When Personal Trainers Start Fit-Shaming

Type the hashtag “fitspo’’ in any search engine and you will instantly be bombarded with pictures of ripped men and women. The women’s skin is perfectly bronzed, their midsection is tiny and their six pack is clearly defined. Often sporting short shorts or some form of spandex apparel, their glutes are perfectly round and there is a clear “gap’’ between their thighs. The men are all as broad as they are tall, their chests are chiseled and their biceps are massive. Not being satisfied with the conventional six-pack, these men have an eight pack. There is no shortage these days of fitness models on the Internet, boasting their perfect bodies to serve as motivation to gym newbies everywhere.

When I come across these pictures on Instagram, or am shown a picture by a client, I feel inspired. I know the hard work and discipline that goes into achieving a physique like that. I know that their workouts are gruelling and their diets are strict. And I also know how much criticism these people receive on a daily basis from Internet bullies. If a woman is muscular, she is described as being manly and “gross’’. If she is lean then she is accused of starving herself and told to “eat a sandwich’’. If a man is muscular then he accused of being on steroids or being a dumb jock whose vocabulary is limited to the word “bro’’. People who spend time working out in the gym are told that they are self-absorbed or are obsessed with their physical appearance. The only reason you would want to work out is either an inflated sense of self or a horrible self-esteem problem. There is no shortage of criticism for those who have embraced the fit lifestyle.

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Photo taken from Paige Hathaway’s Instagram

As a personal trainer, it is my job to dispel the myth that lifting weights will make women look like men. I teach clients that through a balanced diet and not through starvation, that you burn fat and become lean. It is my job to educate people that, not only is it normal to spend an hour a day doing some form of physical activity, but it is also what your body needs. I became a personal trainer because I believe that health should be a priority for everyone. Fit people are happier because of the endorphins that exercise produces. They sleep better at night and have more energy during the day. They live longer and are able to enjoy that life because they are less likely to be plagued by illnesses. I believe that it is important for people to move. Our bodies are not designed to sit at a desk all day.

It is bad enough when cyber bullies attack those working on their fitness, but what happens when the criticism is coming from those in the industry? In recent months, and perhaps due to the time I spend on social media, I have seen an increase in fit-shaming coming from personal trainers. I have heard trainers openly mock gym goers with poor squat form and have seen trainers post memes about clients who think doing hours of cardio will make them lose weight. I have heard contest prep coaches mock those who go to Crossfit and people who advocate IIFYM berate those that eat clean.

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As a personal trainer, I know that programs like the 30 Day Squat Challenge or the Beach Body Guide are not optimal for achieving results. Having studied program design and being an avid reader on the science of periodization and exercise selection, I can tell you definitively that doing ten squats a day for a month straight will not allow you to change your body composition. Following a cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all program will not allow you to develop your muscles or burn off fat unless you are genetically predisposed to do so.  Clients will get optimal results with a program that factors in their goals, their genetic predisposition, their muscular imbalances and hormonal levels, in conjuncture with an appropriate nutrition plan. This I know.  Yet, when I come across people who excitedly tell me how they have started to do these challenges, my initial reaction is not to shut them down or to mock their endeavours.

The biggest challenge for the majority of clients I come across is simply getting started. The Internet is full of information and opinions on what is the best way to train. There is an unlimited amount of free workout programs, promising phenomenal results, without mentioning the waist trainers, the detox teas and the magical weight loss shakes pushed by multi-level marketing companies. For the average person, the sheer amount of information available to them is not only confusing, it is overwhelming. Not knowing where to start is a big obstacle in actually getting started.

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Image taken from Google images

If something like a squat challenge is what is necessary to get someone started on their fitness journey, then by all means, squat away.  If you feel comfortable with jogging on a treadmill a few times a week, then get jogging. The most important thing is that you get started.  As personal trainers, it is our job to make people care about their health. It is our passion to show people that they can get in shape and enjoy life. If we constantly tell those that are trying that they are wrong or worse, if we mock those that need our help most, we are contributing to the rise in obesity and the decline in health of our society.

I challenge my fellow colleagues to become more aware of how you act and react to those who are working on their fitness. I challenge personal trainers to encourage clients you may see in the gym, whether it is with a pat on the back or simply a smile, even when you may not agree on their methods.

Published by Laura Calce