It’s hard enough some days to motivate oneself to get off the couch and head to the gym: what if you had to worry about being bullied and harassed by one of the staff personal trainers whenever you’re inside the facility? That’s what’s happening to Shayla and her husband. Now they want to be released from their contract, presumably so they can go to a different gym with fewer jerks on staff.
When they joined the gym––part of a small local chain––last August, Shayla and Mr. Shayla got a tour of the facility and a fitness evaluation from the personal trainers. These sessions are an orientation of sorts, but also a chance to sell new members on hiring a trainer. The first trainer they met really, really pushed training, and insulted the couple when they refused. Now he won’t leave Shayla alone to work out in peace.
Unsurprisingly, Shayla doesn’t want to go back. She writes:
My husband and I have struggled with our weight for years, and are both morbidly obese. In August, we decided to join a gym near us, [redacted] When you first sign up, they give you two sessions with a personal trainer. The first is to introduce you to the equipment, and the second is a fitness assessment.
Our first trainer, [D], tried to strong-arm us into paying for personal training sessions. When we told him we were just getting started and wanted to try exercising on our own first, he looked pointedly at our bellies and said “Obviously, what you have been doing so far isn’t working.”
Deeply offended, we asked for a different trainer for our second session. Our second trainer, [M], was wonderful. So we decided to stay.
After that, every single time [D] saw me in the gym, he would harass or intimidate me in some way. One time, he got on a treadmill right beside me and just kept looking pointedly between me and the numbers on my treadmill’s display. Several other times, he pointed me out to other members of the gym from across the room and they would laugh and make jokes. I spoke to a couple of other obese people I met at the gym, and they said they had had similar experiences with this guy.
The breaking point was when he stood next to a guy on a bike near me, and kept looking at me, making jokes. The guy looked over his shoulder at me, also laughing. Then D. walked over to me, said “How’re you doin,” laughed, and went back to the other guy. They both started laughing really loudly at that point. I got my husband off of his bike, and we both left. I have not gone back since.
I tried talking to the manager. I would call and call, and the desk clerk would promise she’d call back, and she never did. Finally, I told the desk clerk that I would just hold. Almost half an hour later, [E] finally picked up. I told her about the issues I had been having with this trainer, and she said she’d talk to him. I told her I wanted out of my contract, because I did not feel safe in their gym.
When I joined, it was with a reasonable expectation of certain standards and conditions. Those expectations included at minimum, a supportive and positive environment in which to pursue a healthy activity. I did not expect the hostile environment he created for me. As a fat person, I expect a certain amount of harassment, abuse, and humiliation in public places. I do not expect that sort of behavior at the gym where I pay to get myself in better shape.
It is my opinion that providing such a horrible environment for me was a breach of contract on THEIR part. [E] refuses to let me out of my contract. I spoke to [L] in their corporate office, and she said that her “supervisor” also declined my request to end my contract. I am forced to watch them deduct money from my credit card each month (a portion of which, naturally, goes to my abuser), with no recourse until my contract expires.
I strongly recommend that anyone above 25% body fat look anywhere else for their fitness needs. [redacted] is not a safe place for people above that weight.
I’ve belonged to or visited a lot of gyms while fat, and have never encountered this kind of treatment. (At least, not to my face. I’m not that naive.) The problem is this: does the contract guarantee members the right to a respectful, harassment-free facility free of douchey trainers? Maybe not in those words, but it’s still a good idea to go back to the contract.
The couple could try filing chargebacks on their monthly membership fees, but that will get tiresome and the gym will only send them to collections. Maybe a better idea would be to get other overweight members who this trainer has harassed to complain to management, and make the chain realize that such treatment is truly unacceptable.
Unless the gym’s goal is to drive people out of the building while still collecting dues, they should realize that the point of a fitness facility should be to help people achieve their fitness goals, not to sell them personal training sessions. Emphasis on the “should,” of course.