One top trainer shares her tips for combatting the the unique challenges that plus-size women face in fitness spaces.
10 Tips I’ve Learned From Training Plus-Size Athletes
Written by Louise Green
I have trained thousands of women from all walks of life and from many different parts of the world. Their common thread is that they all have identified as plus-size women. After 10 years of collecting a ton of plus-size fitness intel, I have been able to identify some common themes from working with my clients and offer solutions to their struggles.
I want everyone reading this to know that when you’re feeling like a failure in fitness, it has nothing to do with you. Often, it’s the way our fitness culture is designed, from a trainer’s ability to navigate plus-size clients to exclusionary fitness advertising and media, to social-cultural issues surrounding plus-size bodies. Our fitness culture has a long way to go in understanding plus-size women’s needs, wants, and capabilities.
I’ve identified 10 key points that I’ve helped my clients overcome. Although many of my clients had the same mindset coming in, many of these concepts were simply false! I was able to help them recognize that and encouraged them to lean into their athleticism at every size. Utilize these 10 tips and you will thrive.
1. A Big Box Gym May Not Be Right for You.
I’ve worked with hundreds of women who’ve joined a gym that didn’t offer anyone to help clients with the equipment, staying motivated, or educating them on the best activities for their body type and specific needs. They signed up for this type of gym because it seems to be common knowledge that signing up for a gym membership and praying that you’ll go is all that needs to be done. But the business model of these gyms is to sell memberships and lock you in, then their job is done. But fitness is diverse and has so many varieties!
It’s extremely important for you to understand your fitness motivation personality type because every individual will be motivated differently. The gym setting may not be your thing, and that’s okay! Take some time to think about the activities you enjoyed as a child or as part of a team and try to find something that includes those activities so that you move in a way that you enjoy. Pay attention to what excites you, and build from there!
2. You Do Belong in Fitness Spaces.
One of the reasons plus-size women feel like they don’t belong in our fitness culture is due to the lack of representation of larger bodies within fitness media and advertising. We simply cannot be what we cannot see! When you can’t see yourself within the cultural message, it can send an unspoken narrative that the service isn’t for you or that you’re not invited. Lack of representation is what creates fear because of the element of the unknown. It’s no wonder many plus-size women approach fitness with trepidation because there are very few visual examples of plus-size bodies demonstrating fitness success in the media.
You belong just as much as anyone else! Check out some plus-size fitness influencers who are doing the hard work of changing the digital media landscape one photo at a time to get inspired. If she can do it, you can too!
3. You’re Capable of More Than You May Realize.
The lack of seeing the success of someone who looks like you can create limited thinking around your ability. The truth is, I’ve seen amazing fitness feats by women of all shapes and sizes. They typically start off slow and over time, they progressively build up their confidence and ability. Within each and every one of us lives an athlete. Once that athlete feels encouraged to step off the sidelines and participate, her possibilities are endless. I’ve seen it happen!
4. Fitness Isn’t Just About Weight Loss.
I was always conditioned to believe that my body size was wrong. Therefore, I was conditioned to believe that the only purpose of fitness was to lose weight. I didn’t realize that fitness could be about personal victory, accomplishment, and for the pure joy of movement.
It’s not wrong to want to lose weight, but weight loss is really about nutrition more than fitness. When the two are coupled, weight loss can occur, but I always urge my clients to think of weight loss as a side effect of having an active and healthy lifestyle and not the main focus. More often than not, when I see clients focusing primarily on weight loss, their fitness lifestyle typically has a short shelf life. Those clients often get caught in the cycle of “all or nothing” fitness behaviors and eventually stop consistently working out if they don’t see the results they are looking for.
5. Don’t Let One Bad Past Experience Ruin It.
When I became a personal trainer, I was the only plus-size woman in the room. It was a painful experience because I felt like I didn’t belong and that I had no right to be there. I also felt that the needs of plus-size women weren’t a part of the curriculum and that trainers weren’t being educated to serve every body.
Now that I’m a trainer, it’s no wonder so many women I’ve worked with have had negative fitness experiences leaving them feeling ashamed and excluded—because their needs weren’t being met. Many people feel skeptical entering fitness spaces because often they are met with people who don’t understand how to work with them. Don’t get me wrong, there are many very versatile, invested trainers out there who do get it, but unfortunately, they are not the majority. You have the right to be skeptical! See tip #9 to find tips on how to talk to your trainer about this issue.
6. Exercise Isn’t Punishment.
I was so guilty of this back in my chronic dieting days, always thinking exercise was a punishment for the food I ate. I would attach morality to food choices and if I had been “bad” I would blast myself in the gym. I viewed fitness as a way to manipulate my body and since I didn’t like my body, I was really hard on it and exercised punitively. I have trained many similar women.
If you are doing this, please stop. It’s not kind, it’s not sustainable, it’s injury-inducing, and it simply creates an unhealthy relationship with exercise. Sustainable fitness will be found in joyful movement, done at an incremental pace that works for your body and should never be harsh or punitive.
7. Success Cannot Be Gauged by Numbers.
Often when I’ve worked with clients they come in hyper-focused on weight loss and tracking every bite and movement, the number on the scale starts to define success in only one narrative. If the numbers go down, then they feel successful. If it goes up, they feel like they failed. This is a very problematic line to walk. In order for weight loss to be consistent, nutrition has to be on-point and often restriction must be at play 90% of the time.
Restricting food can be a very difficult and unsustainable task for many people so when the number on the scale goes up, they throw in the towel until the next diet promise. I encourage my clients to think of all the different ways success can be celebrated without it being about a number on the scale. Track those successes through other methods, such as better sleep, more energy, better mood, more endurance or strength, etc.
8. Call Yourself an Athlete.
The word “athlete” defined by Oxford is: A person who is proficient in fitness or sport.
Proficient, that’s all! Our society has created its own meaning of the word athlete and it has sidelined millions of people from believing that they too are athletes. Often when I refer to a client as an athlete, I am met with a blank stare. The truth is, if you are lacing up and getting out there, you are an athlete—don’t let anyone take that away from you. It’s time for us to reclaim the word. Athletes aren’t just one specific body type!
9. Speak Up to Have Your Needs Met!
I have heard some pretty terrible stories from clients about previous fitness experiences where people were left in the dust or were ignored in class settings and left to figure out their own options for the workout because they couldn’t do what was demonstrated. Generally, the individual didn’t speak up about getting their needs met, so their needs weren’t met. I want to empower women everywhere to understand it’s your right as a paying customer to ask to have your needs met.
Don’t be ashamed, you’re not the one doing anything wrong. It’s your trainer’s fault for not being there for you and you are always allowed to speak up to let them know you’re in need of support. Having a positive fitness experience is what motivates us to keep going again and again.
10. Visualize Big Goals.
I believe that with the right training, we can accomplish anything we set out to do. One of my favorite days in my challenges is when I ask my audience what their biggest, wildest, fitness dream is! I ask my clients this because I want to get them to exercise their mindset and expand their thinking around possibility. It doesn’t matter if they actually do the goal, it’s just important to say it out loud because this is where opportunity ignites. Every major accomplishment started with a simple thought. Our fitness dreams are not determined by our body size, so dream big!
Though I am a trainer now, as a plus-size woman I personally identify with all 10 points, too. There are countless plus-size fitness myths to be busted. My own personal experience as a plus-size woman in fitness helped me realize just how difficult it can be for fellow plus-size women to enter the fitness space. We need to take back what is ours: our right to move our bodies joyfully, with the right support and direction from those we pay, to have a positive experience and to generally kick some fitness ass! You’ve got this.
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