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Are Gyms Lying to You for Money?


Fitness culture and gym memberships are two things that have spiked in the last fifty years. Gymnasiums were originally only used by those who were ultra-fit, while normal people took their fitness into their own hands, by buying equipment or exercising outside. Gyms, however, like most institutions that make money, have expanded and become overly advertised. It seems as though just about everyone has been a member of a gym at some point in their lives.  


The Luxury Gyms


Even hotels usually provide a gym, since self-proclaimed, “gym-rats” can't skip a day of working out, even when they’re on vacation. Gym membership prices fall along a wide range, depending on the amenities provided. Gyms range from the less expensive facilities with a couple of rooms and a few basic machines, to lavish gym clubs with luxurious amenities. Often, the latter provides, “free” amenities such as workout classes, spas, and juice bars. 


So how do these luxurious gyms make money with all the expensive amenities? The trick is to make people believe they are less fit than they are, so they will keep their membership and pay for extra services. Gyms make money off people that believe they need to work out.


Body Shaming is Still a Thing?


Fat-shaming” has been a word that we hear more and more, with the popularization of the phrase only in recent years. Fat shaming may sound like something that has been overly sensitized for someone without weight issues. On the contrary, fat shaming is debilitating to those with weight insecurities. 


Oddly enough, during the Renaissance period beginning in the 14th century, plus-sized women were considered the most desirable and beautiful. So what exactly changed?  Fatphobia has ties to racism, as many historians believe that an overweight figure was associated with certain races, which was considered undesirable at the time. For white Europeans to prove their superiority, they began to practice self-control to a fault. In short, fat shaming was created as a form of oppression, changing the beauty standard by marginalizing certain groups. 

The Propaganda 


Today, this beauty standard has become a money-maker for gyms. Have you ever seen a gym advertisement that says something like, “Are you sick of feeling unfit or unattractive? Then join our gym!” This kind of advertisement shows that gyms profit off insecurities that they know a large percentage of the population feels. This kind of advertising also targets women over men, which further marginalizes women in a society where women are already secondary. This reinforces the negative way many women see themselves. 


Gyms sell memberships using fear-based marketing, the same way that many health food companies threaten consumers with diseases and other horrible outcomes if one do not choose to eat their food. 


Because people are shown so many advertisements each day, the ones that stand out more tend to produce an emotional response. Avoiding bad outcomes is a survival instinct in human nature, therefore using future customers' pain points is sure to bring in revenue, but is it ethical? There is ample research that shows that these types of advertisements show overly thin or highly fit people as the standard of what people should look like. These unrealistic images lead to anxiety and stress in people who might be perfectly healthy but don’t necessarily look like the advertisement.


Once gyms gain a new member, how do they keep them? This is when gyms begin to use judgment and ostracization to get people to stay or spend more money on state-of-the-art amenities such as personal trainers. After all, if everyone viewed themselves as perfect, gyms would have no clientele. One way that gyms do this is by offering a free, full-body assessment. 


It is claimed that gyms do this so that people may understand their starting point when beginning their fitness journey. Realistically, this fitness assessment can dramatize one’s current starting point and make them feel much more unhealthy than they are. Many perfectly fit people are told that they fall into the obese range on these warped tests. So how do gyms get away with this? They use a manipulative scale and the dreaded BMI, Body Mass index. 


BMI…Not a Perfect Measure


Reputable fitness doctors and scientists have long debunked the myth of the BMI. It is found to incorrectly place people into categories where they do not belong. Doctor, Jeff Plasschaert of the University of Florida Health, stated, “You can have an individual that’s 250 pounds but all muscle and their BMI would put them into the extremely obese category, and the problem is that BMI just goes by height and weight.” These assessments are perfect for gyms that want to make money. It is easy to manipulate data to scare people into buying a personal trainer or spending money on other amenities. 


The Danger of Using the Term “Skinny Fat”


The phrase, “skinny fat” has been a home run for gyms trying to retain memberships. The idea of being, “skinny-fat” means that a person outwardly looks skinny, but really the fat is hiding within the body, and can only be discovered by testing one's body fat percentage on a scale. This phrase gives gyms the ability to reason, “You need to keep working out if you don't want to be fat on the inside.” Many of the high-end gyms offer a private, full-body fitness assessment. They use it to tell healthy women that they should lose weight. This can lead to many negative outcomes, such as eating disorders and over-exercising.

Training the “Whole” Person


Gyms that care about their clients beyond their own financial gain should make some big changes to their fitness assessments. They should analyze full body and overall fitness-oriented results, rather than relying on a one size fits all approach. It is important to look beyond variables like fat percentage and muscle mass. Everyone has different fitness goals, therefore using trainers to conduct personal conversations can be much more beneficial for someone looking to work on their fitness. Trainers should be educated on how to have productive conversations and ask important questions to their clients. They should start by finding out what the client feels they need to work on and where they would like to improve. 


No one knows a person’s body better than the person and clients should be able to articulate and feel comfortable sharing their fitness goals freely. Gyms can increase their membership by focusing on fitness beyond aesthetics. Focusing on mental peace and happiness often encourages people to work out. In the end, gyms should try to make their profits from customers who are working on their overall fitness, rather than feeling the pressure to spend money on the unattainable perfect body.

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