August 30, 2010

Confessions of a Fitness Leader

It has been well over 20 years since I first started "leading" fitness classes. I remember my first class like it was yesterday. I was so nervous, I do believe I peuked right before (or was that the first sign of my eating disorder...). I thought I'd hit the celebrity jack pot back then. Being an aerobics instructor in the early 90's really meant something - at least in my head. I worked so hard to look the part. From smoking to eating less and exercising more, I was bound and determined to join the elite team of instructors at one of the biggest gym chains in the 80's.  It wasn't long before I had my invitation to join the ranks and I started teaching everything from "supersweats" to "cardio funk". We wore the "g-string" body suits, with white tights underneath, the big over sized socks and Reeboks. No, I never got into the headband/wristband combination; that was waaaaaay before MY time.  Most of us smoked, drank a ton, partied very hard, and did what we had to do to remain role models for fitness. Whatever.

We sure have come along way.........or have we? I'm just looking over the research on fitness leadership and body image and the pressure to look a certain way is still very much alive. More or less, I'm out of the "industry" now, but I see the new leaders up there teaching in their LuLuLemon-wear, tanks and tights strategically matched.  There is a fashion to fitness that makes my stomach turn. With what I have learned through my work with the overweight, obese, and sedentary population, I understand how this fashion turns many people away. It intimidates, it sets a standard of what "fit" should look like to the participants, and it does not keep them coming back  - let alone promotes enjoyment or health.

The University of Victoria put into place a rule of dress in their fitness center a long time ago.  Students, staff, faculty, were/are not allowed to wear tank tops; only t-shirts (and, of course, shorts/pants/etc....that would just be gross). The result was a more welcoming and less intimidating atmosphere for those just starting to visit a gym. It was brilliant. I don't see this anywhere else to this day, but hope, one day it will become the norm.

If there are any fitness professionals reading this blog, I highly recommend that you leave the tanks and skimpy outfits at home and teach in t-shirts. The research is there to support this as a way to bring in new members, increase class enjoyment, and keep them coming!

As for me, I have to admit, I miss the days of crazy-ass aerobics. It wasn't a good class until the condensation was heavy on the walls and mirrors; where high-legged kicks, super high-impact, and music so loud your ear drums would ache was the norm. After 1.5 - 2 hours of cardio insanity, we would celebrate our fitness superiority with a coffee and a smoke. Now... it's all about safety, progression, and health (thank the fitness Gods).

Any stories you want to share about your experiences in fitness classes would be very much appreciated.

Have a great Monday!


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