What does fitness look like?
A few weeks ago, I overheard a woman describe a fitness instructor with some disappointment that the instructor was “not a small girl.” I knew who she was talking about and what she meant, and I immediately felt my own disappointment in my fellow gym-goer. There’s a common expectation that a fitness trainer or instructor will be 18-25 years old and have the body of a dancer, a professional athlete, or a bodybuilder, and be able to do everything from the most advanced yoga poses to 100 pullups to reaching the winner’s podium at every road race. It’s not reality, and it shouldn’t be.
I have noticed a recent surge in articles, blogs, and posts by fitness professionals and fitness industry consumers about feeling like they don't belong in the fitness industry, gym, or studio, because they don’t identify with the flawless images of fitness celebrities and fitness industry influencers that saturate their social media feeds. These discouraged individuals are experts and thought-leaders in the fitness industry, master trainers and instructors, athletes, ordinary people that are physically healthy according to every definition and measurement, and ordinary people that want to be and feel healthier. We all see the same images: seemingly perfect humans - many of whom are “fitness professionals” - striking impressive dance or yoga poses, doing intense workouts, or flexing muscles while upside-down eating pizza. I can appreciate an impressive handstand photo, have a bizarre interest in watching other people's workouts (for ideas!), and sometimes belly-laugh when someone with almost zero-percent body fat posts about a cheat day. But these posts and images do not define fitness and often are misleading and alienating rather than inspiring, for other fitness professionals and consumers alike.
Fitness isn't a single body type, a specific ability or achievement, or a one-size-fits-all process. It's a highly individualized state of being. Merriam-Webster defines physical fitness as "good health and strength achieved through exercise." Fitness is a state of well-being that manifests itself in healthy biometrics (subjective), functioning successfully in one's daily life (again, subjective), and being proud of one's body and its abilities (spoiler alert: subjective). Endurance, toughness, intensity, strength, and top performance metrics don't come in a single shape or size. Fitness is showing up, putting in effort, striving for progress, and acknowledging achievement.
For those of us on the consumer-side of the fitness industry, it’s important that we create and pursue our own fitness goals, determine for ourselves what motivates us to perform at our best, and seek out fitness professionals who bring that motivation to the table, whether for real-life training or for inspiration via social media (or both). True fitness professionals can coach to different abilities, body types, lifestyles, and fitness goals. They have an interest in improving people's lives through health and wellness, have studied and continuously study exercise science (anatomy, kinesiology, new trends, etc.), and also have the ability to inspire and motivate clients to break down perceived barriers, to get stronger, to feel successful, and to leave workouts with a deep sense of fulfillment rather than failure. As current or aspiring fitness industry “influencers,” they embrace their responsibility to share their knowledge and to show a less airbrushed and less filtered version of reality for the sake of spreading the gospel of fitness… to everyone.
For fitness professionals, this means stepping up professional education, learning different coaching styles for different populations, reinforcing to all clients and consumers that fitness looks different on everyone, and making an effort to keep the fitness industry diverse, inclusive, and welcoming. This is not a plea to target or coach to the lowest common denominator, but rather to focus on what keeps clients and consumers engaged and on what drives them forward.
For those seeking fitness professionals that will inspire your commitment to your fitness goals, do research and ask questions. Do some Googling on individuals to see how they got where they are, what their professional goals are, and whether and how they attempt to inspire others; ask your friends that seem consistently engaged in fitness pursuits for their go-tos; ask trainers or instructors that you like if they can recommend anyone else to re-energize and diversify your fitness activities. And by all means, share your knowledge! Try using groupie to share your workouts - we'll be bringing you some free workouts with great instructors soon. Stay tuned, and see you at the gym --