April 24, 2024 – Weights, aerobics, and … Wegovy? Some in the fitness industry are moving to dispense the popular GLP-1 medications to club members, combining the new, easier method of losing weight with the old, more challenging one.

Take Life Time Fitness, for example. Late last year, Jeff Zwiefel, chief operating officer, said the gym chain would pilot a program to prescribe weight loss drugs for members. They plan to bring health care professionals into the gyms to deliver the medications, working with their members, primary care doctors, trainers, and nutritionists to form a “comprehensive plan” that includes the medicine but also exercise, nutrition, counseling, and social support. 

Life Time, which has about 170 locations across the country, says it hopes to roll out the offering nationwide. The point is to provide a long-term solution for people who struggle with obesity but don’t want to rely on the medication, said nutritionist Jim LaValle, a licensed pharmacist who works with Life Time fitness centers on the pilot program. 

“You have a lot of people who struggle with weight, and they go to the gym and they try to eat right and they don’t lose weight,” he said of why he hopes offering GLP-1s will be a game changer. 

After Life Time’s announcement, Equinox made similar headlines in People magazine. 

“We’re seeing an uptick in members who are using or are interested in using GLP-1 weight loss drugs, including Ozempic and Wegovy,” Equinox club coach Michael Crandall, who is spearheading the new program, told the publication. “We’re creating an internal education program at the Equinox Fitness Training Institute, adding the GLP-1 protocol to coach the many members who are using them.

“The drugs work so well, but we felt like something really important was missing for our clients on them. Weight loss interventions should always be done with a training program to get the best results.”

But if losing weight is as simple as taking a medication, then what does this mean for the fitness industry? Industry leaders are hoping the drugs are a doorway to fitness and permanent lifestyle changes. 

“A lot of people are embarrassed (about entering a fitness center) because they are overweight,” LaValle said. “This changes their whole attitude” because they can lose weight before coming to the gym, then find support and learn to exercise and eat right, rather than just take the medicine and stay home.

Some people can lose muscle tissue along with the fat, and some can regain the weight after stopping the prescriptions. By teaching healthier habits, Life Time and Equinox say they can help people for the rest of their lives.

LaValle says smaller fitness businesses can get involved by establishing relationships with local health care providers. It can be a way to increase their own membership rolls while also helping bridge the divide between the fitness and health care worlds.

Eric Durak of Medical Health and Fitness, who is a clinical exercise physiologist and health educator, said this could be a good thing for users. Gyms and trainers could help educate their members about body composition (body fat compared to muscle) if they are on Wegovy or similar drugs. 

But questions remain. For instance, can gyms help teach people the healthy lifestyle habits that will keep them from having to take these drugs forever, or risk regaining the weight?

“The industry has to step up in this realm and say, ‘OK, so if we’re going to have this, what’s coming?’” Durak said, adding that if Life Time and Equinox are starting to offer these programs, soon, “it’s going to be everybody else” too.

“But instead of having someone on this drug for 40 years, we should have them on it for 6 months, develop a really sound strength and conditioning program that will allow them to increase muscle mass, increase bone density, change the diet, and then wean off, because we still don’t know what the long-term effects are,” he said. “We know how effective it is, we just have to take it into the mainstream health club field.”