I don't want to pre-clean for the cleaning lady, either
April 11, 2012 11:19 AM   Subscribe

I am a chubby (5'6", sz 14-16), out-of-shape lady living in thin-and-super-fit New York City. I want to lose weight and get back in shape, and I would like to do that by going to exercise classes — zumba, yoga, spinning, pilates, boxing, whatever — but I don't want to go to a class that's going to make me feel like crap about my weight.

Here's the thing: whenever I've gone to one of these classes — even the ones that claim to be "judgment-free" or "open to all levels" and the like — I'm the heaviest and most out-of-shape person there by orders of magnitude. I get looks. There are whispers. This is not in my head.

Where in Manhattan can I find beginner-level, instructor-lead group classes where I won't feel like I have to get in shape in order to get in shape? (My dream scenario would be a class called something like Fat Lady Pilates, but that seems unlikely.) Bonus points if the studio/gym is in midtown or lower.

Please don't tell me that I'm beautiful or that I should get over my self-consciousness and those other ladies should shove it. I know all that. I am looking for alternatives, not coping mechanisms. Thank you!
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (37 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Rochelle Rice is well-known for running all-size-inclusive exercise courses in New York, including classes called stuff like "Plus Size Yoga" and "Plus Size Pilates."

Also, local YWCA exercise classes are going to feature a lot more age and shape diversity than classes at for-profit gyms.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:23 AM on April 11, 2012 [6 favorites]

I got to NYSC and I really think it's not judgemental at all. I'm not fit by any means and I mesh right in to the Zumba, Step and Stength Training classes.

You can get a free pass and you should try the Thursday night Zumba class at 94th & Bway. There are all shape and sizes in this class and everyone has lots of fun.
posted by duddes02 at 11:27 AM on April 11, 2012

I think that kind of judgmental attitude is endemic to gym culture in general but I've found that community centers tend to attract people who don't buy into the whole "fitness as a lifestyle" thing but rather want to exercise with emphasize on health, not vanity. Sidhedevil's YWCA recommendation is a good example.

Good luck!
posted by loquat at 11:27 AM on April 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Also, local YWCA exercise classes are going to feature a lot more age and shape diversity than classes at for-profit gyms.

I used to go to the really great YMCA on 14th just west of 6th, and can attest to this. The Y is very egalitarian.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 11:28 AM on April 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

I was just coming to recommend Rochelle Rice - I've taken classes with her on and off for something like six years, and she's great. Honestly, at your size, you'd be one of the smaller people in the group, but it winds up not being an issue very quickly - she's great at offering options for people at every shape and size and fitness level during the class, so you can always work at your best level/pace.
posted by Neely O'Hara at 11:35 AM on April 11, 2012

I've been meaning to try one of Megan Garcia's Megayoga classes for ages. There's a Megayoga DVD of one class with her real students if you wanted to check out what it looks like in advance. (And if you go, you should totally MeMail me and let me know how it is!)

You also might want to check out the Fit Fatties forum. It's just getting off the ground, but there might be people there who have more suggestions.

Good luck!
posted by keever at 11:36 AM on April 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

You might gets some leads here:

NYT, "Striking a Pose for Girth"

Mega Yoga

Buddha Body Yoga
posted by Corvid at 11:43 AM on April 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

I am also a plus-sized lady living in NYC and want to start exercising again but have not gone to gyms for exactly the reasons you cite. I will go to Rochelle Rice classes with you. MeMail me if you want to go together. (Thanks Sidhedevil - her classes look great!)
posted by bedhead at 11:58 AM on April 11, 2012 [21 favorites]

One of the biggest problems with attempting self-improvement in a public place is knowing that some people will judge you negatively. You can't win with these people; if you don't try, you get judged for not trying, and if you do try, you get judged for not succeeding yet.

Assuming you don't want to take the approach of sucking it up and growing a thick skin (always helpful in Manhattan anyway), taking bedhead up on her offer is a great place to start.
posted by davejay at 12:10 PM on April 11, 2012 [3 favorites]

If by any chance you're willing to make the trek to Brooklyn twice a week, I run a free twice-weekly evening outdoor fitness boot-camp in Carroll Gardens all summer long, open to anyone who can run a mile continuously in under 10 minutes. We have participants of all shapes and sizes, and there's absolutely no judgment, just agony. Opening day is May 1st; MeMail me if you're interested.
posted by saladin at 12:13 PM on April 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

I am the fattest person at my gym, and I deal with the stares and disgust by sort of reveling in ruining the beautiful people's gym experience. There they are, all lean and stylish, and they have to look at my slovenly form while I get to look at them. Hohoho, pretty people! I'm in ur gym, screwing up ur matchless vista.

It might help you in connection with the helpful ideas that everyone else has.
posted by winna at 12:44 PM on April 11, 2012 [43 favorites]

There might be options outside the box. I remember hating the peer pressure to be thin in dance classes, so I opted to be the only girl in martial arts. Belly-dancing might be a fun option too.
posted by mirileh at 12:55 PM on April 11, 2012

Are you sure there are whispers? Are you sure they're about you? When I was new to exercise, I was certain that I stuck out like a sore thumb and that everyone was watching me. After all, it's what I did to them. I watched and judged people too, especially beautiful skinny women. I assumed that the attention required to maintain such a fabulous body implied that they were insecure and that they in turned judged me negatively, since that's what insecure people do. Circular.

Yet after a month or two of a gym routine (embarrassing myself more often at the water fountain than on the jerkiest of fat-jiggling machines), I found myself confident in the gym. I then realized I was not a blip on a skinny person's radar, a jerk's radar, or even fellow big people's radars.

Seriously, nobody is looking at you. Just go to a Y. Hell, go to the fancy gyms. Everyone there is even more focused on themselves at the exclusion of everyone else. What helped me most was hiring a personal trainer and having them come to sessions with me. I was more focused on not disappointing the guy I paid $100 to kick my ass than on the other women around me. (And yes, I dragged him to Zumba. No, he did not complain.)

You just need practice. Suck it up and go to the one most convenient to you. Your self esteem is not an excuse. It's an obstacle.
posted by theraflu at 1:23 PM on April 11, 2012 [4 favorites]

It's not for everyone, but I used to do bikram yoga and there were people of all sizes and shapes in that class. The temperature/humidity in the room, while sometimes hellish, makes it so that everyone is more focused on that and doing the poses than anything else. Also, everyone looks like crap after the class (even if you feel pretty good!) so no one is paying attention then either.

At the studio where I went you could go to any class, regardless of skill level, and the instructor just tells beginners and more advanced how to modify poses. I think that is how most studios do it.
posted by fromageball at 1:42 PM on April 11, 2012

i do crossfit in midtown. our box is incredibly funny and diverse. i started crossfit a year ago around a size 14 at 5'4. no one judged me, nor did i even FEEL that judging. we have members of many sizes, ages, etc. i'm now a trainer there as well. one of the things that i liked at the beginning my crossfit journey is that everyone is SO into their own workout, they're not paying any attention to you -- especially what you look like. any attention paid to you is positive and helping you get through those last reps.

if you think it might be something you'd want to try, memail me and give you the details.
posted by thatgirld at 1:46 PM on April 11, 2012

er... funny = fun. i mean, we're funny people but...
posted by thatgirld at 1:47 PM on April 11, 2012

I do not live in New York, but have encountered what you talk about. Professional gyms are the worst at this, though of course not all have that attitude.

Currently I go to an excellent gym that's run out of local hospital. The word "gym" isn't in its name, it's called a "Wellness Center" and operates as part of the hospital's physical therapy program. The staff is excellent, very friendly and helpful, with zero attitude from any of them, although they all have stereotypical gym type hardbodies.

It should be noted that the entire gym/physical therapy department is run by an absolutely incredible registered nurse, not a trainer. I think this helps weed out the gym rat attitude and establish that the gym is there to help people, anyway it can.

So look for community center or hospital program that focuses on health, not the gym. Also look into swimming, it's a great total body workout that's easy on the joints.

Good luck!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:52 PM on April 11, 2012 [3 favorites]

theraflu might be right that "nobody is looking at you." But honestly, as a skinny, moderately fit guy, I do notice when someone who's "the most out-of-shape person there by orders of magnitude" comes to the gym. And I do judge, but - really - in a positive way. I think that it's great that they are doing something that is physically and possibly emotionally difficult.

I also worried about being the skinny guy lifting 100 lb weights next to the hulking guys lifting 400. I've never been laughed at, even the (not infrequent) times that I've gotten trapped under a bar and had to yell for help.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 2:01 PM on April 11, 2012 [3 favorites]

I would second or third the Y and also the aquafit sort of classes.

Honestly I live in NYC and I'm going to say just also start walking EVERYWHERE.

Movie 30 blocks away, walk there.

But for least gym judgement definitely the Y.

Bikram is crazy and intense but maybe not to start with.

In the meantime, even though it's not what you asked, try to walk 30 blocks a day. It's easy in nyc and there's always something to look at (dogs, construction, storefronts, chaos etc). Meanwhile, no one is looking at you!
posted by bquarters at 2:02 PM on April 11, 2012 [3 favorites]

I don't have any experience in NYC but I love the Y (everywhere I've used it, currently in Chicago) for exactly this reason.
posted by pullayup at 2:32 PM on April 11, 2012

Just wanted to add: my above comment comes from experience. DC's no NYC, but I was a member for quite some time at a flashy, expensive, Lululemon-loving "lifestyle fitness club". I was totally invisible among the beautiful, hard-bodied men and women. The only thing that finally got me over my fear of exercising in public was prioritizing convenience over comfort. I never would have been able to keep going to classes, even the safest of classes designed and held for especially fat folks, if they didn't take place right around the corner from my apartment. I strongly urge you to select what's closest to you rather than what scares you the least. If you have to trek to get there once you're over the fear (and you will get over it once you go a few times), you'll never maintain the routine.
posted by theraflu at 2:56 PM on April 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Coming in to second bquarters on the walking suggestion and to wish you luck with your classes. I'm glad to see that there are some classes in NYC friendly to round people.

One of the things I miss most about living in NYC is the nearly built-in miles-per-day of walking and stair-climbing (I always lived in walk-ups). Now I have to make a conscious effort to get any real walking into my day.

Anyway, the more exercise you do, the better off you'll be in terms of getting to your goal.
posted by Currer Belfry at 3:14 PM on April 11, 2012

Generally, I'd memail this suggestion because it doesn't perfectly match your criteria (this is a running group and you're looking for exercise classes) but since you've asked anonymously, I'll put it here instead.

One of the nicest groups I've ever exercised with in the NYC area is the free running group that meets at the Nike store on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 6:30pm and Saturday at 9am. They are friendly and there are all pace groups and distances (including a two mile run/walk where you run two minutes and then walk one minute - this is a great way to start running; I did this when I was quite out of shape a couple of years ago and while it isn't pain-free, it certainly got me back to running without it being too horrible) The people involved include all sizes and ages. The people leading the runs are not too high strung - they do this right. You can change there and leave a bag in their bag check (this is super convenient if you're coming directly from work).

Good luck and I hope you find a good group to exercise with.
posted by sciencegeek at 3:33 PM on April 11, 2012

Just nthing the Y. I was always super wary of gyms so when my husband got us memberships I was quite apprehensive. Then I saw how people of all ages and sizes and backgrounds were hanging out and everyone was so friendly. It's great. I don't think I'd have got my groove at another gym. I love seeing little old women with white hair lifting weights and old men training for marathons. Makes me feel like I'm where I should be, where it's about health and personal goals whatever they might be, not treating fitness like fashion trends with magazines and hardcore body image issues.
posted by ifjuly at 3:45 PM on April 11, 2012

I have a very good friend who is your size, has your interests, and struggles with your exact same issue. She's done a ton of research, and tried yoga, dance and other classes that are exactly like your hypothetical Fat Lady Pilates. If you memail me, I'd be happy to put you two in touch, so she can share where she's had success, and maybe even become workout buddies.
posted by psycheslamp at 4:11 PM on April 11, 2012

I sometimes take Alvin Ailey Extension dance classes in west Midtown. Specifically, beginner Brazilian samba, where - believe me - the body shapes span the gamut. Our teacher has a big honkin butt that she is really proud of and she constantly prances around and shouts "SHAKE WHAT YOU MAMA GAVE YOU!" It is the kind of dance class where:

1) You are so busy trying to get the steps right that no one is paying attention to anyone else, except to marvel - wow, that lady's got RHYTHM
2) The style of samba we learn does not prize delicacy - no worrying about whether or not you're being "floaty" enough - it's all about emphasis, stomping low to the ground, big dirrty dramatic can't-mess-up gestures that really only gets BETTER the more your mama gave you to shake, so to speak
3) There is LIVE DRUMMING as accompaniment - which will fill you with a visceral gladness and which drowns out everything so that all you can do is absorb how sexy and strong and boom boom boom hell yes.

You would think that because it is at Alvin Ailey, you would be surrounding by snooty sticks of dancers who subsist on cigarettes and leg warmers. Some of these dancers take these classes, but so does every other kind of body, and everyone is super comfortable fumbling along and laughing at how hard the dancing is, and how fun. It is the best, please come!
posted by sestaaak at 4:46 PM on April 11, 2012 [7 favorites]

I'm in NYC and I go to Yogaworks and also sometimes to the Core classes at Exhale and I'm an old wreck. I know it seems easy to say, but I. DON'T. CARE. ANYMORE. who the other people are or what they think of me. I spent all of last year in cancer treatment, so I am basically a noodle without any strength at all trying to get my body back. I've just started, and I can't stand on one foot, I loathe downward-facing dog, don't even suggest push ups or lunges, I am worried my scar shows, I will never bend myself in half, I will NEVER be able to lift my body up from a cross-legged seated position using my hands like Ghandi. Happy baby makes me miserable. But whatever. The other night I cried (to myself, I have some self-respect left) because it just felt so fantastic to stretch and twist and move around. It's not much, but it's something. Good luck! You've got great offers here, I hope you take them!
posted by thinkpiece at 4:46 PM on April 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Years ago I took a beginner's class with Road Runners. There were plenty of women of your size in it.
posted by The corpse in the library at 6:04 PM on April 11, 2012

I'd look for the hardest hard-core body builder gym around. Not heated yoga, not Pilates mat classes, but strong people lifting really heavy weights. Nothing burns the fat like getting really, really strong. And then you can learn proper form, not bouncing kettle bells around.
posted by Ideefixe at 6:42 PM on April 11, 2012

It's absolutely ridiculous to claim that no one at Crossfit is going to notice your physicality, but I will say that at every Crossfit gym I've been to (many, and most of those in NYC), you will be extra welcomed as an overweight person. As thatgirld said, Crossfitters are very into the "journey" and there are few things more exciting to Crossfitters than watching an unfit person become fitter. Seriously. Every Crossfit gym I've been to has a handful of people who are significantly overweight or who started out significantly overweight and they are everyone's favorite. You won't be ignored or treated like the average member, but you will be welcomed in a very genuine (if voyeuristic) way.

That said, I see tons of overweight people in Zumba classes at NYSC and especially at the Y. Also, just so you know, if you see my eyes lingering on you a little too long or if I make a comment to my friend that you think is directed at you, it's because I'm saying, "She is awesome." I reserve my jeers for people who are dressed to the nines and not actually working out.
posted by telegraph at 7:23 PM on April 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Don't go to gyms or classes that mention image or weight in their class descriptions or ad copy. A brief mention or two is okay, like if "weight loss" is listed as one benefit in a long list, buried in with things like "increased strength" and "stress relief" and "learn a sport!" But things like "burn up to 800 calories!" or "Get that beach body!" or "Tighten and tone!" mean STAY FAR FAR AWAY. Watch out for this crap from the class instructor and gym staff, too.

Also, look for classes/gyms that teach a specific sport or skill. Like, take a women's boxing class at the boxing gym, not Hottie Body Boxing at Flirty Girl Fitness. (That is, horrifyingly, the actual name of a real class and gym.) Not only is the emphasis totally off image, but you'll have the added benefit of learning a cool thing, instead of just taking a cool-thing-themed aerobics class.

A lot of people don't seem to realize there are many reasons to be physically active that have nothing to do with appearance. Seek out the people who do.
posted by Metroid Baby at 8:08 PM on April 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Two words that make a strong difference to the enjoyability, and resulting durability of commitment to a new fitness regime.
Low Impact.

If you feel you are out of shape then suggestions like "try running", or any sort of "lifting" regimen will swiftly lead to you giving up, being in pain, and just not having FUN, while being active.

Vigorous physical activity does not need to feel painful... you can create excellent exercise systems without the pain, and without any shame; those people (not above, but if you have tried going to gyms, you know what I mean) who say "you know it is good for you because it HURTS"... they aren't telling the whole truth (ie. it took a long time, and all sorts of low level activity to get to that point, and they never talk about the tons of people who just quit and walk away, because, unlike the saying, pain is not actually directly correlated with "gain"), so just ignore that for now (just for now, you might like something like those things in the long run, but aquafitness is an amazing way to find yourself having fun, and relaxing, and learning your body (strengths, weaknesses, tolerances, and general fitness levels [you may find that you are not as out of shape as you suggest, but rather, that "traditional" workouts leave you in pain, and that is a horrible feeling, I have seen many people give up on their "new workout regime" after a few weeks or a month]).
If you aren't too set on particular gym, or activity, or "workout", let me do my best to sell you some aquafitness.

Low-impact (runners [I, a former] will be joining it one day anyway... why not today), also, low-judgement, you can have your body "free" and flowing, but also, at the same time not-"on-display", like on a treadmill thing, or one of the glass-mirrored-fishtank rooms... up to your neck in water is not really a place where people are judged on their bodies. Music, loud, none of that "HEADPHONES" everyone in a private cocoon bubble stuff, customizable levels of activity (some people GIVER, others just go for the movement/resistance of the water), it is a refuge of older folks, but also, towards my last experience with it, there were quite a few younger women who participated. Not a traditional lurking spot of pickup artists, or "lunkheads" or whatever, win-win-win.

I don't mean to use "stereotypes", what I mean to suggest is that there AREN'T such ingrained cliques, or "groups", or "fitness types" in-groups with swimming (often the pool administrators do a good job scheduling things so there aren't conflicts, and you won't have to fight with the "young teens swimming all afternoon open swim" times)... and the "hardcore swimmers" seem to get along with non-swimmers, and casual swimmers very well (just don't scare them by jumping in over their heads, or canon balling in front of them, that scares lane swimmers). Also, I should note, that many folks find good friends during aquafitness, and there is actually pretty good opportunity to socialize if you really want to (and actually, talking while in the water helps, and makes it a better, more rounded workout, and helps with multi-tasking).

(Not from area, don't know the geography/logistics (or facilities, but try these, or, better, a closer pool, most will offer a discount, or trial price, try a couple, see what you like); these suggestions came up in searches for water aerobics in NYC,
"Athletic & Swim Club
787 7th Ave (Cross Street: 51st Street)
New York, NY 10019
(212) 265-3490

Harlem YMCA
180 W 135th St
New York, NY 10030
(212) 690-1380)"

Also, the classes with Taryn Hitchman, (reviewed) here (but I don't know her, or what she does, or how she does it) seem to offer highly rated "Cross training workout featuring non impact aerobics and strength training exercises in the pool.
Or possibly something like this "aqua skills" idea

I hope you find something that you like, and that makes you feel happy, and good. All the best, and good luck.
posted by infinite intimation at 8:08 PM on April 11, 2012

> Crossfitters are very into the "journey" and there are few things more exciting to Crossfitters than watching an unfit person become fitter. Seriously. Every Crossfit gym I've been to has a handful of people who are significantly overweight or who started out significantly overweight and they are everyone's favorite.

I understand that this inclination by Crossfitters is well-intentioned, and I know that this kind of attention is very meaningful and motivating to some people who are working on improving their level of fitness. But just a warning that, conversely, for some people it feels like a weird sort of objectification and can be very uncomfortable and off-putting.
posted by desuetude at 8:17 PM on April 11, 2012 [3 favorites]

I don't know about NY, but I started taekwondo in the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney which is the home of the rail thin plastic surgery people. I was about the fattest in the class, certainly the most unfit and was welcomed and encouraged. The kickass seniors made a point of chatting to me and saying they started in exactly the same shape.

I guess my advice is consider a martial art. The focus is never about looks and the right group is like having a team of cheerleaders. (I also feel bullshit strong and have lost a noticeable amount of weight).
posted by Trivia Newton John at 10:30 PM on April 11, 2012

If after these suggestions you are still concerned about working out in a public place, there are Personal Trainers who have private gyms in their homes. Others will come to your home. This will likely cost more than a gym membership.
posted by jander03 at 10:59 PM on April 11, 2012

desuetude, if the attitude in my post was too subtle, I just want to make explicitly clear for the Internet record: I agree with you completely.
posted by telegraph at 7:46 PM on April 12, 2012

Oh, I didn't catch that, telegraph. Well, between the two of us I think we got that across quite nicely. ;)
posted by desuetude at 9:09 PM on April 12, 2012

« Older Where can I have 40 people sit down for lunch in...   |   How to choose an IT person Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.