Any asshole can be a trainer. As unflattering as it is for me, a trainer, to say this, it’s true.
When people choose to work with me, I’m honest with them. I’m not a drill sergeant. I’m not going to make you feel guilty about your food choices. I’m not going to focus on the number on the scale. I’m not going to sell you supplements. I’m not going to take advantage of the position you’ve allowed me to hold. Some other trainers aren’t this way, and it makes me sad, angry, scared for their clients, and ashamed for them.
But my confidence to be true to what I believe is best for myself and my clients hasn’t always been this strong.
Before we had our own training space, I worked for gyms (tiny and huge), and rented space from other trainers. Although I loved working with my clients, I disliked the gym cultures I found myself in. Weight-obsessed, body-shaming, sexist, homophobic, diet-culture-following, exclusive and exploitative. My Tribe formed our own subculture in the midst of this overall toxic environment and we thrived within our own group. But the cloud of negativity hung lower and heavier as time passed. When you exist in an industry so heavily focused on aesthetics and appearances (physical and social), being “different” isn’t always considered a commodity. In fact, it’s usually considered a liability and steps are taken to put you back into your expected place and/or make you a pariah and cast you out. I realize how dramatic this may sound—I mean, it’s just a gym, right? But for those of you who have worked in the fitness industry and tried to stay true to yourselves, you might understand.
At a gym that I wanted to be my long-term training home, I was consistently berated, underpaid, talked down to, told to “step in line”, and purposely left on the sidelines. My ideas were heard, dismissed, and later on taken ownership of by someone more “appropriate” and “appealing”. I was threatened, my employment was threatened, I was given ultimatums regarding my training style, and punished for not “selling” classes that were not appropriate for my clients’ needs, goals and abilities.
I was preached to, prayed for, blamed for my failing marriage, blamed for the future “misery” of my children, told to go to church, told I was “out of the friendship circle” of the rest of the trainers and owners, and told that all of my clients would leave me if I wasn’t training at that specific gym. The owner said to me, while telling me that divorce is an unforgivable sin, “I’ve listened to many sermons on marriage, which is why I feel qualified to counsel you on this subject”. This was following his remark that in order to fix my marriage I needed to fix myself.
I’ll never forget that day or that conversation, because it was the day I resigned. It was spring and such a beautiful day outside. And I was stuck sitting at a fold out table in the storage room of a dirty gym with a bigot who was preaching to me about all of my faults as an employee and as a person. All I wanted to do was be outside in that gorgeous sunshine and drive away from that part of my life, but he continued to blab on and on about what Jesus says and what a terrible person I was.
And dammit, I believed him.
He was so convincing and seemed to have so much evidence, so I just sat there and took it. I fantasized about getting up and walking away, but instead I just sat there and took it. He was so happy with himself. So proud and confident, so sure of his opinions being truth.
And I bought it.
It stayed with me for a long time, the belief that I’m broken and unfixable, a terrible coach and a terrible person. In his words, “you could be a good trainer if you were just a better person”. It echoed in my brain day and night. After leaving that gym I knew I needed to find a better environment for myself and my clients.
To be continued...
I consider myself a Body Positive Trainer. What does this mean exactly? For me, it means that I want to focus not solely on my clients’ aesthetic goals, but also encourage them to examine (and hopefully improve) their relationship with their bodies.
Something I’ve been challenging myself with is this: how does my view regarding Body Positivity juxtapose with my job of helping people get more fitness-y? It’s a tough one, I’ll be honest. It’s difficult when a potential client approaches me with the goal of “getting down to my high school weight”, or “having abs”, or “getting their ‘body back’” after having a baby. As a trainer, I absolutely want to help my clients achieve their goals. What I want even more, though, is to challenge them to figure out what drives those specific goals—to find out WHY, at age 55, they want to weigh what they did when they were going through puberty; WHY, when they’re only 6 weeks postpartum and breastfeeding and healing from a C-Section, they’re concerned primarily with losing body fat; WHY they want to look like an air-brushed Instagram model who only eats plain broccoli and chicken breast for weeks prior to a photo-shoot. Finding that WHY, that deep reason that drives that goal, that’s the good stuff. That’s the treasure chest full of the needs, desires, passions, tears, traumas, excitement, memories (great and not-so-great) that fuel those seemingly simple goals. And that’s where Body Positivity is an amazing tool and philosophy. Because we can stop talking about numbers on a scale, we can stop talking about size and “fat” vs. “lean”, and start the dialogue that really, truly matters: self-acceptance. You don’t have to “love” yourself or love your body. But you can try to give it credit for what it can do and how well it’s served you to this point. You can treat it with respect by giving it movement, sleep, food, and care. You can listen to what it needs and what it wants and do your best to provide it those things. Maybe one day it needs fresh air and a silent walk, and maybe the next day it needs to pound a max deadlift while covered in chalk and sweat.
Every person I’ve ever worked with has had some level of negative body image, disordered eating, or body dysmorphia (or a combination of all of these). Unfortunately, in our society, this has become the norm. More often than not you can catch most of us disliking, punishing, talking negatively about, or even downright hating our bodies. What effect does this have on our self-image, on our mental and physical health, on our relationships and even on our fitness goals? It’s actually self-sabotaging.
The best and most fascinating things about coming into Body Positivity, Body Neutrality, and/or self-acceptance are the changes that take place once you stop sabotaging yourself with resentment and animocity. Your mindset evolves to one more geared toward optimism, your attitude becomes more “I can do this!!” instead of “I’d never be able to do that”. Your body is being nourished with care and respect and it thanks you with all kinds of cool changes! Some of the changes can be measured, like increasing your squat or bench press or improving your mile time, or even measured by inches and pounds on the scale if that’s your thing.
But many of the changes can’t be measured in a standard or conventional way, because those changes happen in your mind, your heart, and your spirit. The realization that your body is an awesome way to move you through life, but it is not (as you once thought), the absolute most important and most defining piece of you. That’s liberation. That’s empowerment. That’s peace. And that’s exactly what I want for each and every person I work with, including myself.