These gyms and studios also typically employ staff that specialize in working with overweight and obese people. “At traditional gyms, the instructors usually say things like ‘bikini season is coming,’” says Greene. “But that kind of fearful warning isn’t the right motivation for our clients. Our instructors only use positive encouragement.” 

The trainers at both Body Xchange and Downsize Fitness also check in with members when they miss a few workouts. “Staying committed is my battle, so it’s helpful to have someone hold you accountable,” says Hickey.

Another plus is that trainers tailor their workouts for clients with weight-related conditions, such as plantar fasciitis and arthritis (adults with arthritis have an average rate of obesity that is 54 percent higher than obese adults without the condition). “That’s important for injury prevention,” says Housle. “A trainer should show you how to adapt a move so that it doesn’t apply as much pressure on the affected area.”

For instance, doing a standing push-up against the wall instead of on the floor can relieve the strain on hands, elbows and shoulders.

Yoga instructor Hayes says he often modifies moves to protect joints. “Many of my students have arthritis,” he says. “So instead of jumping right into a pose, we spent time warming up the body and work on strengthening the muscles around joints, such as the knee.”

Worth the Cost

The specialized concept is generating interest. “The response to Body Xchange has been overwhelming,” says Greene “We’ve added classes and adventures, like group hikes and bike outings.”

In most cases, the fees are equivalent with a traditional boutique gym or studio. A monthly membership to Downsize Fitness starts at $65; an all-inclusive one, which includes group classes and a personal trainer for each visit, costs $300 per month. The price for four classes at Buddha Body Yoga is $150.

Members say the cost is well worth it. “Joining Downsize Fitness has made a huge difference,” says Hickey. She used to skip the gym when her RA flared, but now her trainer decreases the intensity and modifies exercises so that she can stay active during flares. 

“When I wake up stiff and sore because of my arthritis, I’m able to move around because my legs and core are stronger,” she says. “And I have more energy overall.” 

But the best part, says Hickey, is her newfound commitment to fitness. “Exercise is a part of my life now.”