recommended by Patia Stephens, who mentioned having a wonderful gym on the original Shapely Prose thread.

The Women's Club in Missoula, Montana, is a long-standing, full-service gym with weights, cardio equipment, a pool, jacuzzi, saunas and numerous exercise classes, including water aerobics. It provides a wonderfully supportive environment for women of ALL ages, sizes and abilities. As a member for the last eight months, I have grown so fond of this place. My workout partner and I are both fat chicks with attitude and we feel so welcome at the Women's Club. The desk staff and instructors are friendly and happy. Membership costs are reasonable. Massages and a menu of salon services are also available. My only regret about the Women's Club is that I didn't join sooner!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Qi Kinesis, Denver, Colorado

Rebecca recommended this gym in the original Shapely Prose thread, and has permitted us to repost her comments here:

"I recently joined the little gym a few blocks from my house ... [because] it was the one I was most likely to go to. It’s a bit pricey, but I figured that not having a car and thus not paying exorbitant gas prices, I could afford it. And after years at various 24 Hour Fitnesses and the like, I have to say, I am COMPLETELY in love. Here’s why:

* When I first came in, the adorable gayboy receptionist eagerly gave me a tour of the facilities, enthusiastically pointed out all the state of the art equipment, talked about how much fun it was to use, described how different machines might work for people with different fitness goals, even gushed about how neat their drinking fountain is (it is pretty cool), made a few comments about strength training and endurance, but never ONCE mentioned weight loss.

* Within three days of going, I no longer needed to show my membership card because all the employees recognized and greeted me. Not one has ever mentioned weight loss.

* The exercise bikes have a cool video-game setting where you can race the computer, your friends, or other people in the gym on a variety of virtual bike trails, or even set it up to play a sort of fantasy-tag game where you chase flying dragons around on your bike! I think this is super neat, because I really like the workout I get from riding the bike but usually can’t stick with it for long because I get so bored by the repetitive pedaling in place.

* In my two weeks there, I have seen a few of the young, thin, muscular, tightly-clothed “gym bunny” body-types that make up the majority of 24 Hour and the college Rec Centers’ population - however, I have also an even greater number of people with a diverse range of body shapes and sizes, not to mention genders, ethnicities, and apparent sexual orientations. And everybody, regardless of body type, seems focused on their workout rather than on how they look.

* There are mirrors in the dressing room but not anywhere in the workout spaces. I know that looking at yourself in the mirror can be helpful for checking your posture and positioning, but I still feel like this was a positive design choice - for me, at least, because I often find looking at myself in the mirror while working out extremely distracting. (Because I’m so damn sexy, of course.)

* I have not seen one single scale anywhere in the building.

* One of the biggest differences from 24 Hour, where they were always trying to sell me stuff (personal training sessions, vitamins, weight loss ’supplements’, energy drinks, yadda yadda yadda): My gym, which I don’t think has any ‘products’ for sale even if I wanted them, has recently started laying out a great big tray of delicious fresh fruit for members to munch on. That’s right, my *gym* wants to GIVE me FOOD for FREE.

I haven’t taken any of the classes yet because they haven’t fit with my schedule, but I look forward to it. I am seriously considering making a permanent move to this neighborhood largely because I am so in love with this gym! It could only be more perfect if it had a pool…

In any case, it just gives a little bit of hope that a No Bullshit Gym is a viable business possibility. :-)


The gym is called Qi Kinesis - it’s in Denver. Their website is: . I just noticed that one of the pictures on the front page is of a woman measuring herself with a measuring tape - ick. But on the other hand, I also just came across these blurbs:

Jessica [the yoga instructor] has been practicing Iyengar-style yoga for fifteen years and teaching for four years in the Denver area as a certified yoga instructor. She believes that yoga should be accessible to all people regardless of body-type and level of athleticism, and age.


Qi’s Kinesis is the ultimate in training for people in wheelchairs with almost any type of disability! Great for staying fit for everyday life or for the disabled athlete. From just the daily pushing of your chair or a simple transfer to wheelchair racing, handcycling, sled hockey, skiing, basketball, softball, rugby, and other sports.

In addition to Kinesis, Qi also offers a full line of Technogym’s premium line of machines for training the upper body. Qi’s staff and personal trainers are committed to making a difference in your fitness levels no matter what your abilities.

And that info is fairly prominently displayed on the site, so that’s neat too."

Blog News and Review Guidelines

First, the news: I'd like to welcome nightgigjo on board as co-moderator of this blog! That means that you can send reviews to either her @jo (at nightgig) dot com or to me @the dot bald dot soprano(at)gmail dot com.

Second: We're looking for more reviews!

If you're interested in writing a gym review for this blog, here are some guidelines you should be aware of:

The purpose of this blog is to help people find gyms that are welcoming to members who have widely different ability levels and body shapes. The corollary of this, of course, is that we also welcome reviews of gyms where you've had bad experiences as fat people/people who aren't exercising to lose weight. We welcome reviews from around the world; we will use keywords to sort them by country and city.

Be sure to include the following information in/with your review:
  • the name of the gym
  • the city/state/country that you're from
  • if it's a women-only gym, you should make that clear
  • be sure to tell us how we should credit you
Information that would be good to include:
  • -price per month
  • -information specifically on accessibility for people with disabilities
We look forward to hearing from you!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Alaska Club, Anchorage, Alaska

I belong to a fairly size-accepting gym in Anchorage - the Alaska Club. It's a local, spendy chain, but they do have a "comfort" guarantee: if a new member is uncomfortable during the first 90 days of membership, all dues paid to date are refunded on request and the member can get out of the contract with no further payment.

This guarantee was my reason for joining prior to my first triathlon in 2007. (Tri training is what *keeps* me going. Jayne Williams' "Slow Fat Triathlete" changed my life by showing me that I didn't have to wait to meet some arbitrary ideal before I was "allowed" to be active.)

I can't give a ringing endorsement of the gym because a lot of the classes and ads are geared toward the weight-loss crowd. That said, I've yet to have any of the staff say anything about my size or make assumptions about my training goals. Other patrons tend to mind their own business. Interactions have been standard requests to share the lane; I don't use gym equipment at peak times, so I have no idea how things work during the rush hour.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

No Boundaries running program, Carrboro, North Carolina

From Heather Valli:

Last March I joined the Carrboro, NC, No Boundaries running program. I was a size 2X who did not run. Four months later I was a size 2X who could run 5 kilometers (3.1 miles) in 40-45 minutes. Both I and my running coaches considered this a success. And tonight I'll be rejoining the program for the fall--something I've never done with any other exercise program.

The focus of NoBo is on starting, improving, and maintaining ones running, with as little pain and injury as possible. There are weekly running sessions (biweekly is an option in some locations), followed by seminars on topics such as safety and injury prevention. There was one nutrition seminar, but it was about eating to sustain a good running program rather than eating to lose weight--more about what to include in your meals than what to leave out.

Like most exercise programs, NoBo is as good as its leadership and the Carrboro NoBo program has terrific coaches. Some of the coaches are slender athletic types, and others, including one of the featured speakers at the post-run seminars, are somewhat larger. The larger speaker started with the inaugural, local NoBo course several years ago. She came to her presentation last spring with 10 or so half-marathon medals and said, essentially, "I am an athlete. Screw anyone who tells you you can't do this."

The classes are divided into coached groups according to self-assessed ability. If you discover you are faster or slower than your group you are free to move to another. There are coaches who cheerfully work with the slowest group--even if you have trouble walking (much less running) that first mile. If you are large and can run with the advanced group, you are welcome in the advanced group. As a non-runner I started out in the "beginning beginners" group, along with slender out-of-shape women, larger out-of-shape women, and women who were recovering from various injuries and health problems. When my shoes caused me to stop jogging and limp through the second half of the course on the first run, one of the coaches dropped back and walked me to the end of the route. When one of the other women had a bad health-issue day, one of the coaches dropped back and made sure she made it back to her car.

In my NoBo group many of the coaches and participants live in the community. So when I went out for solo practice runs, I'd occasionally meet these familiar, athletic people giving me a thumbs-up. It was extraordinary. I'd put on my running shoes in the morning and think, "I might meet someone I know. And they won't hoot at the fat woman bouncing along the sidewalk. They'll cheer me on. Day-um!" The summer high temperatures averaged around 95F in my area, and I kept up my summer running schedule of 2-3 miles, 2-3 times a week, for just about all of it. A significant amount of the credit for that goes to the support and encouragement of the NoBo group.

The store that sponsors NoBo also has supplies for large women. I needed size 40DD sports bras, and they had them in stock. I wanted sweat-wicking running shirts, and they had them in my size, out on the floor. There was no, "Well, we'd have to special order that size," "We keep those sizes in back," or "They just don't make that sort of thing in those sizes." I was treated like just another athlete who wanted to buy sports gear.

While this is not a program designed specifically for people of size, my experience with it was unreservedly positive. It was large-woman friendly, older-woman friendly, and even athletics-averse friendly. I'd highly recommend joining the Carrboro group. I can only hope the nation-wide version is as good.

A Short Editor's Note: According to the No Boundaries website, the program is also for people who want to be able to walk 5K.

Denman Fitness, Vancouver

And we have our first review! This comes from Arwen:

About two years ago my mom was told she was pre-diabetic. I'm a huge, huge exercise fan, but had found less time for myself after my kids came along. So I was looking for an excuse to get back into shape, and I told mom I'd go with her.

Although that's a rather loaded term, isn't it? My shape is roughly the same no matter what I do. I'm a series of well stuffed hourglasses in every direction: front, side, arms, legs ... even my face has a bit of a swoop. I am a fractal! )

We started at a Curves, a 15 minute walk away. By the end of the first year we were dialing it up a notch. Curves was big on food plans and goal weights and stuff like that were sort of tiresome to me. Weight loss was a big part of the discussion there. My mom was a bit worried about switching gyms: she was feeling too old and fractal shaped for one of the million glitzy spandex and meat market places.

But a friend of mine suggested her gym, - Denman Fitness - which was about a 20 minute walk in the other direction. She promised it wasn't "like that", and so we stuck our head in. We liked what we saw, and for the same cost monthly, got about a zillion more options and machines, and a lot less "weight loss for the holidays" strategies on the walls. Although there is one particular sign - showing the relative girths of Canadians as marked by cities on a belt, which I believe is supposed to make us proud. Vancouverites are slightly slimmer. Likely because we are not threatened by snow for 10 of 12 months. Other than that, all wall bumph is about training - heart rates and muscle stretches and injury prevention and our gym's squash team's acheivements. Plus the occasional motivational saying about making your life what you want it to be.

It's a serious gym. There are the weight lifters on the "Conditioning Floor" who are doing serious weight lifting in a terrarium of windows and mirrors. From where I tend to stay, on the cardio and basic circuit training floor, I can watch them below me and marvel; but not all of them are hardbodies. There's a wiry senior man who works out 5 days a week down there.

I never have felt out of place. There are seniors and fat people and folks from all sorts of economic strata, all working out together. One drawback: I do not think the gym is wheelchair accessible, or not obviously so, and it does not appear equipped to handle major challenges to mobility.

I've not yet taken a class. I keep meaning to, because that was one of the reasons to move gyms - the variety - but it hasn't been a scheduling option for me because I just go whenever I can. I can't speak to the HAES quality of the instructors.
I can say that the personal trainers have been unfailingly supportive. When we first came in, our trainer made a suggestion that "weight loss doesn't happen through exercise alone", but when I said weight loss wasn't a goal for me she just said okay, made a note, and moved on. Since then, I have never once had a person mention it to me, and all the encouragement I've been offered - and that is some serious encouragement - has been really positive of health and not weight loss goals.

A good example:

My mom, still her basic fractal shape but feeling much more flexible and strong, was stretching one day after her walk. She exclaimed proudly that she hadn't been able to stretch like that since her young adulthood. One of the trainers, not ours, grinned over at us from helping another client.

"Welcome back!" he said.

We both felt like a million bucks.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

An Introduction

This blog was inspired by the comment thread on this post about gyms over at Shapely Prose. Since various people asked about a blog for reviews of gyms from a fat acceptance or fat-friendly perspective, I decided to provide a space for such useful (and often hard to find) information.

I'm interested in reviews of gyms from all over (I'll give them a location-based keyword) which discuss, in addition to things like quality of equipment and classes, information on how people are treated by the staff --especially how fat people are treated, how open they are to a HAES philosophy about exercise (movement for fun rather than for weight loss), and the extent to which people are bombarded by weight-loss information and/or pressure.

If anyone is interested in co editing/moderating this blog with me, let me know @the dot bald dot soprano(at)gmail dot com