For the gym-goer, a fitness space is inclusive when the environment is welcoming, non-judgmental and supportive of one’s freedom to be and feel like themselves, says Britt Behrns, a Brooklyn marketing associate and client at The Ness, a trampoline fitness studio in New York.
“I keep coming back because there’s no worry or fear of going to the studio,” she adds.
Inclusive fitness spaces are likely to exhibit the following characteristics, according to industry experts:
Personalized instructions or changes. Fitness professionals can include all individuals by tailoring training and modifying group fitness classes as much as possible. “A transgender person who has (recently) had surgery, a plus-size person and a mom who works 45 hours a week (each require) something very different based on their body needs,” says Summers. “That doesn’t mean (individuals aren’t) doing the same exercises—(the movements are) just personally tailored.”
Especially in group fitness settings, instructors should ask participants about any injuries or other issues and offer adjustments to accommodate different abilities, according to Summers and Brandon Dawson, certified personal trainer and manager of 9x Fitness in Malibu, Calif.
Affordable prices. From boutiques to large luxury fitness companies, high prices can be a barrier to entry for many people trying to exercise on a budget. Summers highlights Blink Fitness as an inclusive option with affordable membership and training fees.
Alternatively, some fitness facilities offer sliding scale payment plans, allowing some clients to pay a reduced fee based on their specific financial situation. Depending on the facility, sliding scale plans may have a minimum threshold, be limited to a certain number of clients, or require proof of income or hardship to qualify.
Friendly staff. A warm introduction can make all the difference, says Dawson. “For example, (a staff member) shakes (someone’s) hand, gives them a high five, says, ‘Hello, we’re happy to have you,’ smiling and being genuine (indicating a comfortable fitness environment),” he adds. .
Established client relationships. An important approach to helping people get the most out of their fitness experience is to understand the unique values that underlie their motivation to join a gym. The only way to do this is through authentic and open communication with members. “Take the time to get to know your clients beyond their fitness experience,” encourages Aly Giampolo, certified personal trainer and co-founder and instructor at The Ness. In this way, the trainer can better understand the physical space of his clients, which can influence their individual exercise program, she adds.
Kathleen, another Brooklyn-based FORM Fitness client, credits her communicative relationship with Summers for keeping her healthy in the early days of the pandemic and after extensive leg surgery. “For the first time, I felt like someone was actually watching the way I was moving and giving me really good cues to make my movements easier and better,” she says.
Accessible contents. Gyms can be inclusive for people of different identities, abilities, needs and skill levels by providing accessible parking, entrances and restrooms, as well as equipment that accommodates people with disabilities, says Alyza Berman, LCSW, founder and clinical director of The Berman Center, a treatment center of Mental Health in Atlanta. Inclusive amenities also include gender-neutral locker rooms and changing rooms, Bermans adds, providing a safe, physical space for people of all identities.
Set and enforce inclusive policies. “An inclusive gym or fitness studio should have policies that support inclusion, such as a zero-tolerance policy for discrimination and harassment,” says Berman. She adds that such policies should be displayed in the facility, on social media, and in new member contracts and staff contracts. She also recommends “ongoing in-person training for staff to demonstrate the level of importance of inclusiveness and acceptance.”
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