Diane Reiter of Aurora noticed two types of people every time she started a membership at a gym -- and she was neither.
There were those who needed to lose only 10 or 15 pounds and then there were the athletes, pumping iron and powering through endurance workouts on treadmills and elliptical machines.
Reiter, 47, is an administrator at a Catholic church in Aurora whose doctor has been advising her for years to lose weight for health reasons.
Not an athlete, and not someone with relatively few pounds to lose, Reiter knew she needed a gym but never felt at home in the suburban health clubs she tried.
"It frustrated me," she said. "I felt insecure and self-conscious. I thought 'I need this,' but I felt awkward."
Reiter said she remembers a TV news story about a gym in Dallas tailored to people who have at least 50 pounds to lose. She promised herself if anything like that ever opened near her far east side Aurora home, she would give it a try.
And then it happened. Downsize Fitness, the same gym Reiter saw on TV, opened its newest location July 1 in south Naperville.
"There's definitely a need for this because obesity is a problem," Reiter said. "It's amazing that there aren't more facilities like this."
Downsize CEO Kishan Shah says the gym is filling that need and the company is hoping to open dozens of similar weight loss-focused fitness centers across the country in the next few years.
The Naperville location, the company's fourth, was added because staff members noticed several clients at the Chicago gym live in the suburbs and because Downsize founder Francis Wisniewski has had a home in Naperville for about 10 years.
Downsize Fitness caters to obese and significantly overweight people in both environment and exercises -- with trainers focused on being supportive coaches instead of demanding drill sergeants, and workouts that can be tailored to any level of strength, flexibility or endurance, Naperville General Manager Jillian McAfee said.
"We design our exercise classes so everyone can do them," McAfee said. "We make it fun because otherwise people wouldn't come back."
Functional training with free weights, resistance bands, kettlebells and exercise balls makes up the majority of the classes Downsize offers.
"They work your core the entire time because you have to focus on your form," McAfee said.
The weight loss-focused strength and conditioning routines offered at Downsize locations in Chicago, Dallas, New York City and now Naperville, can't be found anywhere else, Shah said.
"There's this magic of giving the member a fantastic workout that helps them lose fat and build muscle, but also provides a level of safety and comfort where you're not going to get hurt," said Shah, a former equity investor who lost 200 pounds over seven years through diet and exercise. "The secret is the support community and empowerment we give our members. We understand it's a difficult journey. Seventy-five percent of our staff have weight loss transformations themselves."
Clients can buy a $59 membership to gain access to the gym with a rowing machine, an elliptical trainer, a seated arm bike and two Woodway brand treadmills that feature a wider space for the exerciser and a thicker band that's easier on the joints. Semiprivate workout classes, which are recommended, cost $19 each or $99 for an eight-class pack, while an unlimited monthly membership for gym access, classes and nutritional counseling is $249.
McAfee said circuit training and cardio dance are popular classes among clients like Reiter, 45-year-old Kim Tremblay of Bolingbrook and 37-year-old Genie Przybylski of Oswego.
"The very first night, I wanted to quit. It was very intense," said Przybylski, who stuck it out despite the challenge and even recruited her friend Tremblay to join the new gym. "We laugh when we're here. It doesn't matter if you can't do something -- no one here is judging you."
McAfee said Downsize keeps class sizes small so trainers can closely watch each client, doling out advice on proper technique for safety and optimal calorie burn.
"Remember to breathe at the hard part," she tells a small group of women doing side lunges at a recent class in the Naperville gym that's located at 1960 Springbrook Square Drive, Suite 104.
Clients sweating through the class worked out with alternating smiles and grimaces, chatting about movies and the Disney shows their kids watch in between sets of exercises.
The Naperville gym's client base is mostly women so far, but three men have joined aiming toward big weight loss goals as well, McAfee said. The storefront gym has frosted windows for privacy and only a small sign letting Downsize Fitness clients know they've found the right place. A larger sign is coming, but clients like Tremblay say they already know they've found a gym that can work for them.
"When I came here, I didn't know what a squat was and now I'm doing squats with weight," said Tremblay, a registered nurse who left her sedentary job as a case manager to focus on losing weight. "I'm already feeling better. My endurance is better."
While being at least 50 pounds overweight is a prerequisite for joining Downsize Fitness, many clients frame their goals in terms of better health, not the number on the scale.
Still, McAfee said the gym conducts bi-weekly weigh-ins. Two weeks is long enough to notice results and frequent enough to make adjustments if the training regimen isn't working, she said.
Tremblay, who has weighed more than 200 pounds since eighth-grade graduation, said she has lost 5.6 pounds toward her goal of reaching the 140- to 155-pound range defined as ideal for her 5-foot 7-inch frame.
Since the beginning of the year, the 5-foot 9-inch Reiter said she has lost 20 pounds, shedding 15 of them since joining a Downsize boot camp in early June.
Przybylski, an accountant and mother of three, said she has lost 11 pounds in six weeks of Downsize classes.
The women each aim to carve out gym time four or five days a week, and McAfee says the hours they spend at Downsize are guaranteed to be positive for their health, whether they're dancing and laughing to choreographed cardio routines or doing 30-second bursts of punches and modified jumping jacks.
Downsize Fitness launched two years ago in Chicago and bills itself as "the world's first overweight-only gym," but if and when clients succeed at their weight-loss goals, they're welcome to remain members.
"We actually hope they stay on and act as mentors," McAfee said. "It's extremely motivating for new clients to see what they've accomplished."