Being ‘macho’ has long been part and parcel of what it means to be a man in modern society. This...
Why I’m On A Mission to Make Fitness Friendly | A Letter From Our Founder
Growing up, I learned to associate exercise with being laughed at in gym class. Whether it’s because I had flat feet and struggled to run, had to do kneeling pushups, or was delayed in reaching puberty, exercise was always something I associated with feeling inferior.
Getting older and looking at social media didn’t help. Most fitness influencers online love to present getting ripped as something easily attainable for everyone, glossing over the fact that they’re genetically advantaged, have been working out for years (sometimes decades), invest tens of thousands of dollars in their training and nutrition, or, perhaps most common, they conveniently omit the fact that they use steroids or growth hormones.
The same thing happens with actors. How often have we seen average actors get ripped for Marvel movies in an impossibly short amount of time?
They never discuss using steroids or growth hormones, or acknowledge that they get paid tens of thousands of dollars just to workout multiple times per day with a trainer.
It all has a compounding effect that sends the message that if you don’t have the same results, you’re inferior. This was especially true for me.
We’re constantly sold on this ideal physique as something to aspire to even if it’s unattainable for us.
Some estimates suggest that as many as 40% of men in the United States have developed some form of body image issues, so I know I’m not alone in often feeling like much of the modern fitness industry does more harm than good.
If I’m being fully transparent, when I started working out regularly, my main motivation was the same insecurity I now rail against. I exercised because I wanted to be lean and muscular with no other goal in sight. All I got from that was a worse sense of my body image and repeated shoulder injuries.
Thankfully, I’ve reached a point where I’ve (largely) gotten past the point of exercising from a place of insecurity and can reap the benefits of regular exercise. Through this process, I still recognize that a lot of my own successes in the realm of fitness are derived from my privilege as a white, cis man and the fact that I have access to medication and a support group to help get past my own hangups with anxiety and insecurity.
It’s in recognizing that privilege that I’ve embarked on a mission to make fitness friendly.
Why Inclusivity Matters for the Fitness Community
Too often, the wellness space is crowded with toxic ideas about masculinity that harm men and make the space hostile toward men and others who don’t fit into a narrow subset of attributes. People who are overweight, weaker than average, trans, disabled, or who have limited mobility are often omitted from our discussions of wellness and exercise, and, unfortunately, often made to feel uncomfortable in fitness-centric places, such as gyms.
It is my belief that fitness and wellness should be about our own journeys and that everybody can benefit from integrating exercise into their daily lives.
As mentioned earlier, body image issues are on the rise, especially among communities of men. But that’s not the only reason we need to give more people a seat at the table in the world of fitness. The benefits of doing so are widespread.
- Both depression and suicide rates are on the rise, and consistent exercise is shown to improve mood and decrease symptoms of depressive conditions.
- Exercise, especially weight lifting, has been shown to help reduce the sense of gender dysphoria for transgender men.
- Communities that prioritize health and wellness often see reductions in inequality and access to resources as byproducts of community health investments.
- When people with disabilities are able to exercise in an accessible space and with adaptive machinery or training protocols, it has been shown to create an increased sense of autonomy, life satisfaction, and can often mitigate symptoms associated with chronic health conditions.
And these reasons don’t even begin to scratch the surface of the long-studied health benefits at the individual level that are associated with exercise.
How Do We Make Fitness Friendly?
If we’re going to counteract the generations-long culture of exclusionary fitness culture, we have to be intentional about being different, which is why we as a publication have adopted the mission that we have. From my perspective, I see making fitness friendly as having a few core components that I want to highlight.
Avoid Making Others Feel Judged
One of the biggest hurdles newbies face at the gym is feeling judged by the people around them. We’re taught that if our bodies jiggle or we’re not strong, we should conceal ourselves. This pressure to hide is the biggest deterrent to getting started with exercise.
For me, I was afraid to try free weights for a long time because I was worried that I wasn’t strong enough to do my workouts correctly and I didn’t want to be judged.
Being intentional about not staring at people and refraining from making unsolicited comments or giving unsolicited advice is a good starting place.
Stop Centering Weight Loss As the Pinnacle of Healthfulness
Weight loss and thinness are not the preeminent markers of health. They’re also not even the most significant outcomes of exercising regularly.
Plenty of people can eat an ideal diet and exercise regularly and still be heavy. The fact of the matter is that some people are just fat. It’s not a moral failure or a dirty word. It’s a reality that’s more complicated than mainstream fitness has made it out to be.
If we expect people to be thin or to want to be thin in order for their exercise to be valid, we may be setting them up for failure. There’s nothing wrong with losing weight or having a personal goal of losing weight, but when we free ourselves from assuming that that is the norm, we open ourselves up to opportunities to improve our quality of life in more meaningful ways.
Improving your mood; increasing your range of motion; reducing your risk of heart disease, cancer, and chronic illness; improving your sleep quality; sparking critical thinking and creativity; and making friends or building a sense of community are all equally important and valid reasons to adopt an exercise routine. These goals should be celebrated and centered just as much as aesthetics.
Learning to Intervene When Others Need Assistance
One of the most uncomfortable yet impactful things you can do to make fitness friendly is showing up as an ally when folks need it.
This can include things like:
- asking other guys to leave women alone if they’re making her feel uncomfortable or offering unsolicited corrections and advice to their lifts,
- speaking up in defense of trans folks, especially if they’re dealing with scrutiny or criticism in vulnerable places like the locker room or restroom,
- offering non-judgmental assistance when asked for it.
For a lot of folks, these efforts aren’t going to be necessary. There’s always the individual component of personal goals and efforts to put yourself out there, get in the gym, and meet your fitness goals. However, by making such efforts, we, as a community can empower more folks to take those necessary first steps.