Jillian Michaels’ Wildly Misleading Claim About Health Clubs

    Jillian Michaels contracts COVID-19 from her friend and hairdresser, then tells fans to avoid returning to the gym while pushing her new app.

    • September 21, 2020

    According to a report, Jillian Michaels, a personal trainer who gained fame on the NBC game show The Biggest Loser, has contracted COVID-19. Fortunately, Michaels is on the road to recovery, but her conclusions and advice regarding the disease are counterproductive to public health, her supposed area of expertise.

    In short, Jillian Michaels doesn’t know what she’s talking about.

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    Speaking to Fox Business, Michaels said: “I literally let my guard down for an hour with one of my best friends who does my hair and makeup and got it. It's just that simple.”

    Yes, that much seems clear-cut. It’s an important message: Don’t risk exposure to somebody who is not taking necessary safety precautions during a pandemic. But it’s what Michaels says next that’s completely unsupported by the facts.

    “If you are afraid of COVID, you should not go to the gym," said Michaels. "So if you're not in a mask and that person is not in a mask, and they have COVID and have no idea ... anticipate that you will likely get it in an environment like that.”

    This is absolutely false. Claiming that health clubs are a vector of COVID-19 is NOT supported by evidence collected by experts around the world (see below for more on that). But it’s not even supported by Michaels’ own experience! She got the disease from a friend who does her hair and makeup. Unless she gets her hair and makeup done at the gym, it’s bizarre that she would make the leap to blaming health clubs for spreading any illness, much less COVID-19.

    What’s going on here?

    For starters, Jillian Michaels speaks only for herself. She has never been a credible authority on health clubs and public health. In fact, she’s long been a poor representative of the fitness industry, perpetuating harmful stereotypes about personal trainers and engaging in a long history of fat-shaming, ridiculing those who struggle to lose weight. While she has softened her image from her days on The Biggest Loser, she still uses her platform to bully others, as she did recently when she body-shamed singer Lizzo.

    Fitness professionals and members of the health club community DO NOT promote bullying and fat-shaming in any way or form. They know it’s counterproductive to inspiring others to take up the fitness lifestyle. This is yet more evidence that Jillian Michaels does not speak for the fitness industry.

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    Michaels’ true talent lies in self-promotion of her brand and the products that she hawks. In fact, she is currently promoting a fitness app for home workouts, a service that competes directly with health clubs. She pitched the app during the same interview with Fox Business when she revealed her COVID-19 diagnosis. If Jillian Michaels wants you to stay away from the gym and use her app, she should just say so instead of spreading dangerous misinformation about health clubs.

    Meanwhile, well-intentioned and credible representatives of the fitness industry are doing everything they can to keep health clubs safe and people exercising for their health and well-being. And health club owners are succeeding in doing so. IHRSA continues to compile evidence from authorities around the world that health clubs are safe environments. In fact, one study found that out of “more than 49.4 million visits to a health club, only 0.0023% tested positive for COVID-19.” That’s 500 times less than the current national average, and nearly 100% better than whoever does Jillian Michaels’ hair and makeup.

    We’re happy that Michaels is recovering from COVID-19 and hope she doesn’t suffer any long-term effects. But if she truly wants to motivate others to exercise and live healthy lifestyles, she should be encouraging the public to visit their local health clubs. Physical activity is more important now than ever, as health experts have determined.

    Let’s all get back to the gym and to a healthier mental and physical state. And, of course, always follow recommendations from public health authorities to avoid exposure to COVID-19. And, finally, don’t listen to Jillian Michaels.