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Luke Burbank
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A member works out at Downsize Fitness, a gym that only allows members who are at least 50 pounds overweight. (AP image)

Unique gym only allows overweight members

Like a lot of people, Luke Burbank's friends Kevin and Anita started the new year by joining a gym. Inevitably, they'll face plenty of ridicule from those who criticize the time honored tradition. But Luke's got nothing but praise for them.

"I salute anyone who's trying to do anything, however short lived, to improve their health," Burbank says.

It's not easy, especially for those who've gotten far out of shape. Now, a unique gym is taking steps to make people more comfortable getting off the couch. But there's a catch. In order to join Downsize Fitness, you have to be at least 50 pounds overweight.

"I've been overweight my whole life and I was embarrassed to go to the gym myself. It's intimidating to go in when you can't do all the exercises, when you feel like people are going to be staring at you, people are going to judge you," says founder Francis Wisnewski, who just opened a new gym in Dallas after starting in Chicago and Las Vegas.

The gym offers a safe, comfortable and non-judgmental environment. The equipment is tailored to larger clients, and the windows are even shaded to keep people from looking in.

It's an idea drawing plenty of applause from Ross and Burbank.

"If you're in a gym with people who are also struggling with the same problem you have, you've got company. You've got people who understand where you're coming from," says fitness buff Dave Ross.

"I think it's great because I think one of the things that happens to people is they get to a point where they kind of start to think 'I'm too far gone,'" says Luke.

He can understand. He's been up and down about exercise for years, going months without working out then turning around and training for a marathon. Now, he's on a new year's all-juice diet to shed some unwanted weight. But he understands we all can't or shouldn't be so extreme.

"I think we look at those ultra-performing athletes and we feel like 'I can never be them so what's the point of trying anything.'"

Downsize Fitness says its program is three-pronged, with an emphasis on fitness, nutrition and support. While the company doesn't make any promises, it touts a number of success stories from members who've lost over 100 pounds.

There's nothing magic about the program. Eat less and exercise. But it's clearly working for people who've struggled to take even the first step.

Luke agrees with the company's philosophy just getting started is often the key.

"If you're somebody who can't run, go for a walk. If you can can walk one block around your block, do that. And then the next day see if you can do a block and a half."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Josh Kerns, MyNorthwest.com
Josh Kerns is an award winning reporter/anchor and host of KIRO Radio's Seattle Sounds (Sunday afternoons 5-6p) and a digital content producer for MyNorthwest.com.
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