In something that is truly unusual for this feature, Jeff’s Jabs this week will not be focusing on video games.


Through GameOn, I have recently got a good insight into an interesting issue. A fitness club in Vancouver called Body Exchange has instituted a policy to focus entirely on a plus-size clientele; a decision that has sent many members of the fitness community into an uproar.

It’s not uncommon for gyms to have a specific focus. True Mentality Boot Camp out of Acton, Ontario focuses on a specific person’s exercise goals and will strive to achieve those, catering their work-outs to those achievements.

While that may seem like the goal of any gym, realize that many gyms will simply accept your membership fees, give you a tour of the equipment and let you decide what workouts you are going to do. True Mentality Boot Camp in Acton, Ontario starts from day one catering your program to your needs. This doesn’t make your gym experience free-roaming for the do-it-yourselfer, but is similar to what would happen if you hired a personal trainer. Your goals are central, but your methods of how you get there are completely given to you by the bootcamp.

Then you have well-known fitness center Curves, with locations all across Canada and the United States. The goal of Curves is to serve a woman-only clientele, in order to provide a safe work-out environment for women who are tired of leers and jeers from men.

While I am oversimplifying Curves mission statement here, a lot of the women I know that have gone to Curves have gone specifically for that reason. Curves has many other benefits going for it besides catering to the female persuasion, like timely programs you can manage in the middle of your workday, diet programs and complete body workouts. However, as long as I have known about Curves, I have known it as a female-only location through advertising and word of mouth.

Then you have gyms that cater to specific kinds of work-outs. like STG Strength and Power in Brant County, Ontario. They are a private Athletic Club and they offer one-on-one personal training. Mike Petrella is the owner of STG Strength and Power. He says the focus of their programs is to specialize in intensity-based training to maximize results in minimum time.

“STG is known for the style of training that we do, which is intensity based training and we believe in finding ways to make exercise harder. Because it’s harder, it has to be brief and it has to be fairly infrequent,” Petrella said. “A lot of people that I train that are over 35 years old, I only see them about once a week and that’s about the best I can get them in terms of results. If I were to see them two or three times a week, they don’t necessarily get stronger at a faster pace.”

 This is not everyone’s cup of tea, but if you have the time to commit to it and are serious about getting in top physical shape, there’s no denying STG’s results.

Five of STG’s members recently competed at the CPF Canadian Nationals. All five won in their age and weight class and one of their lifters placed second for best male lifter in the whole event.  It goes to show that the training these athletes have went through has helped shape them as skilled competitors, regardless of age, sex or body weight.
But now, Body Exchange has come out with their philosophy, which focuses on the plus-sized clientele. What drives members of the fitness community insane is the discussion in the media that Body Exchange is turning away skinny or fit people, or as the media puts it, the gym has placed a ban on skinny people.
It that label 100 percent correct? No, at least not according to Body Exchange’s CEO Louise Green.
“I started to do some market research on what was available for a plus-size demographic to get active and healthy and I really wasn’t coming up with much that really was exclusive to this demographic. So I started to put together a vision to create a business,” Green said.
Green is baffled by the uproar that has been created by Body Exchange’s focus, but blames a lot of the negative press on perception.
“Unfortunately, I don’t think that the focus has been that it’s for plus-size people exclusively. I think what this has turned into is that it’s discriminatory for thinner women,” Green said. “It’s ironic, because you see senior fitness classes available and we don’t hear that they are discriminating against young people. But when you talk about body size, it definitely hits a nerve with people.”
This isn’t the first time the focus of a fitness program was to help plus-size patrons get in shape. Look at programs like the Biggest Loser, an all-intensity reality show that focuses on achieving results with people that are borderline obese and beyond.
Trainers like Bob Harper and Jillian Michaels were extremely good at showing that just because a fitness program caters to the overweight, it doesn’t mean that it is any less intensity than your usual work-out. In fact, all of the people on that show can probably say that they have gone above and beyond the efforts of your weekend warriors at the gym.
The main issue that members of the fitness community are seeing with this program is the restriction on skinny people and its effect on the end goal of patrons.  Mike Petrella of STG Strength and Power was surprised to hear that a fitness club would cater to a plus-size clientele only.
“I just want to know what happens if one of their (Body Exchange’s) members does what’s necessary to get into shape. Do they kick them out?” Petrella asks. “I just happen to be the exact opposite end of the spectrum. She has an open gym that caters to those overweight. I have a private gym that demands hard work and real differences in people.”

So what is the right answer for a work-out club? Or is there really one answer that fits everyone?

The fact is, a person is going to choose a gym that works best for them in the long-run. I know from my own experience that I have gone to six different gyms in my life time and all of them have offered different opportunities. Some had a better focus on cardio, while one was stronger for power lifting and free weights. One of the gyms  I went to even had their own basketball court and pool, creating entirely different dynamics to exercise programs.

At different phases of my life, I have had a need for different styles of programs. When I was 270 pounds in my early years of college and was trying to lose a lot of weight fast, I went with a program that combined high-intensity work-outs with large amounts of cardio, along with changing my diet outside of the gym.

A year and a half and 70 pounds later, I was able to change my program. Weight loss was no longer the main goal, but maintenance was. So my focus shifted to lighter work-outs with the same amount of cardio.

In my waning days in Ontario, I cracked my elbow and wrist in a game of baseball, bringing my work-out routine to a halt and unfortunately my physical labour to an end. Unfortunately, my diet did not change to reflect this change in physical activity. 

Add in a move across the country and switching to a desk job and the pounds just started to roll in. At this point in my life, I needed to start a weight loss program similar to before, but less intensity, due to my right arm never being entirely the same. I found that through World Gym and a change in diet, which brought me to the best shape in my life. I was 210 pounds, little fat and in great physical condition. I was working out twice a day, five days a week at the gym and at home. I was living life.

The latest change in my life I am still attempting to master. Last year, I was diagnosed with a mild case of sciatica, if you can call blinding lower back pain mild. If you don’t know what Sciatica is, it refers to pain, weakness, numbness, or tingling in the leg that is caused by injury or pressure on the sciatic nerve, one of the major nerve clusters in the human body.

Sciatica is hard to predict, as not one program can help you work with it. What doesn’t cause pain one day may cause issues the next. This can make working out at a gym or at home very frustrating and difficult to get a proper rhythm down.

The point of this story is that I have experienced it all. I know what its like to be the person dedicated to their routine as much  as it feels like to be the roly-poly guy walking into the gym. It can be daunting going into the fit man’s kingdom when you are carrying a spare tire around, but I know how important it is to be there.

The fact is, I wouldn’ have discovered the tricks and techniques that helped me go from 270 pounds to 200 pounds in a year and a half if I didn’t have the advice and motivation from fit people in my life.

I can understand the intent and purpose of creating a gym like Body Exchange to provide a safe haven for plus-size athletes without a comfort zone while working out. You want that sense of security and to avoid feeling judged by the skinny people working out around you. You can also feel like a gym is not an inclusive environment and that all eyes are on you the entire time you are on the treadmill.

At the same time, I know that a gym works best as a seperation from your norm as a chance for you to feed off the energies of your environment, with the support of other people or trainers working out around you. Everyone in that gym has the same goal; to get healthier than they are now. There is no one frowning on what you are attempting to do. And if they are, simply tell one of the gym’s organizers or staff and they are sure to deal with the problem.

The fact is, everyone has their own goals and ambitions that they bring into their workout routine. Fitness is a noble ambition and one some people have to strive for a lot harder than others.

My goal is to get under 200 pounds in weight for the first time in 10 years. When I do decide to fully commit to that goal and give it my all, I will be working out at home and I will go to a gym. A regular gym.

And I am sure that when I get there, I will find people like Kasia Sitarz of True Mentality, Mike Petrella of STG Strength and Power and Louise Green of the Body Exchange, ready to motivate me and help me get there.



the author

Jeff Johnson is a Canadian journalist and the host of GameOn here at GameNTrain. He was born in Ontario, but moved to British Columbia to learn what it's like to be attacked by deer on a regular basis. If you've got an idea for a feature story on GameOn or would like to be featured as a contibutor, simply e-mail You can also find Jeff on Google+ at