Promoting a body positive culture in your courses and programs is grounded in the philosophy that our goal as fitness professionals is to inspire and motivate our clients to make exercise a life-long habit. It steps away from “quick fixes” and fads and encourages a client-centred approach that is based on kindness, self-compassion, and moderation. A body positive approach seeks to encourage people to find their own unique approach to health and fitness that is both enjoyable and rewarding. Here are the top 10 things you can do to promote a body positive approach in your group fitness classes and with your personal training clients.
1 – Become more self-aware
The first step you need to take in order to create a culture of body positivity is to examine your own attitude towards fitness. Become aware of your own attitudes towards body shape, weight, exercise and food, and work on being a positive role model.
2 – Market to inspire, not to shame
Be cognizant of falling into the old patterns of fitness marketing that tend to lead with a paradigm that people are broken or something is wrong, and we need to fix them. Instead, use positive language and images that evoke positive feelings and relatedness. Of course, we want to inspire our clients, but when the imagery we use has a singular body type – it’s hard for clients to see themselves being successful.
3 – Make sure your programs and classes are accessible
If you’re offering an “all levels” program or class, be sure that you consider all body shapes, sizes, and abilitieswithout sacrificing inclusivity. Offer options for all levels that are fun and challenging.
4 – Re-frame exercise
We don’t exercise to “make our fat cry” or make up for “bad foods” we ate. By viewing exercise as a punitive activity that is driven by guilt we only reinforce the negative association. Help your clients embrace the short term positive mental and emotional outcomes that come from an exercise session: better mood, improved quality of sleep, and reduced symptoms of PMS among others.
5 – Take the focus off the aesthetic
A body positive approach moves the intention of exercise from a “means to an end” to look a certain way and moves it to the present moment and health outcomes. Healthy bodies come in all shapes and sizes, but due to marketing and the media; we generally have an impression that a “right body” looks just one way. We all have an ego, and it’s ok to appeal to our innate desire to look great. However, it’s important that looks are not the sole focus and that we increase the breadth of what looking great (or fit) actually “looks like” (hint: it looks different on everybody!).
6 – Focus on health behaviours
A body positive approach puts the emphasis on the healthy behaviours that lead to positive health outcomes. Consider a move away from the use of the scale and physical measurements, especially with clients who have a history of struggle in this area. Encourage them to focus on the healthy choices and habits they are making, not on the outcomes.
7 – Make fitness fun!
We are designed to move – and enjoy doing so! Encourage moderation and self-reflection about what is working and not working for them. Fitness is not a “one size fits all” thing – and there are plenty of options! Encourage your participants to find activities they enjoy. Have the confidence to suggest other program types or classes (even if it means you may not have them in your class or program anymore). This provides them with incredible customer service which will make them your raving fan (which of course will pay you back in the future with referrals).
8 – Beware the competitive environment
Work to encourage your clients to focus inwardly on their own experience. Friendly competition can be helpful in some (more athletic) situations; but generally, competition is counter-productive to a body positive culture. Encourage your participants to be each other's cheerleaders and champions!
9 – Educate with kindness
When you hear people cutting themselves down, or being highly critical of their progress or physical body, bring them back to the health outcomes and joy of movement. Encourage them to explore the ideas of self-compassion (speaking to themselves the same way they would a loved one). Reconnect them to the bigger picture of why they started and how being fit and healthy will improve their life.
10 – Understand your scope of practice
If you have participants or clients that are struggling with a deeper sense of body hatred or bigger issues around food and fitness, refer them to a local counsellor who is specialized in the area. You might even consider partnering with them on a program or package to help clients move past this struggle and find a greater sense of body positivity.
Gillian Goerzen, BSc. (Kin), BCRPA PT, TFL GF/WT is a personal trainer and owner of Super You Fitness & Nutrition Coaching based in Nanaimo, BC. Gillian is a passionate educator, speaker, and coach.
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