Dear LGBTQ+ Fitness Professionals: We Need To Talk

It’s long past time for the fitness industry— specifically, personal trainers and coaches— to stop exploiting people’s fears and insecurities to sell training packages. 

Need examples? Just take a quick glance at the instagram #fitness hashtag; you’ll find literally thousands of personal trainers offering “solutions” on how to “fix” your body to fit norms that are rooted in fatphobia, sexism, transphobia, and racism. From encouraging disordered eating to shaming people for taking up space, many fitness professionals go out of their way to make sure anyone who isn’t thin, muscular, and/or conventionally attractive knows they are not welcome in their gym— that is, unless you are actively trying to change the way you look to fit their toxic standards. 

Now, I know most of you reading this are probably like, “…yes, we are aware, the exclusivity of the fitness industry is certainly not a new problem.” While that is true, I’ve (unfortunately) seen a recent uptick in queer and trans personal trainers perpetuating dangerous narratives and promoting diet culture as a way of homogenizing. And, I hate to break it to ya’ll, but all the muscles in the world are not going to disrupt harmful notions of gender, body types, and fitness if we aren’t talking critically (and intersectionally!) about fatphobia, toxic masculinity, and diet culture. 

As a fitness professional, your job is to help your clients build strength, reach their goals, and feel empowered through movement. Your job is not to encourage disordered eating, push clients in ways that are unsustainable, or to participate in client’s body shaming. If your entire marketing plan revolves around aesthetics, chances are you don’t care about the longevity or wellbeing of your clients. Furthermore, bragging about how sore your clients are from sessions or talking about how your fitness class “destroys” people tells me you don’t understand the principles of progressive overload or periodization. And, while we’re on the topic— I am tired of seeing “nutrition” advice from queer and trans personal trainers. First and foremost, it’s outside your scope of practice to prescribe diets (unless you’re a registered dietician!). Second, the aesthetics you are promoting as “goals” are largely unattainable and, frankly, unsustainable without overtraining or undereating— you are literally advocating for disordered eating as a form of “health.” Lastly, relying solely on your clients’ body dysphoria/dysmorphia to sell training packages is both unethical and predatory.

It can be challenging to unlearn the messaging that diet culture and the fitness industry have pushed as gospel for years, especially if your body is non-normative and you’re just trying to fit in. I get that. But before you push harmful ideas on your clients, consider the following:

  • “Healthy” doesn’t have a body type. Skinny, fat, muscular, somewhere in-between— you absolutely cannot gauge someone’s health by simply looking at them. Assuming that your skinny clients are “healthy” and your fat clients are “unhealthy” is not only doing them both a great disservice, but also typically results in encouraging larger clients into harmful behaviors. 

  • Fitness shouldn’t be about weight loss. I get that many clients come to personal trainers looking to change their bodies, but that does not mean you should be using weight loss as a goal for clients. For one, it typically sets clients up for failure as weight fluctuates constantly. Second, affirming weight loss as an ideal goal for clients often reinforces the narrative that only certain body types can be considered healthy or fit. You are literally telling them that they will be more worthy and valuable if they change their bodies, and if they don’t they are a failure. So what can you do instead? Set goals that are based on mastering movements, sticking to a workout schedule, or allowing clients to reach functional goals that improve their daily lives. Fitness is about movement and strength, not punishment for what you ate, and it is time personal trainers recognize this and stop playing into fatphobic weight loss goals and challenges. 

  • Fitness should be enjoyable. Ya’ll, I can’t tell you how many personal trainers I have seen bragging about creating grueling workouts or telling clients that they just have to “put in the work” if they want results. Going back to the point I just made, what results are you centering for your clients that they must constantly engage in cringe-worthy workouts in order to have “results?” One of the first thing I ask clients when I do a consult is, “What activities do you enjoy and what things would you prefer not to do as part of your fitness routine?” No one is going to stick with a fitness routine that they hate, especially if they walk away every session feeling like they were hit by a bus. Less is more, and if you can’t find creative ways to engage your clients and help them reach their goals without them feel like your role is to punish them every week, you are most certainly doing something wrong.

  • Fitness should be inclusive and accessible. Not every client is engaging in movement for the same reasons; some folks are trying to manage chronic illness symptoms, some folks want to reconnect with their body after trauma, and others just want to feel strong. And all of those things are great! But how is your practice intentionally inclusive of folks who have different body types, ability levels, and needs? There is obviously no one-size-fits-all answer to this question, but I would again point to the need for intersectionality in fitness spaces. People have multiple identities and challenges, they are not one-dimensional or single-goal beings. If your personal training services are not reflective of the variety of identities and challenges folks might have, you are missing out on an opportunity to truly engage with and empower your clients. 

I’m sure this list could go on, but I will save it for future posts. Fitness professionals HAVE to do better, especially those who are predominantly serving marginalized populations like the LGBTQIA+ community. And seriously, if your personal trainer is still running a monthly weight-loss and diet challenge, perhaps it’s time to find a new trainer…

Aleksei 'Alex' Weaver