I sat down to apply to speak at a well-known fitness conference recently. I wrote out the draft of my session summary and before I hit send, I sent it over to a friend of mine who has a good handle on both the fitness industry and how to actually get conferences to consider you as a speaker. “As bad as this sounds,” she replied in her e-mail, “dumb it down a little and focus on what tools the trainer will get.”
I felt myself deflate a little as I re-wrote my words and removed anything that was larger than two syllables. Prior to filling out the application, I had searched for yoga and Pilates conferences that might be a potential fit for my work, only to be reminded that because I didn’t go far enough with my yoga education and since I’m not a Pilates instructor, I can’t speak in any of those places. I was left with fitness, an industry where I’ve always felt like an outsider despite over eighteen years training people. I feel passionately that the people who receive services resembling personal training and individualized movement interventions deserve more than what the industry as a whole currently offers and that the people choosing to teach movement and fitness for a living deserve access to the fundamental concepts that would allow them to create a more holistic, integrated experience for their clients. There remains a segmented approach to fitness and movement teaching that doesn’t emphasize an approach that is inclusive of other modalities and influences; this segmented approach leaves gaps in the fitness professional’s ability to reach the ones who would most benefit from their services, the injured ones and the ones who haven’t moves in decades. Much of the training available for trainers focuses on training people who already have a baseline of fitness, but what about the others?
In all fairness, very few sectors of the movement world are inclusive of outside ideas and most are geared towards people who are able-bodied. The biggest providers of movement education for the general republic remain exclusive, leaving individuals like me alone on a hyperbolic island, waving our arms and writing our blogs and books, hoping our work resonates with a few in order to help many. The more I learn, the more I study, and the more modalities I am exposed to, I find it’s understanding the basic concepts on which many of these modalities are based that enables a practitioner to work with all levels and abilities, helping the underserved gain access to quality movement and fitness programs that make them feel stronger, more capable, and give them an element of control in the bodies they inhabit. The average person doesn’t necessarily want to be able to deadlift one and a half times their body weight or sit in a full pancake. What they want is to be able to bend over without feeling like they might snap or play catch with their ten year old without worrying about how their shoulder will hold up.
I recognize I am sitting here on my couch writing this as an able-bodied female with fair skin. This simple fact means I have privileges other people trying to move the industry forward don’t. This industry (what this industry is, exactly, could be heavily debated), favors people who look a certain way and move a certain way, a look I don’t actually have. (At 5’1” and with a distinctly Italian build that isn’t hypermobile, my physical abilities are quiet, built from dedicated consistency rather than raw talent or a youth spent participating in athletic endeavors.) I also recognize that while I do want to be able to perform a full pancake and maintain a decent deadlift, fitness and movement is my hobby, a part of my day that I look forward to and that it’s okay if my clients don’t love it the same way I do or if they have different goals. The movement practices and inquiries I give them are meant to serve them and move them forward.
The thing of it is if I don’t feel like I belong, think of how the Latino woman struggling with type II diabetes feels. Or the sixty-five year old man with restless leg syndrome and chronic back pain. Or the 52 year old who looks like the picture of health but has struggled with back pain since 2001 and has done everything she can think of—physical therapy, a walking program weight lifting, yet still she has pain that the doctors can’t seem to pinpoint. The traditional fitness/Pilates/yoga settings haven’t worked for these individuals because they don’t fit neatly into cookie cutter programs. I struggled with chronic pain throughout my 20s, my nervous system vibrating with an intensity that would make my joints feel like they belonged to an arthritic 85 year old and I remember vividly feeling like I was a fraud, that if I felt this awful, how could I teach others how to be at home in a body that didn’t hurt, that felt integrated and complete? I (eventually) realized I needed to re-route, to create a foundation based on the fundamental principles of body awareness, proprioception, and nervous system balance. All of the yoga and strength training in the world wasn’t going to give me what I needed (and trust me, I tried).
The point is, people deserve access to information that extends beyond the realm of basic biomechanics and anatomy. There is so much more to working with people than that, and while there are innovators in each segment of the movement and fitness industries who are doing incredible work, I truly believe it’s when the modalities begin to work together that true change will happen. Nothing makes me happier than when my clients begin doing something other than seeing me—Pilates once a week, Crossfit once or twice a week, yoga two times a week… Whatever it is simple reinforces the work that I do and gives my client an opportunity to be in their body in a way that compliments their experience with me. When people develop the confidence and sense of mastery to participate in a “regular” exercise and movement program, I know I have done something worthwhile. Movement creates more movement—it’s helping people tap into the initial movement that matters, and that can only be done by creating an inclusive atmosphere and through an approach that fosters a holistic approach to movement.
In the meantime, I will continue to share my thoughts and ideas through mediums that are accessible, such as writing blogs and books and making Youtube videos that are free and explore a range of topics. I will continue to work with people of all shapes, sizes, and ability, doing my very best to provide a movement experience that is appropriate for them, in this moment, and I will continue to learn from the other innovators in a variety of industries, applying the concepts of psychology, education, biomechanics, neuroscience, and movement sciences into my work while using multiple modalities, including strength and conditioning, yoga, Pilates, and somatic/dance, and proprioception/motor control training. There is no one, perfect way, and there are many ways to accomplish the same thing.