Why the Fitness Industry Should be Talking About Body Image

This month, February, marks 10 years that I’ve been working in the fitness industry. Woooheee. That’s a long time to be pushing push-ups! From the beginning of my tenure at BCSF we never marketed our program to be about 6-packs or getting beach-ready bodies. We promoted ourselves to focus on the fun of working out, about getting the most effective workout with smart instructors that knew the human body inside and out. So that is to say, there’s never been a time where I helped to market fitness in a way that was shaming.

But if you would have asked me my thoughts on why we did this 8 years ago, I would have told you that it’s because we weren’t a cheesy, shallow program. That we were a serious program and serious programs just didn’t need to do that. I liked it, of course, but I didn’t think about it *too* much.

Back when I started with BCSF, I was on the periphery, doing administrative work. It wasn’t until 4 years later that I started teaching classes. And I suppose that is when I really started to consider how prevalent shame was in the fitness world. I remember distinctly the first time I told someone in my class that we don’t do “negative self-talk” in this space. It was kind of a liberating feeling to give people this strong boundary that evoked positivity.

But, overall, body image was a tough, elephant in the room kind of topic for me. It was really hard to wrap my head around the idea that as a trainer I could be body positive to everyone. To every shape and size. That isn’t to say I didn’t FEEL that way — I did. I just didn’t know how to admit it. Because it felt like a cognitive distortion to say I am a trainer, someone that makes a living helping people change their bodies and on the other hand say that body size didn’t matter to me. Like, I felt it was somehow my professional obligation to believe that healthy = skinny. And since being healthy was always my ultimate goal, I felt torn. I didn’t know how to reconcile these two facets of my world.

pullup image get unstuck

In short:  I knew I had these feelings about body image positivity, but I could never quite put my finger on how to truly promote this. In the freaking fitness industry.  When I started reading Erin Brown’s work about 3 years ago is when I started to feel less alone in my thoughts on body image.

Since then, I’ve spent countless hours considering just how and why we should be talking about body image in the fitness industry. Because I am certain I am not the only trainer that has struggled with this. And to be frank, I’d say society at large probably would suggest it’s a joke that the fitness industry, which they likely see as generally the type of people in #fitspo images, would even consider talking about positive body image. But I’m here to tell you that, I’ve come to the assertion that the fitness industry is actually the perfect and most obvious choice as a venue for talking about body image positivity.

And here’s why:

We’re Already Talking About Bodies. A LOT. It’s literally what we do. We talk about how they move, where they move, limitations on movement, how to improve movement. It’s seriously BODY, BODY, BODY over here. Why in the hell would we not consider talking about these things in the fitness industry?!

We’ve Kind of Fucked up. We are part of the problem and I kind of feel like when you break something, you should help fix it. Just check out the #fitspo hashtag on Twitter or Instagram. It’s not good stuff people. It’s full of jacked ladies and men espousing the no excuses mentality onto the world. They have forgotten that inspiration should be positive and empowering. The fitness industry at large thinks that making people feel shitty about their bodies is the best way to sell their products. And I suppose that the dollars follow this, but the crazy thing is, is that research consistently shows that lifelong change in people comes from positive, intrinsic motivators. It’s possible that the fitness industry would be even more financially successful if they helped people find those positive motivators, eh?

It’s Our Bread and Butter. We are our clients inspiration. We are modeling an “ideal”. Most of us feel it’s our duty to walk the walk when it comes to being fit – right? We feel the need to keep up our fitness routines because being a trainer that doesn’t exercise would feel inauthentic. Right? But I challenge you to consider how authentic it is to be a trainer that isn’t body positive. Bodies are how we make a living. So, if your attitude shows signs of being negative towards the bodies of some individuals is this authentic?

We Have the Power. Within the world of fitness, we have the power to teach people skills that help them appreciate their bodies for what they can do, rather than what they look like. Almost every woman I know that lifts heavy, lifts for reasons beyond looking good. It becomes about lifting more weight, about getting better at technique and becoming fascinated by the process of lifting rather than the chiseling of our triceps and delts.

 

The ultimate irony is, in my opinion, that when you’re approaching fitness from this perspective some interesting things start to happen. One, we often get more fit. Why? Because we’re training because WE LIKE IT. When we like things we do them more often and more consistently. And because we are training more often, we often get those muscles and definition we were originally seeking. It’s kind of a funky, cool, little feedback loop.

flexingsillycat

So, truly, in my opinion there is ABSOLUTELY no downside to being a trainer that espouses a body positive attitude. You might fret that you are less legit as a trainer, but trust me, you’re not. It’s not wrong to think of your clients as awesome human beings that are capable of so much and that are valuable far beyond how jacked they are.

And frankly, ultimately all it takes is acting kind towards your clients. Pretty sure we can all do that right? Right. Good.

 

 

Own Your Shit

Yesterday one of my class members thanked me for the great workout that burned over 400 calories (she wears a heart rate monitor).

“Well, you did all the work, I just told you what to do.”

“But telling us what to do is more than half the battle!”

Yes, I think I’m a good coach, that I plan an excellent workout and, of course, I am very grateful to be thanked for my efforts. That certainly feels good. But their workout is not about me. It’s their time. I think it’s important to be aware that I am a facilitator for my clients.

Because I will not always be there for them. Life situations, jobs, schedules — these things all change.

get unstuck cat image

What doesn’t change is knowing that you are in charge of you, your life, your body. You are in charge of choosing how and if you will exercise.

And if I won’t always have my clients in my stead, I want to give them the tools for keeping up their exercise routine for life. Those tools aren’t simply how to swing a kettlebell, but knowing that they can.

That is all to say — intrinsic motivation is what will serve us in the end. Doing something “for” someone else is a fleeting kind of motivation:  getting in shape for events, “looking good naked” so that someone will find us sexy? These things won’t get us unto the gym for years to come — for now, maybe, yes. But not forever.

And the thing about giving someone else credit for your workout? That fuels a pipeline of not giving YOURSELF CREDIT. You need to give yourself credit for what you are doing. You need to acknowledge that you showed up. You hauled your ass up and down the stairs, you picked up the kettlebells and your coach simply told you how to do it and gave you a pat on the back.

You’re doing it. Step up to the plate and own it.

Coaching & Training: On Motivation and Critique

Lately I have been thinking a lot about what it means to be a trainer or coach. In our current landscape it is an evolving role and there is so much to say about it all. And I’m not the only one that thinks so. I’ve read probably 8 or 10 write-ups in the last 3 months alone! It has given me enough ideas for at least four posts, but I’m starting here today.

A few months ago  I came across an article that caught my attention, gave me pause and I really wanted to write a response to it because I just had SO MUCH TO SAY. I think it only represents a small part of the fitness industry and I want to show you a broader spectrum. I want to show that there are a lot of ways to do this and a lot of ways to think about teaching group fitness that are, in my opinion, more beneficial to the people we serve.

The way my company teaches is different than group fitness in a gym, which is what I feel that this article is geared towards. Mostly I have the same people showing up day in and day out, only adding new people when a new session begins. And our groups are typically less than 12 participants. So yes, it’s a very different environment — one which I prefer! But that doesn’t mean that your standard gym classes aren’t good and can’t be better. They are and they can be!
Continue reading “Coaching & Training: On Motivation and Critique”