Greetings! Last week, I promised part two of the seven part series on how I keep my energy levels up. That will show up next week. First, something significant happened on Monday and I needed to write about it before my trip this weekend. I wanted to write about a problem shared by most trainers and most gym members. A problem that many of them share is their attitude towards appearance. In their desire to make good soldiers, the US Government has been suggesting that we move our bodies and stay active for at least 20 minutes a day since the 1940s. It wasn’t until a capitalist figured out a way to monetize this suggestion by opening a gym that the current culture of fitness was born. [An early public gymnasium started in Paris in 1847. However, the history of health clubs for the general public can be traced back to Santa Monica, California in 1947.] They’ve been called fitness clubs, health clubs, gyms, etc. [IWM… “Fitness” and “Health” are not interchangeable words. One can be fit with high cholesterol. One can be healthy and unable to do basic exercises.]
During this week’s post, I’ll be using words like “obese”, “fat”, and “overweight” (these words are not interchangeable either.) These words have very different meanings and I’ll try to respect those meanings in the context of my message. I’m mentioning the use of these words in case they may be a trigger for any of you reading this post. I understand that many people have experienced trauma with these words being used as weapons from parents and peers.
Trainers and Fitness Professionals, when a new client shows up for their first session and complains of knee pain, listen to their request and make sure they feel heard. Please don’t overlook their pain and see that person as overweight. Further, don’t look at their body fat as a problem that is your duty to fix. That client came to you to get stronger and live a pain-free life. “Well, if they lost some weight, their knee wouldn’t hurt so much. Bones weren’t meant to carry that much weight!” While there may be some validity to that statement, the client came to you with a knee problem, they didn’t ask you to fix their weight. Let them be fat and encourage them that they’re fine with the body they have. Find ways to help them love a fit lifestyle. Find ways that they enjoy moving their body. (Just because you like Burpees doesn’t mean they will/should.) If you can show them exercises to strengthen the muscles around their knees to relieve pain, teach them how to maintain good posture, and build core strength while connecting with the human in front of you, they won’t be seen as a fat problem that needs to be fixed. Leave the Savior complex in your locker and train with compassion.
Fitness clubs, Health clubs, Gyms, and other such places, what if your business model was NOT based on ridding the world of obesity? What if you did NOT encourage people to workout just to lose weight? What if you encouraged people to play because it improved quality of life? [Encouraging all bodies to play is why I’m a fan of the Athletic Playground in Emeryville.] What if there were no scales or body fat calipers in the entire building? In this Netflix and Chill society, I’d love to see a gym that D(idn’t)GAF about any body’s weight. I only care that you move your body and have fun doing so. A former gym regular sent me a flyer for a new gym opening here in the Bay Area. She was suggesting that I apply to work there, so I went to their website to see what they’re all about. I found the following on their About Us page: “A heart pumping, calorie burning full-body workout layering intense plyometric movements with strengthening isometric holds to build lean muscle and sweat away excess fluff.” Sweat away excess fluff!? WTF!? Are they marketing to humans or cappuccinos!? With that statement as part of their manifesto, I decided that I didn’t want to find out more about this place. I don’t want to train people in the name of de-fluffing them. I’m proud to say that I work in a gym that focuses more on movement than fat burn. We’ve never held any contest to see who can lose the most body weight or reduce the most body fat percentage in an arbitrary time period. We’re not perfect. But, in general, our approach is about creating a lifestyle around fitness and physicality for all bodies. (This post isn’t a Valentine to my employer, so you can do your own digging to find the name of my gym.)
“Do you know the best way to lose six pounds in 3 weeks?” That question was asked of me by a 13 year-old figure skater! I wish I were making this up. I was astounded! I knew that any answer could create a trajectory for the rest of her life, but I was also so caught off guard by such a question from such a lean and muscular young woman that I fumbled the answer. I told her that it was a big question and I encouraged her to seek out scientific approaches and to avoid any diets. (My hope was that she would not find any scientific approach to weight loss for someone with such a low body fat percentage.) I went home and drank some whiskey that night. I seriously considered quitting my job and hanging up my coach’s whistle indefinitely. I was reminded a few days later, as I told the story to the club owner, that such an occurrence was precisely why I shouldn’t quit, people like that need coaches that will point them in the right direction. Even days later, I don’t know if I could ever be ready for such a question. She’s 13 fucking years old!
“My boyfriend said he wouldn’t marry me unless I lost weight.” Those were the words of a victim of societal conditioning. She relayed the message through a friend and wanted to hire me as her trainer. I refused. Someone will take her money. I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night if I did. I cared more about whether or not she was able to see the life of abuse she was about to embrace. That was about two years ago. I don’t know whatever happened with her, but I hope that she woke up and left that person for a life of self-love and a partner that likes her just the way she is today.
Once and Future Clients, please cancel your magazine subscriptions. Please be honest with your parents and tell them that their lack of acceptance (as they criticized your weight and food choices) hurt you. Please find and nurture a supportive group of friends that accept and celebrate your body just the way it is and above all else… Love yourself before you begin any fitness program. An exercise that I give to most of my clients is to stand naked in the mirror, armed with a dry erase marker. Write (a minimum of) ten things you love about your body on that mirror. Use that self-love to fuel your motivation to improve your quality of life. “But, Jet, if I love my body, I won’t want to workout and change it.” Right, you won’t want to change it, the hope is that you’ll be motivated to make it stronger and more capable. To put it bluntly, *presses caps loCK* DON’T WORKOUT TO LOSE WEIGHT! Exercise to improve your quality of life. Improve your blood volume and blood flow, decrease aches and pains, improve balance and reduce fall hazards, increase bone density, improve mental acuity, and just be ready for life. Losing weight should not be your only goal for embracing a fit lifestyle. Think long-term as in LIFE style, not just about the wedding dress. “Jet, please! My Gram-gram lived until she was 97 and she was still walking and talking shit! She was strong and she didn’t exercise!” Well, I bet she didn’t sit at a desk and fuck around on Tumblr all day when she was in her 20s, either. The point that I hope you takeaway from this post is that fat is not a problem to be fixed. No one gives a fuck if you’re fat or fluffy or whatever TF pop culture is calling it these days. No one can body shame you without both your permission and acceptance of such shame. I’m grateful for being teased and bullied as a child. By my peers (read: black people) I was told that I was too dark, my nose was too big, and blah blah blah. What was I to do? My own friends, my own “people” ridiculed me for the way I looked. I made no efforts, nor had any desire to lighten my skin or change my nose. I adopted a simple manifesto for friendship. “Either they’re in my corner or fuck ’em!” I will always be comfortable in my own skin. I will always love myself, despite the fact that I’ll never meet the societal standard of beauty.
For the people in your world that don’t accept you, for the magazines, or gyms that are over concerned with your fluff when you’re trying to make strength gains and move beyond pain, fuck ’em. For all of the significant others that have ever told their partner to lose weight… Fuck you! For all of the coaches that have told 13 year-old girls to lose weight… Fuck you! For all sports/activities (looking at Ballet and Football with equal ire) that condition children to have anxiety-ridden relationships with food (so that they may lose or gain weight to make the cut)… Fuck you!
Why do I sound so angry? Wouldn’t you be? I became a trainer 11 years ago, because I wanted to help people move their bodies efficiently. I want to help people get stronger while staying injury-free. I DGAF about anyone getting a six pack and I think that’s a dumb goal to have. I just want people to have a better life through fitness and healthier habits. But, all I get are men that want to gain weight and get “swole” and women that want to lose weight because society has convinced them that something is wrong with their bodies. Yes, I’m angry. Yes, this is a problem with my industry. We (fitness professionals) can fix this problem as soon as we stop trying to fix people. Let’s help the people. Let’s teach the people how to workout instead of just taking them through a workout. Let’s explain the benefits of those compound movements. Let’s coach the humans instead of training the dollar signs.