Yes, we work out. No, not for the reasons you might think.
Because plus-size bodies are so rarely seen working out in mainstream media (even while scrolling on Instagram), it can often feel like women above a size 14 don’t work out at all—but we’re on a mission to debunk that myth! We chatted with some incredible leaders in plus-size fitness to hear what misconceptions they regularly struggle with. Not only are these women strong and fit, but they also have carried around the baggage that comes with working out in a plus-size body and are here to help us break it down.
Myth #1: Plus-size women exercise for weight loss.
While many women of all sizes work out with the goal of losing weight, not all plus-size women are being active purely to drop a dress size. With benefits like improved heart health, increased flexibility, strength, endurance, and even mental health benefits, there are countless reasons why we exercise.
Plus-size activist Laura Delarato says, “The biggest misconception I face—and plus-size women in general face—is that we are working out or being healthy because we are trying to lose weight.” While Laura is no stranger to fitness, she gets treated as such by people all around her. She noted that, “Just checking into a gym often garners a ‘Good for you!’” Patronizing comments from passersby are not uncommon when exercising, as if the gymtimidation of being a larger size in a fitness context isn’t enough to keep plus-size women from working out.
Avid hiker Jenny Bruso has noticed similar reactions when trekking on trails. “I often notice the disbelieving looks I regularly get from men as I pass them on the trail with a friendly, ‘Hello.’” While comments and looks may intimidate some, both Jenny and Laura have persevered and continue to defy expectations, only getting stronger both physically and mentally as they’ve had to teach themselves how to have a thick skin so these comments don’t get to them. Jenny Bruso was so inspired that she wrote a guide on how to interact with plus-size women on a hike.
Myth #2: Plus-size women can’t do the same workouts as everyone else.
That “gymtimidation” factor, of not being able to do the same workout as the other people in a fitness class, is very real for many. But the fact that we’re incapable of completing the same workouts as straight sizes? That’s a complete myth according to Coach Tulin, a plus-size fitness motivator who encourages her followers to go for it, even if there is no one else in the room with bodies that look like our own.
In the case of Dia&Co customer Leah Lakins, it was not the people in her yoga studio that made her nervous, but rather the equipment. Reflecting upon when her yoga studio first introduced aerial yoga, Leah remembers, “I looked up at the fabric hanging from the ceiling and thought, ‘There is no way that that piece of fabric is going to hold me!’” She soon learned that the aerial yoga hammocks can hold up to 1,000 pounds, meaning she would be supported throughout her entire workout.
Coach Tulin believes a common misconception is, “that we need special workouts as plus-size women. I don’t believe that we do. I believe that we should do the things that bring us joy, to try the things that look like fun.” To Leah, the thing that looked like fun was aerial yoga, even though the equipment made her nervous. While it took her some time, she eventually gave it a go and reaped the rewards. She remembers how it felt once she got comfortable in the hammock. “I gradually allowed myself not to let my weight be a barrier to me trying a new trick or going a little farther than I had before.”
While Leah found a supportive community to welcome her to this new activity, avid hiker Ashley of @ashleysadventure got a different kind of positive feedback from those she saw on the trail, which she documented on Instagram. Her caption reads, “A guy came up to me today as I was pumping water, and said ‘You’re more badass than any of us out here. I’m not trying to be rude, but you don’t see people your size out here.’ While it was flattering, it was also sad.” Simply being on the same challenging trail as this man surprised him. Regardless of what is holding you back from trying the challenging workout, be it the intimidating equipment or perceived ability levels of others in the class, you too can participate!
Myth #3: If you modify the workout for your body, you should move to the back.
No two bodies are alike and each one has its own set of challenges and strengths. Any fitness instructor will tell you that you should listen to your body and modify if you feel pain or if you can’t achieve the correct form for the position. However, we often feel that we are coming up short if we cannot get the perfect form, and it leaves many of us feeling inadequate and like we shouldn’t try to participate in the workout. Coach Tulin has the opposite perspective. She believes that, “modifications are not less of a workout, they are a dedication to your workout. To modify is foundational—it is the way that you are able to work at your ability and challenge it and continue to grow.”
Yoga teacher Angela Dawn struggled with her growth in her yoga practice until she worked with a student teacher who helped her modify so she could master the poses she found challenging. She remembers the teacher, “always finding a way to get me there, whether it was bringing me more bolsters to prop me up for a reclining heroes pose or helping me attempt wheel by offering me blocks and the wall, rather than asking me to push up with my hands on the floor.” These small tweaks made the poses accessible in a way they never were before, leaving her inspired to incorporate similar techniques in her teaching. “His creativity in modifying yoga asana really inspired me to seek out more accessibility training.”
Another woman who understands the power of modification is blogger CeCe Olisa, who has a collection of fitness videos on YouTube specifically made with plus-size women in mind. She notes, “The workout modifications that I make are very impactful. I get emails every day from people who say they are so much stronger because they practice using my videos.” And though CeCe is creating video content for her community so they can work out from the comfort of their own home, these videos stemmed from CeCe working out in a class environment. “I remember being at the gym taking a bootcamp class that I took every week. It was a really intense class, one of those classes that when you start, you’re in the back row but when you get good, you move to the front. I had moved to the front. Whenever I would take the class, there would be people in the window that would watch me in awe. I was doing everything everyone else was in the class. I remember thinking, ‘This is not that big of a deal,’ but this image is not something that’s ever seen, so when people see it, they’re surprised.” CeCe realized how powerful her being at the front of the class was to her classmates, a sentiment that Coach Tulin agrees with. She noted that a misconception is the belief that, “because we modify, we have to be in the back. We don’t, we can absolutely be front-row divas.”
What are some common misconceptions you’ve experienced? Let us know and join the conversation on social.
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