Skip to main content

10 tips for the body positive fitness professional

I've been thinking a lot recently about what it takes to put all this body positive stuff into action, as a trainer. So I thought I would share some thoughts because that can be useful.

It's something I am very mindful of, when I talk to clients, or when I write about what I do, and I thought it might be helpful to break some of it down, for my own reference. Like ground rules if you will. Not because rules are essential, but because having a clear "policy" on these things makes it easier - the less individual decisions I have to make in a day, the better my day is! So here goes.

1. Never assume that a potential client wants to change the way their body looks.

It's a super-easy trap to fall into. If someone who is not particularly lean approaches a trainer for nutrition advice, statistically, they probably wanted to know about fat loss. We meet so many people who want to know about that, it becomes a reflexive response.

But it also sniffs a little of some big assumptions.

I couldn't tell you how many times I have heard a woman relate a tale of how she was strength training happily in the gym, and a trainer approached her offering to help her "shed those extra pounds". Pounds she was perfectly comfortable with until that moment. It's really common in fitness for women to be offered weight loss as the default. Why not be original and go for something else?

So why not do what good coaches do best? Ask an open, neutral question, and really listen.

Which leads me into the next point....

2. Never assume the client's goals

For business and marketing reasons, we tend to categorise our clients. It helps us understand how to reach out to people. Most trainers have a niche or a few areas they know they work best with (mine is diet survivors, pre/postnatal women and chronic pain/hypermobility). But once those people have turned from possibilities to, well, real people it's time to start listening to them.

I was reminded of this recently on a trainers group, where someone asked a question about a new client, who was a transgender woman, wanting to know if there was anything they should consider. Many of the replies immediately went to things like working on aesthetics: working glutes, laying off arms....building a more stereotypically female shape. But it was never stated that she was interested in aesthetics. Perhaps she was happy with her shape. Perhaps she wanted to be healthier, or improve her athletic performance.

To look at a client and assume that they want to work on a particular area means voicing a judgement that you have deemed that area somehow lacking. Let them tell you what they want to change, then you can decide where to go from there. Very few people have ever stood before a personal trainer and said "OK, this is me, what do you want to change". So we shouldn't be responding as if they did.

"I'm training fluffy"

3. Or their motivations

Let's imagine we have a bunch of people and they all want to "lose weight". Why?

  • They want to look a certain way or fit into a particular outfit
  • They want to feel better about themselves
  • They feel physically uncomfortable with their size
  • They have been told by their doctor that they should lose weight for health reasons
  • They are into rock climbing and want to improve their power:weight ratio
  • They need to cut body fat for physique competition
  • They are competing in a sport that requires them to meet a weight class restriction

Each of these instances would need to be treated differently, both in programming strategies and coaching methodology.

4. Don't tell a client how to feel about their body

I received an email the other day, from a company that specialises in female body transformation (that's a really fancy way of saying weight loss). The email was trying to encourage women to sign onto their programme, by telling them how awful it would be to stay as they are. It used phrases such as "flabby and miserable". I had to go and have a lie down until the wrath dissipated.

Don't tell people how their body makes them feel. If they feel badly in their body, they know it, so why not tell them how they might feel *after* being on the programme. If they weren't feeling badly, well, they either are now, or they are really angry and just unsubscribed.

5. Don't speak negatively about a client's body, past or present

Most fitness professionals have enough tact not to stand in front of a client and point out their flaws. I say "most" because I have seen it happen, and it's as cringeworthy as it sounds.

It's really easy though to slip up when you are looking at progress photographs or before/after images. I have a bit of discomfort with before/after images. They can be a great tool and a great source of pride, but it's so important to remember that the person in the before picture is a real person too, and they deserve respect.

As someone who has been through some major weight changes myself, I find it quite awkward when I'm told how much "better" I look, because it implies that there was something wrong with me before, but people weren't mentioning it like it was some terrible secret.

Also there is always the chance that they might put weight on again at some point.

6. Speak positively about all kinds of bodies

It's that classic thing, you say mean things about one person, and other people start to wonder what you say about them. Being non-judgemental about people's bodies is a universal commitment. It means being compassionate to your client, to people in the media and to yourself.

If all else fails remember: If you've nothing nice to say, say nothing.

7. Avoid using derogatory language about body shapes.

Our culture is full of all kinds of awful ways to refer to body parts and make use feel bad about them. Using them reinforces a lot of cultural body shaming and a lot of negative self-talk in a client.

Using straightforward, neutral language sounds more professional and models a more forgiving attitude.

8. Be prepared to coach body positive patterns to clients.

Often clients start out with some shocking things to say about themselves. Sometimes they have habits that reinforce negative feelings they have about their bodies, like reading certain magazines.

Drawing their attention to this, and encouraging practices that can help them develop a healthier mindset. Using the right kind of praise and encouragement can draw attention to the progress they are making, and add real value to their achievements.

9. Be supportive of diversity in fitness

Images in the fitness industry are notoriously one dimensional. Making sure that people of different shape, size, age, gender and race get to see people like them, smashing their fitness is a real passion of mine.

Stock photo galleries are full of the notorious slim blonde in a sports bra. Ads in gyms are covered in lean, shredded (dehydrated, photoshopped...) models. And they are lovely, but not everyone can look like that, and not everyone *wants* to look like that.

So I make a point of hunting down the images of more diverse fit people, and sharing the achievements of athletes and fitness role models from all kinds of backgrounds.

Good health is for everyone, so lets look at all kinds of people doing what they love doing to be healthy.

10. Keep working at it.

Body shaming is rife in our culture, from the "circles of shame" in gossip mags to the doctors who tell overweight patients to lose weight before they will entertain that their problems might come from elsewhere. When you are surrounded by it, it becomes part of you and it's hard to break away from.

Slip ups happen. I've often caught myself talking to clients, or running a live cast and realised that I have said something culturally stereotypical rather than staying on track for my ethos. Every day is a new practice, if we keep chipping away, we can forge a more accepting world for all of us.

My nutrition coaching and programmes are all built around a body positive ethos - check them out!


Popular posts from this blog

Step away from the scale. Why weigh ins and weight loss don't match.

I have a persistant bugbear when it comes to health coaching, and it's this issue of "weight". People are often talking about "losing weight", the number on the scale becomes a focus. "If only I could just get under 65kg" they say. Or worse I see advertised "buy this supplement and you can lose 20kg in a fortnight". I've found myself frequently sitting with a weight-focussed client and asking "if you were 2 dress sizes smaller, fit and toned, but you weighed the same as you do now, could you be happy with that?" You might be surprised how challenging a question that can be. For many people, particularly those who have struggled with weight loss, that number is the absolute key. They can wake up, feeling energised and full of life, slip into those jeans that used to live hopefully in the bottom of the drawer, check themselves in the mirror and love what they see... then they step on the scales, see the number is half a kilo

Managing Fibromyalgia flares

I've written before about living with EDS and Fibromyalgia ,  much of my personal fitness and health practices are geared around managing those conditions and keeping me as well as I can be. When managing a chronic health condition, particularly one that involves fatigue and potential flare ups, pacing, good nutrition, good sleep and generally taking care of yourself is always the first priority. Ideally we want to have as few flares as possible. But sometimes they still happen, and when they do, it's good to have a strategy in place. And I'm going to be talking in fairly general terms, because while EDS and Fibro are my personal experience, there is so little understanding of the mechanisms behind these conditions, that most strategies are going to be applicable to a number of conditions where crashes of exhaustion and pain are a feature. So what is a flare? A flare is a period where someone with chronic illness suffers increased symptoms for a short while. The

Is being polite sabotaging your weight loss?

I've been thinking a lot lately about the barriers that make it hard for people to stick to healthy habits, or even take them up in the first place. My personal training clients are a lovely bunch, and one thing I can certainly say is that none of them have come to me completely uninformed about healthy eating. Most people have done some homework before they get to the point of hiring me, and while I always go over the basics (never assume anything) I know that when I tell them stuff like this, it's not new information to them: Eat less to lose weight Eat protein with every meal Eat 5 portions of fruit and veg a day Consume high sugar and fat treats rarely and in moderate portions Drink water with every meal or snack Exercise regularly That's not rocket science, so why are so many people still struggling with it? Is it because "the rules" are more complicated? Are they missing the "weird trick" (spoiler alert, there are no weird tricks

What's the deal with yoga and hypermobility?

I wanted to address a question today that keeps coming up on various hypermobility and EDS forums that I frequent. It comes up so often in fact that I feel like I have to write this all up in one place, to save me 1000s of key strokes of individual responses and distil some of my opinions and thought processes on the matter. It always goes like this. Someone asks a question like "I've just been diagnosed with hypermobility, I've been told I can't do yoga anymore..." The responses are always a mixture of "yes, my doctor/physio told me yoga was the worst thing I could do for my hypermobility" and "I do yoga and it's been the best thing for my hypermobility". So what gives? Well, I'm firmly in the "yoga is useful" camp, and I have to disclose that. I'm a yoga practitioner of around 20 years and a perinatal yoga teacher , as well as a personal trainer and bendy person. While I have the deepest respect for the medic

My top apps for supporting a healthy lifestyle.

The hardest part of making healthy choices and lifestyle changes is making it a habit. It's easy to make a decision to "eat better", "exercise more" or whatever your current plan is. It's a lot harder to stick to it on the rough days, for long enough that it becomes a habit and part of your life that you can't imagine being without. I love a bit of tech. I am a super geeky science nerd and finding ways to use technology to support my health and fitness makes me very happy. So with this in mind I thought I'd give a quick run down of my favourite smartphone apps for developing and maintaining healthy habits. Habitica I'm starting with this one because it's mad and I love it. Habitica is basically a to-do list app, but it's specially for the gamers among us. If you are familiar with Dungeons and Dragons, and all the games that grew out of that system and fantasy world, you will recognise Habitica. The app allows you to create 3 t