The Anti-Gym

I couldn't sleep last night. Something has me all worked up.

A few weeks ago I was driving and a radio advertisement caught my attention. It was two girls having a conversation, one asking the other why she had so much beer in her fridge. Was it because she was having a party? "No" the other girl replied, "It's the only way I can get a guy to come over and stay the night. And if he doesn't stay the night, then I need a beer". I was floored. For your viewing pleasure, watch the 30 second commercial here before you read on. This is a commercial for a gym, called the Anti Gym, where "trainers" handcuff their clients to treadmills, throw cupcakes at them and moo at them. I have also seen on a Fox News clip (from the Anti Gym site) that they have a sauna only for people with a body fat percentage under 11 percent for men and 16 percent for women (which by the way a healthy body fat percentage for women is 18 to 25 percent. 16 percent is severely underweight and considered malnourished). The owner of the gym, Michael Karolchyk started his gyms in Colorado and has now opened in my home town, San Diego.

Here's what gets me: Mr Karolchyk claims his clients see results, which I don't doubt they do. His trainers allegedly prescribe clients to only eat 1200 calories per day. If these trainers are certified by an accredited personal training organization, they should be aware that under their certification they are not allowed to prescribe a nutritional diet plan, only a registered dietitian or trained nutritionist is legally allowed to do this (California state law). I won't get into the implications a diet consisting of only 1200 calories can do to a person. So yes, if you drastically cut calories and put clients on a heavy cardiovascular routine, they will lose weight (if you've ever seen the show The Biggest Loser, this is exactly what they do). I would like to know what Mr. Karolchyk's success rate for his clients keeping the weight off? Anyone who has battled weight issues knows that keeping the weight off is more than half the battle. I wonder if Mr. Karolchyk gives a crap about this? Or only cares that he has clients coming in his doors that pay per session.

Perhaps he is a brilliant business man who is laughing all the way to the bank with all his "chubby" clients money. Clients pay per session; they lose weight, leave the gym for a few months and slowly put the weight back on, probably more than they lost when they go back to eating like they used to, 2 to 3 times the amount of calories they were eating when they were working with one if his "trainers" (because in the real world, healthy men and women consume 2000-3000 calories per day). Did I mention that just before he opened up in San Diego he was in hot water with the IRS in Denver for taxes and was caught dumping confidential client information in a public dumpster. He also has happy hour at his gym, offering shots of Vodka as a reward for doing your workout. Drunk people spend money. Mr Karolchyk, you are sneaky.

Now I do agree to some extent with some of his philosophies. I agree that some people need a tough personal trainer to get their butt moving. On the home page of his website is the statement "Have sex with the lights on" and the site has an array of beautiful, provocative women. We all know sex sells, and men come to this gym hoping the girls on his website will be there and the women may join hoping to look like them. Positive motivation? Perhaps. Smart marketing? Yes, indeed. I agree with him in that (unfortunately) we live in a world where everyone is judged based on the way they look and to be attractive is important. I understand the physical implications for being overweight and how important being healthy is.

Both on the outside....and the inside.

I'm assume that's where it ends for Mr. Karolchyk. Make it pretty on the outside at the expense of the inside. I had to take a step back and ask myself what was really making me so upset about this. Yes, the ads are sexist and offensive. Yes, he makes a mockery of overweight people. But several overweight people have written testimonials on his website that they needed this kind of "motivation" to lose weight. I'm upset that I can't find his credentials and have read that he may have none. If this is the case I'm embarrassed that this man calls himself a fitness professional. But I think what pisses me off the most is that Mr. Karolchyk is making a living by making people feel that they are nothing unless they are thin and sexy. He is perpetuating perfectionism, an unattainable ideal body image and disordered eating and exercise. And I would venture to say he is encouraging eating disorders in women if he thinks having only 16 percent body fat is hot and sexy. He is making money off of people's fears of being inadequate. THAT'S what's pissing me off.

Exercise is not about punishment. Eating is not about being made fun of. I feel bad mostly for the women that go to this gym to lose weight only to feel so terrible about themselves when they gain it back, or even if they don't gain it back but can't figure out why they still feel so badly about themselves.

So, to Mr Karolchyk, you claim that all of your "haters" are "fat, bearded ladies" (he actually says this on his website) and that no one will stand up to you that is thin and beautiful and say they disagree with you. Well, I do. And currently I am 5 months pregnant, but I am still healthy, thin and beautiful and I disagree with what you are doing. And I don't have a beard either. But more importantly I am beautiful on the inside, something you wouldn't understand if it was shoved down your screaming throat. I feel sorry for you. I have a feeling your gimmick won't last long because in my opinion you have no integrity.

Photo courtesy of william couch


David Cain said...

Wow, that was awful. That actually airs on TV? In Canada no network would touch that.

I've kind of changed my tune about how to respond to people who upset me like that guy does. The anger always shows up in my mind and in my body, but I don't trust it anymore. I don't value my anger because it never seems to help anyone, no matter the target.

As disgusting as that commercial is, I prefer to view destructive people with compassion now. I wonder who raised him, what kind of friends he's grown up around, what kinds of sorry influences he has had in his life that would bring him to believe that shame is an effective foundation upon which to mount his business. I hope he fails, not out of spite, but because he may learn something.

I think it's a safe bet that his venture will fail before anyone is negatively affected in any lasting way. It's just too overt and ridiculous for any number of people to want to open their wallets in response. The natural selection of the business world will weed him out quick. Anybody that buys into his schtick is already in serious trouble anyway.

Far more dangerous than him, in my opinion, are the more subtle fear-based marketing strategies, (which are extremely common) because they're believable enough to influence people into thinking their lives are not okay as they are.

I don't think Anti-Gym will incite nearly as much self-loathing as will much bigger companies with better reputations who sell beauty products and weight loss programs using expertly-disguised forms of shame and guilt that are engineered by well-paid psychologists.

Fear is a hugely popular marketing tool, because it works. That's the current state of humanity: driven by fear, and marketing will cater to that until either humanity changes, or North America gives up free capitalism. And neither of those things are happening soon.

In other words, I think terrible marketing gimmicks like that are an effect of our behavior, more than a cause. IMHO all we can do is live our own lives with courage and self-reliance, and help others to do that. Personal responsibility and education can protect us from even the worst of them.

Sorry to write such a novel for my comment! Human nature's effect on marketing is fascinating and horrifying to me, and I think we should all talk about it more.

Great post, thank you for sharing that.

Andrea said...

David, thank you for another insightful comment! I am so fed up with marketing against women (and mens) fears that it makes me sick. Perhaps because I bought into it for so many years.

I agree with everything you said!

tinseltown said...

The biggest mistake you've made here is actually taking Karolchyk and the Anti-Gym seriously. They guy is a con artist. Do a little digging on what happened in Denver. He didn't "make money" off clients. He doesn't do any of what he says he does. It's all smoke and mirrors. He still has ongoing law suits. his old gym in Denver was foreclosed. The guys ia fraud and Fox News hasn't done the proper research (which can be done on Google) to expose him because he is good for ratings.

Lanette said...

I've been hitting the gym with my 22 year old son. After about 9 months, I've lost 1 pant size (I am a pear shape) and have gone from 173lbs to 164 lbs. I work out with weights 5 times a week and have been working on life style changes (e.g. eliminating fast foods, soda, drinking more water, etc)
Staying vigilant has not been easy (Girlscout Cookie season has brought its challenges).
Ironically, the gym plays various local radio stations on its overhead and everyday I hear the anti-gym commercial. Tonight I decided to investigate. I was so embarrassed when I got to the site that "someone" in my household might see. I couldn't find a gallery of photos of the facility only some non-sense about a provocative environment that would make one "hot". Lots of sexual innuendo. I'm glad that I read this blog. I may have another 18+ mos ahead but I'll feel better knowing that I didn't waste anymore time on this garbage!