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Striving to Make Fitness Training More Inclusive

A nonprofit health and fitness company based in Kearny Mesa is leading a drive to address bias in fitness trainers and fitness clubs against people who are overweight or just don’t fit the stereotype of what a healthy, fit person should look like.

 

Generally, that’s thin and sleek for women, muscled and beefy for men, with six-pack abdomens for both genders.

American Council on Exercise (ACE) aims to change the stereotypical image of fitness to encourage more people to become active, said Jacque Crockford, senior product manager with ACE.

“ACE’s mission in very simple terms is to get people moving and that means all people, people of all sizes, shapes, ability levels, et cetera,” Crockford said. “We feel very strongly that we should be taking the lead, making sure that all people, regardless of size, are comfortable and confident when they go into a fitness space.”

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Inclusivity

Even little things, like how exercise equipment is placed in a room, can affect people’s confidence and motivation.

If the equipment is too close together, larger people may have trouble getting around it.

“That seems like such a small thing, but for someone who is working on their health, that can be a huge deterrent to continuing,” Crockford said.

Simple things like the language trainers use can be an issue.

“It’s easy to tell someone to get down on the ground and do things when you’re in a normal body. That is a very different experience for someone that is in a large body,” Crockford said. “Not everyone is having the same experience that you are. It’s important to understand. This is about inclusivity in the fitness space.”

Size is but one factor that Crockford said fitness professionals must consider.

“If your clients or class participants are older or if they’re pregnant, or they come from a racial minority, all those factors are important for the fitness professional to understand so they can help that person feel included,” Crockford said. “I’ve worked with clients in their 80s doing a lot more than clients in their 20s. Sometimes we can expect that older clients may not be able to do certain things, certain exercises, certain moves.”

Separating Size From Fitness

Tasha Edwards, an ACE certified fitness instructor and founder of Hip Healthy Chick, said that she’s personally experienced the bias that ACE is addressing.

“There were times that people wouldn’t come to my class and their instructor’s class because we were not their role model,” said Edwards, who has been a trainer for 17 years.

“Health and wellness have nothing to do with size,” Edwards said. “Some people are genetically predisposed to size. It had nothing to do with how fit someone was.”

At 5-foot-6, Edwards, 46, said that her weight has fluctuated between 132 and 232..

“Behind my back, I’ve been called too big, too black, too old,” Edwards said. “Fitness is not what people think it is,” adding that it’s more about strength, balance and flexibility.

“There’s an unrealistic expectation that we can’t always uphold,” Edwards said.

As Edwards sees it, some trainers and some clients focus too much on numbers, like pounds and body mass index (BMI).

“My coworker is solid muscle. If you touch him, he feels like a brick wall. If you just look at the numbers, it looks like he’s overweight,” Edwards said. “Somewhere along the line, we’ve been fed stuff on our bodies.”

Changing Expectations

Edwards was among the panelists in a recent webinar on weight bias and stigma put on by ACE and Self, a fitness and lifestyle publication on a variety of platforms including video and social media.

“The outcome that I would love to see is that this is a starter, and the conversation continues in individual training practices and other fitness companies like ACE,” Edwards said.

American Council on Exercise (ACE)

Founded: 1980

CEO: Scott Goudesune

Headquarters: Kearny Mesa

Business: Nonprofit organization focused on health and fitness certification, education and training

Employees: 75

Notable: ACE has certified more than 90,000 professionals worldwide

Website: www.acefitness.org

Contact: 800-825-3636

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